Can you deliberately shape company culture?

It’s a bit of a strange concept, 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 defining company values, behaviours, beliefs and ideals is a really useful thing to do - when you define what you want them to be, you’ve got a much better chance of making them a reality.

Stating what makes up your company culture is vital for:

  • hiring the right people
  • helping employees work together
  • attracting the right customers
  • getting investment
  • building a safe and welcoming work environment

And getting your company culture checklist into a short slide deck is a simple and effective way to help these things happen.

What is company culture, anyway?

Your company culture is one of the most important assets your business can have. And it’s not defined by ping-pong tables or beer fridges.

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 are undoubtedly a small company, Timetastic has a clear culture that Gary and the team 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. (Maybe a culture deck is on the cards soon, to make it crystal clear.)

What’s a company culture deck?

It’s a short document, usually a slide deck, made by a company to define how their culture operates (or how they want it to). It’s mostly for the benefit of employees, but can be put out into the public domain for positive publicity and attracting new talent. They aren’t usually 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.

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).

A page from Valve's 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:

  • Annual leave and absence policies - 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 for any modern business. 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.

It might only take a day or so, but could pay off for years. So why not open up your notepad and define how your company culture should operate?