How to Create a Strong Company Culture (With 15 Examples)
Today, company culture is more important (and visible) than ever — because your company’s culture impacts everything your company does.
People considering a job at a particular company now survey its culture as much as its salary options and potential benefits. They want to know, “what would it be like to work there?” What will people expect from them in terms of work and engagement with company activities?
You might think having a strongly defined company culture is only for glamorous tech companies. But it’s now become necessary for any company looking to hire employees that are passionate about its mission. Employees, both current and future, can benefit from a strong company culture — and when employees are engaged and satisfied at work, employers benefit as well.
As managers of the workforce, Human Resource departments have a key role to play in developing a company’s culture. But with so many different elements to consider with regard to engagement, policies, compensation, and more — it can be tough to know where to start. Read on to learn how to build your own strong company culture, with 15 real-life examples to inspire you.
What Is Company Culture?
The simple answer is that company culture is the “why” behind the company’s actions and how it plays out in daily work life. But what does that really mean?
Company culture encapsulates how everyone at the company acts around each other and how they address work (especially work challenges). It’s both a statement of values and the direct actions made in support of those values. In the best of circumstances, management and employees are on the same page about how to reach the company’s goals and enact that joint strategy on multiple levels. Thus, a corporate culture forms over time.
Company culture also refers to how managers execute decisions. Is it expected that managers will not be questioned because it would hold up productions? Is it expected that employees will speak up if they have an idea of how things could be better?
Meta’s (formerly Facebook’s) former motto of “move fast and break things” attitude defined a lot of its culture at the time. The company was one of the first to create a widely-adopted social media network, and so experimentation and daring were highly prized in their organization. The motto has since changed to a set of six values, one of which is still “Move fast.”
Culture Changes Over Time
It’s not uncommon for company cultures to iterate upon themselves as times change, especially legacy companies.
The Walt Disney Company is one of America’s oldest companies, and its company culture has changed several times over. What began as a small studio staffed by only about twenty animators has grown to a multinational corporation that employs 220,000 people. The company’s culture changed from one that valued physical presence and collaboration (Anaheim studios, complete with dorms) to one that allowed for more creativity and independence among teams. This conscious change within the company resulted in the Walt Disney Animation Florida, which operated with noticeably less oversight. The studio went on to be responsible for some of Disney’s most unique properties, including Mulan and Lilo and Stitch.
However, the studio was broken up in 2003 and CEO Bob Iger announced in 2023 that Disney employees must work in the office (not remotely) for at least four days a week. He explicitly stated that the company was going to value in-person collaborative work, perhaps hearkening back to Disney’s original corporate culture.
The Competitive Advantage of a Strong Company Culture
A strong company culture is the distinguishing factor between you and your competitors when it comes to recruiting quality candidates. Job seekers will take into account the perceived image of your company inside and out. After all, people want to work somewhere they would be proud to claim to colleagues, friends, and perhaps future employers.
There are several ways that developing a strong company culture can benefit the entire organization. In addition to increased engagement at nearly every level, developing your company culture will often result in several other benefits, such as:
Stronger Brand Identity
As companies are expected to be more public-facing than ever, defining your company’s motivation and working attitude behind it are key to developing and maintaining brand equity. Having a distinct identity makes it so customers can know what to generally expect from interactions — even their experience using your product.
You may also attract new talent (and stand out from other companies in your industry) by publicly discussing how your company enacts its values in everyday work life.
Adidas, the second largest sportswear manufacturer in the world, shares a mission of changing lives through sport. Because of this, they strive toward a work environment that’s “inspiring and filled with creative energy.” In 2013, they surveyed their own employees in order to promote their company culture, interviewing new and experienced team members from several locations. The resulting employment brand video garnered some attention, and rightfully so. It feels like a natural extension of the Adidas brand, confirming the idea among customers and job seekers alike that they are sports enthusiasts all the way down to their core.
A company’s culture can act as an advertisement for the company itself. Customers and employees often want to interact with brands and businesses that align with their values.
In 2015, REI announced that they would be closing their stores during the popular shopping day Black Friday. They stated that this was to encourage both their customers and employees to get outside and enjoy nature, an expression of how they saw themselves as different from their competitors pushing purely for profits on the major shopping day. This gesture eventually ended up becoming a permanent mainstay of the company. They tapped into fatigue around the shopping-heavy culture around that time of year, and seized the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the crowd by refusing to be a part of it. Customers — and job seekers looking for a company that expressed their values sincerely — were impressed.
By highlighting and talking about your company’s internal culture, you can naturally attract talented candidates who are excited to be part of the team. It’s also much easier for people who aren’t compatible with your company’s culture to self-select and not apply if they know what they can expect.
For example, Netflix prioritizes nurturing the careers of their employees — but only if they make the cut. “Keep only highly effective people” is a core factor of Netflix’s culture. People seeking a challenging (but excellence-driven) workplace may feel encouraged to apply to the company, while those seeking a more nurturing environment might instead apply to a company like Salesforce. The Salesforce motto of “we’re all bound together” manifests in a very pro-growth atmosphere, where skills training and certification opportunities are consistently offered to employees.
What Makes a Company Culture Strong?
In short, a strong company culture emerges from within the company and is intuitive to its nature and mission. It’s not necessarily formed by the employees or the formal written materials. Above all, it is intuitive to how the company operates and is in line with the overall plan to execute the mission or vision.
If a company culture is strong enough, it acts as a self-perpetuating motivator to employees (the heart of a company’s culture). In early stages, employees tend to even create the culture in their own way, empowered by the overall mission and vision of the company.
For example, Zappos has an extremely distinct company culture that prioritizes employees taking breaks to have fun. One of their main company values is “create fun and a little weirdness.” Free food and drinks, a nap room, and unlimited vacation time are natural parts of the Zappos working culture that spring from this value.
Employees who engage with a strong company culture they agree with tend to be more loyal to the company. In order for a company’s culture to be strong, it must be embraced by people at all levels of the organization. In the early days of Google, employees were expected to work for lower-than-usual wages in the heart of Silicon Valley during what some considered a boom era. Google executives instituted the Google Employee Stock Option Program (ESOP) relatively early on in the company’s history, so that employees felt they had a financial stake in the company’s future. In 2021, Google adapted its stock plan to provide flexibility for existing employees and to enable better initial offers to new employees. It’s a company that values innovation and hard work — and they’re willing to provide incentives to encourage employees to live out those values.
How to Develop A Strong Company Culture
A strong company culture is ultimately more desirable than one that is weak or undefined. So how do you develop a strong company culture that provides all the potential benefits?
Incorporate Your Culture Into Your Hiring and Onboarding
Once you define your company’s culture, incorporate it at every level of the employee experience. When someone is hired at your company, they should be briefed on the company culture as soon as possible in the process. Ideally this is done during the hiring phase (not least so that candidates that are hired on are guaranteed to be compatible). But at the bare minimum, new employees should get a sense of company culture the moment they come through the door.
Hubspot does this by introducing new employees to their culture (and explaining their place within it) with detailed materials and a tailored onboarding process. Their “culture code” slideshow is available to the public.
Encourage Employee Feedback
If you truly want to sustain a company-wide culture over time, develop an employee feedback system that everyone can access and regularly contribute to. Ask your employees how they feel about the company, their daily work life, and what they would change about their work setup if they could. Take their feedback into account, and you’ll be able to initiate measures and benefits directly related to their needs.
Adobe actively encourages their employees to talk with management and those who work in other departments so there is a much lower chance of siloing. This also ensures feedback is effectively distributed across the company.
Implement Policies and Processes That Reinforce the Culture
Having your mission, vision, and values posted around the office and on the website is good, but none of it matters unless your operations back up what you say you believe. To make your culture stick (and last through years of growth) you’ll need to take practical steps to keep it running the way you want.
Companies who succeed in perpetuating a strong culture take intentional actions to express their core values. Policies mentioned earlier like REI’s Black Friday shutdown and Disney’s office-work requirement are great examples.
However, company culture doesn’t have to be sunny and fun-centered to be effective. A company can also have a culture that is straightforward and invested purely in making good work. A key value in this culture could be “willingness to do whatever it takes to make a quality product for customers.”
Take Quora as an example. Their company prioritizes communication as an important cultural value. They express this by making sure higher-ups within the company are regularly available to communicate with and provide feedback to employees at all levels. This is done specifically for the benefit of the employees’ education, and so the code used in Quora’s products is always improving along with the team’s skills and morale.
Leverage Technology to Manage Culture
It’s helpful to employ technology in building a company culture, especially if you’re looking to develop yours at scale. With a proper HCM program, you can use workforce analytics to gather detailed information about important metrics that pertain to day-to-day matters such as employee attendance or turnover rate.
For instance, you can tell that a company culture isn’t functional (and perhaps even toxic) if employees are actively not participating. Absenteeism is an obvious indicator that employees are looking to head elsewhere, and a high turnover rate may signal that things need to change sooner rather than later. On the other hand, a low turnover rate may be a very strong indication that all is well.
With a solid workforce analytics setup, you easily can track all of these metrics and more. This way, you can identify problems before they start to affect everyone in the company (and thus its overall culture). The right HCM system will allow you to gather information on the pay rate, tenure, level of engagement, and other aspects of departing employees so you can hone in on retention and other culture-centered initiatives. Your effort is less likely to be wasted if it’s informed by real data. With Criterion HCM, you can also customize hiring and onboarding procedures, set up custom training workflows, set up reward systems, and much more.
The Most Important Parts of A Company Culture
Before you begin drawing up your org chart, it’s important to keep in mind the most important aspects of your company culture. This is what should be included no matter what you decide with regard to salary, perks, etc.
To build a successful company culture, the people formalizing it should have respect for the people who work for the organization. Namely, they need to have respect for what those people do and what that work requires to be successful.
Dropbox has respect as a key part of their culture, partly illustrated through company events like Hack Week (an event that allows employees to experiment with the company’s code). Dropbox allows employees to use events like this for professional development as well, learning new skills that could help them move to a different position over time. They respect their employees’ time and help them achieve their individual goals by encouraging development within the organization — fostering a culture of encouragement between employees and employers.
A company’s formal culture should work within the reality of people’s workdays and work needs. If people need to collaborate frequently, then an independence-driven and results-above-all culture may not be compatible or logical for your company’s best results. It also means it’s worth it to align company interests to better support reaching these aims.
One company that has this down is Quantcast. The internet advertising technology company is explicitly results-driven, openly saying that they value results over effort on a day-to-day basis. But to help their employees get to that point, they have an extensive onboarding plan and resources for employees to constantly be sharpening their skills. Collaboration and constant learning are consistent features of Quantcast’s company culture. They want employees to “bring themselves and their best work,” so they aligned company priorities and resources to make it easier to do just that.
Building a successful company culture will require checking in often. That means higher-ups can’t lock themselves away from feedback. Your culture will likely go through multiple iterations as you strive for something that employees enjoy contributing to on a daily basis. Communication about the long-term goals and initiatives with employees of all levels (within reason and taking confidentiality into account) makes everyone feel part of the larger mission.
Buffer takes this principle to the next level with their consistent communications initiatives. Their blog about internal company culture is open for the public to read, and they don’t shy away from self-analysis. Even representation statistics and inter-company gender pay gaps aren’t off the table for discussion at Buffer.
This may seem like an obvious part of a company culture — and running a company in general. But there’s a reason why trust (and ultimately, a feeling of safety) is an essential tenet of Kahn’s Theory of Employee Engagement. People from all parts of the company need to feel like management (and other employees) can be trusted to advocate for them. This is both so the workplace can sustain an upbeat atmosphere and so if something goes wrong, they know they can come to their co-workers and managers for help.
Patagonia incorporates trust into many of their official policies. Remote work was integral to their culture from the beginning, working off the logic that people who want to work at an outdoor apparel company probably wouldn’t want a traditional workplace. The work is valued above checking in or being present at a certain time. Even retail and warehouse employees are offered multiple schedule options. Patagonia is also famous for hiring specifically for culture compatibility, with some positions staying open for up to a year in order to find the right person that fits with their culture.
At its best, corporate culture is a natural extension of the company’s mission and the people who help run it. It comes as an organic result of maintaining focus as a team even as the company grows. A strong company culture takes what forms naturally and puts it into words and formalized actions.
Maintaining a strong company culture requires active and intentional effort. It needs to come into play when you’re hiring and be part of the employee experience from day one. Commitment to company culture also means not hiring (and sometimes firing) people who simply don’t fit. People should fit in with the culture or add to the workflow in a tangible way, otherwise they’re a potential drag on everyone else in the company (and their work).
Every company is different, and in order to manage your culture effectively, you need software that fits your unique goals and workflows. Criterion is specifically designed to help your HR department align their efforts with the goals of the rest of the company. Complex systems and benefits packages, unique onboarding sequences, and ever-changing policies are no trouble. Our talent engagement model helps to unite your company under one singular system, so no efforts toward employee engagement are wasted. Custom communication solutions come guaranteed. With data on employee performance and several other metrics at your fingertips, you’ll be able to detect trends in satisfaction and make moves to retain your top talent.
Book a demo today to learn how Criterion can help you unify your company around a singular culture and keep everyone focused on the mission.