Great culture is the secret sauce behind a thriving company with happy, motivated, and fulfilled employees. It plays a major role in attracting the best talent and is a primary driver of product or service excellence. However, having a strong culture requires significant effort from everyone involved. It isn’t as easy as ordering a foosball table and tapping a keg.
Your perks aren’t culture—they’re just perks
Let’s first talk about what isn’t good culture. Free lunches, nap rooms, office skateboards, or a fridge packed with energy drinks does not create a great culture. Your culture comes from within, not from Wii bowling and shots of Fireball. Don’t get me wrong, perks are a fun way to connect with your team, but they lack the substance that bonds a company together in the long run.
Think of it this way: Features alone do not make a good product. It’s the core functionality of a good product that provides a solution to a problem and enables you to do something better than before. And when you add features that complement the core functionality, you scale the product’s effectiveness.
Likewise, your perks need the core of a shared philosophy that brings your people together and builds your company’s culture. Perks should then complement your core philosophy and empower your team to scale the company culture.
Your culture is rooted in your company philosophy
The two most vital aspects of your company philosophy are a noble cause and core values (and if you’re not familiar with these terms, check out Tribal Leadership for more details). A noble cause defines your direction by capturing your team’s ultimate aspiration. It’s what your team lives for and what gets them out of bed each morning. Core values are the intersection of your team’s shared beliefs which ultimately provides the fuel of your company. These values guide your daily decisions and structure behaviors. In short, a noble cause defines where you are going and your values define who you are along the way.
Your philosophy needs to be relevant to what you do and who you are as a group of people. Is your product a fitness app? Then create a fitness culture. Own who you are—don’t default to a generic “startup culture.”
Putting your philosophy into action
Our company, digital-telepathy, is a design company that builds one-of-a-kind web experiences. We value friendship, unique experiences, and growth above all things in life. Because of this, we determined that our noble cause is to “craft meaningful experiences,” and our values encompass these thoughts: Camaraderie is king; Do things with soul; Support each other’s arête.
This foundation of philosophy is planted into every aspect of our business. As a result, our culture grows organically from every member of our team.
Do we have perks? Of course! Perks are awesome as long as they come from your core philosophy. Here are two examples, so see if you can pick out the values and noble cause in each:
- Free lunch: We make a homemade lunch twice a week at our office. There’s no business talk at the table. We simply connect as friends. At these lunches, we invite guests from clients and colleagues to spouses and old friends. And at the end of these lunches, our Director of Vitality presents new health tips, and we celebrate wins and give props to our fellow team members.
- Home brewed beer: At the end of each year, we offer a Betterment Bonus. Each team member gets funding and time off to do something they’ve never done before. Luckily, becoming a master brewer was a project for one of our developers, John. He crafted a delicious custom beer dubbed DT Beta Brew. Compare our cheers to one that came out of a kegerator of Heineken.
And don’t just take our word for it; Hubspot’s culture code is an excellent example of philosophy-powered culture. Their mission as a marketing platform focuses on the customer above all else, and they’ve found great success by using their culture to scale their business.
Another example is Buffer, a ten person team that manages over one million users. These guys have cultivated a distinct culture despite working remotely. Through the aligned value of transparency, the whole team shares their sleeping, eating, and activity information via Jawbone’s Up wristband. The outline of Buffer’s cultural values states this outright to continually guide and align their team.
Your people make it happen
Without a philosophy and shared beliefs to drive a company, there’s little cohesion to help scale, grow, or succeed. Culture provides the momentum and interpersonal connection that can make your company a place where people want to pour themselves into work that they’re passionate about. Plus, it’s just more fun.
While good perks can’t make good culture on their own, they support cultural growth when they’re rooted in your noble cause and philosophy. Use perks to invest in your culture and throw in a few unexpected delights.
At the end of the day, we all just want to be with people we enjoy and work on projects we’re passionate about. So invest in your culture—hire and provide products or services to people that align with your cause and share your beliefs. Then, watch it scale your company.
Remember, at some point, you need to stop planning your culture and start living it.