Can you deliberately shape company culture?

It’s a bit of a strange concept, a culture deck, writing down what you’d like your company culture to be. Isn’t it something that grows organically over a long time?

In general, yes. But setting out your core company values openly. Sharing your beliefs and ideals is a really useful thing to do - when you define what kind of workplace you to be, you’ve got a much better chance of making it a reality.

Think about the times when a document can come into play, where it can be useful:

  • taking on new employee
  • hiring the right people, the best talent
  • helping employees work together
  • attracting new customers
  • attracting the right customers
  • getting investment
  • inspire your employees

Getting your company culture checklist into a short slide deck isn't a massive undertaking, but it's one people will like and respect you for.

What is company culture, anyway?

Your company culture is one of the most important things about your business. It’s not defined by ping-pong tables, beer fridges, Friday dress down days, or free cake for Birthdays. It's about people, how they work and interact with each other, how you treat them, how they expect to be treated.

Let’s start with Wikipedia:

“...culture influences the way people interact, the context within which knowledge is created, the resistance they will have towards certain changes, and ultimately the way they share (or the way they do not share) knowledge."

Some fluffier definitions of company culture are:

  • “The way you treat your staff"
  • “What happens when the boss isn't around"
  • “Who you are and who you aspire to be"
  • “A group of people repeating behaviours"

While we (the team here at Timetastic) are undoubtedly a small company, we have a clear culture that Gary & Matt have worked hard to shape. We're a pro-holiday, pro-employee, digital-first, ethical operation.

These values have been built up over time, but they’re not kept secret. Our customers and new team members know what they’re signing up for.

What is a company culture deck?

It’s a short document, usually a slide deck. Think - powerpoint 😬 that defines how your culture operates (or how you want it to). It’s mostly for the benefit of your team, your employees, but can be put out into the public domain for some positive publicity and attracting the best candidates when you're recruiting. They aren’t made up of specific policies; they’re more like statements of intent.

As Bretton Putter notes in his book Culture Decks Decoded, the practice of building slide decks to explain company culture became popular from a couple of big firms, starting with Netflix culture. Their CEO, Reed Hastings posted their 125-page culture deck online back in 2009, and it became a bit of a thing.

Today you can find Netflix's culture deck on their main website here: https://jobs.netflix.com/culture

While it’s an interesting guide to working at a high-growth company, it’s surprisingly clear on their sky-high expectations of employees: “adequate performance gets a generous severance package.” Doesn’t sound too nice, but at least they’re clear about it - and now they’re worth billions.

A more attractive example comes from videogame company Valve, whose Company Handbook is also available online. It’s a pretty mad document (including some rather eccentric illustrations) with guidelines on working for a company that claims to have no hierarchy and no managers. (Whether their claims are true is a discussion for another time).

Valve culture deck - their company handbook.

Here’s an example of Valve’s overtime ethos:

"While people occasionally choose to push themselves to work some extra hours at times when something big is going out the door, for the most part working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication. If this happens at Valve, it’s a sign that something needs to be reevaluated and corrected.

If you’re looking around wondering why people aren’t in “crunch mode,” the answer’s pretty simple. The thing we work hardest at is hiring good people, so we want them to stick around and have a good balance between work and family and the rest of the important stuff in life."

It’s not quite a policy, but it’s a strong declaration of how they want to do things. That's the kind of thing you want to have in your culture deck.

What to include in your company culture deck

So it's a simple document or slideshow that clearly nails the cultural points you want to aim for. How should you organise it?

Well, it's up to you - there's no standard template. It really depends on what type of company you are, and how you prefer to operate. But here are a few things we think you really can’t miss out:

  • Your annual leave and time off policy - we think these things are so integral to company culture that they need to go in, and somewhere near the top.
  • Working time expectations - should employees go home when their shift ends, or when their work is finished?
  • Personal development - how you support the ongoing learning and development of employees
  • Diversity and inclusion: it’s hard to get this one perfect, and there are a lot of contrasting opinions on the topic. But making efforts more than just the bare minimum are a must. Not just for the sake of publicity or hiring, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Bretton Putter lists a few more things to define in Culture Decks Decoded:

  • Company mission
  • Company vision and values
  • Company history
  • How staff onboarding works
  • How the company deals with failure
  • How the company fosters transparency
  • Working environment

These don’t have to be concrete policy declarations. Some things take time, and you don’t always know how an initiative will work out until it’s been tried. So it might be wise to add a something like this:

We’re not perfect, but we’re figuring it out, and this is a collaborative effort. We welcome all feedback and take on board any opinions.

Example culture decks

Buffer

An amazing transparent organisation, with a committed team of employees and loyal customers. They've updated their culture deck couple of times over the years, most recently in 2018. Buffer don't do things by half. They spent six months on this latest version interviewing 35 of their teammates, making nearly 200 pages of notes and five drafts.

They also have a 35 minute class you can take on class on creating, practicing, and sharing company values.

Lulumon

I quite like Lulumon's culture deck, it's creative and communicates their values in a simplistic, yet playful way. In their own words:

Our manifesto is one way we share our culture with the community. It’s an evolving collection of bold thoughts that allow for some real conversations to take place.

Extract from Lulumon's culture deck.

Netflix

I know we've mentioned Netflix's culture already, but they're a bastion of company culture and values. Read the book by their founder Reed Hastings, "No Rules Rules" (no, that's not some shady affiliate link 😁) and you'll get the feeling something special is going on there.

Our core philosophy is people over process. More specifically, we have great people working together as a dream team. With this approach, we are a more flexible, fun, stimulating, creative, collaborative and successful organization.

To wrap up

I know the 3 examples above are from high profile and fairly sizeable companies, all of them a resounding success. But you can see what the overall tone is about. Don't get too overwhelmed by the expensive graphical design and presentation. You can probably knock your own ideas and beliefs together in Word or Powerpoint. See past the glossy images, it's the words that are most important.

It might only take a day or so, go for it, open up your note pad - it might make a difference, add some value, and pay off big time!