You can’t copy company culture

Company Culture

Company culture has a tendency to radiate from the people who were involved in building the company. Did you already find out what yours is?

When I was starting Devana, company culture was the last thing on my mind. More accurately, I didn’t even know such thing existed.

Nowadays, thanks to business books, startup blogs and articles everybody is aware there is a phenomenon called company culture. Some startup founders will try to invest time in ‘creating’ it from the very beginning, some will pick it up along the way (like I did) and some will resist and ultimately ask their HR to ‘get and install the best company culture’.

What company culture is

Simply put it is the way the company and its vision, its employees, products/services and clients coexist together.  It defines the daily life at the office. It also defines how an intern and for that matter a customer is being treated. This in effect sets the pulse for the whole company, and if these factors coexist in a friendly and enthusiastic way, then the entire company will carry and emit this vibe.

What company culture isn’t

It isn’t something you write on a piece of paper and demand being enforced. This is the basic mistake most CEOs make at the beginning (me included). And the reason is simple – it is so tempting to copy someone else’s company culture.

Great companies capitalize on this valuable asset in their marketing. This is the reason you’ve probably heard of great company cultures in Valve, Zappos or Netflix. I’ve enthusiastically read their employee handbooks and thought how clever and cool they were. And then I copied the best pieces over to our own (basically creating a Frankenstein along the way).

Unfortunately this won’t work. Company culture has a tendency to radiate from the people who were involved in building the company. It can not ‘radiate’ from the pages of a book. Yes a handbook can be useful to accelerate the acceptance of the company culture for new employees, but only if the second ingredient, people who’ve actually built it, is present as well.

This means that you are stuck with what you have.

Why do you need to define your company culture

There are several reasons why is it useful to have a definition of what your company culture is:

  • It will help you during hiring process to better evaluate if a candidate is a good fit
  • It will help you accelerate the onboarding of new hires
  • It will usually give a simple answer to hard questions your employees will face in everyday work
  • You can use it as a powerful asset in your marketing – to attract more top talent or customers

In order to do these things, you will need to reach some kind of company-wide understanding what your company culture really is.

Culture is the one competitive advantage that your competitors can’t easily ⌘C⌘V. The other is Vision.

How do you define your company culture

If you have a company then the chance is it is already defined. You may think you know what it is, but until you’ve asked your employees what they thought about it, you haven’t really dug into it.

So my advice is to write an email to all employees and ask them to write back in 100-500 words what they thought your company culture was. What it meant to them? How is it different to other companies they worked for? What they like the most in your company culture?

Then prepare to hear things you may have not expected, good and bad. After you’ve went through all the feedback you will notice patterns and trends. Bingo! Your employees just told you what your company culture is. And once you understand it well, you will even able to influence it in the future.

If you don’t already have a company there is one simple advice I can give that will ensure a great company culture is born right from the beginning. Focus on the user. There is no single more powerful idea that would ensure the creation of a great company.

photo credit: Sound of the Music movie