Company Culture

There’s never a good time for culture, but it is vital!

Before you start:

Need to what with the why and the what (the mission) and culture/values is then the how. - everyone should be united in this vision and give the same answer.

Mission can be set top-down or a company-wide brainstorm.  It is fairly easy to get a sentiment but getting it into one or two lines was more difficult. Always check back with brand and marketing people, so that the brand is always represented and with people generally to check fit. It shouldn’t be subject to change, at least on the medium term.

Values  - The How - given the What and the Why.

Takes a lot of time and effort to nail down as well as people’s time.

There’s no point of doing it at all if the senior management or founders are not into it and there’s no engagement from them. It makes the exercise pointless. Reconcile what the founders want and what the business needs.

One example process:

  1. Company-wide workshop. 30 people in 2 groups. 3rd party came in to facilitate.
    1. Talk about mission.
    2. Behaviours.

Sessions are well received and felt engaged but in bigger groups people get underrepresented so...

  1. Give them an opportunity to follow-up after the meeting so that everyone has time to follow-up and input. - used flipcharts and post-its.

Got to 10 values, which is way too many.

  1. Period of consolidation.
    1. Asked people to score the 10 values for importance and how is the business currently executing them. Can give optional reason for the score.
    2. Management evaluation.
      1. Can we hire against them?
      2. Are they sustainable?
      3. Can build a high-performance culture with them?

Brought it down to 4 and presented it to the junior management team.

Massive pushback - The important sentiment was lost along the way, over-filtered and narrowed it down too far. Brought back all 10 values to the table.

  1. Re-filtered to a final set. (it’s not easy or linear work, there’s a lot of back and forth if you want to do it well ) ended up with 5 values.
  2. Values, culture relaunch in a company offsite.
    1. Created a lot of buzz.
    2. Every senior manager was owning a value and talked about it.
    3. Breaking the business down into teams and give them the values and ask who embodied the values and why and recognise.
    4. Followed with a social drinks event.


  1. Shortsighted - knew there was going to be a restructure in the business, some people didn’t go into new roles a couple of weeks after the culture rebrand. People almost used the values against the business. The timing could have been better.
  2. Uses a lot of resources.
  3. ‘Nailed It’ section in all hands for staff to call out great things - It got watered down and became an echo chamber with people nominating each other for just doing their jobs or to reciprocate. Now the 5 values are put up with a name next to each of them, brings them back front and centre + the right people are called out.
  4. Combined with roll out of the 4 disciplines of execution.

Ended up with a set of values everyone on board with.  Took 3-4 months.

  • Other example of one driven by marketing and decided in the management team and then seek feedback from wider teams.
    • Management pick words.
    • Put them on paper in the office and get staff to post-it with what they think it means.
    • Select from this.


  • Hiring against the values is better than just seeing if you get along with them - stops people just hiring who they like and helps drive diverse hiring.
    • Ideally someone does the culture interview who is not on their team and therefore is not invested in their work.
    • Create a deck of interview Qs for people to use to reflect each value
    • Experiences of people ignoring the culture issue when hiring as the candidate performed really well in the rest of the interview skills but that normally ends in disaster.
  • Rarely do people grow at the rate of a high growth start-up. Business grows at 300% but a person won’t, it’s unrealistic to expect that of them.
  • Also set expectations with new employees. It’s not because you join at the ground floor that you will become the next ‘Head of …’. Some people will progress, but not everyone, not always.
  • Don’t reward tenure. People stay because they like to come to work, rather than liking their job, it’s a pitfall to be mindful of. Staying because of what they are getting rather than enjoying the job.
  • Culture can be a good framework to communicate under-performance.
  • Create a culture deck to share with new /potential employees /publically - more common in the US.
  • Looking at the handbook, any single person should be able to see themselves working for that company. A single mum, an engineer, … The values need to be all-encompassing. And these will feed into the objectives.
    • Netflix example.
    • Have quotes from staff and CEO / video.
    • If people have questions after reading it add them to the deck.
  • If people know where they are going, the opportunities and where their role can go to is such a great thing to have for an employee. - more of a motivator than free coffee
  • When people weren’t happy they’d ask for more money, it is not a good solution, to just pay them more. Paying them more isn’t going to make them happier, money is never really the issue.
  • Onboarding - have a 1 hour session on culture and values. - go through the company handbook and ways the company works. Have them meet all the senior members of staff.

Embedding values:

  • Can do call -outs at all hands.
    • Does help keep them front and centre and people can be recognised for ‘living the value’.
    • Need to make sure not just the same people again and again. Or just people reciprocating nominations for doing BAU work.
  • Can create a culture committee to track and be held accountable.
  • Each member of Leadership Team responsible for a value.

Changing culture

  • It’s not sustainable to keep the same culture from the early days.
  • Early-stage every one is very happy and on one page and then it got watered down and it leads to a lot of confusion.
  • Need to nail who you are and why you are there, it’s important to have this in place and feed into that. How is that communicated across the team? A lot of the time people don’t know why they are doing what they are doing. Is everyone united in the vision? What is the outlook in 6 months or a year down the line? Make sure everyone has the same answer.
  • Example of a company with ‘family’ as value which then had to change as CEO hated it and didn't think it was appropriate as the business grew. - had to work on changing this value and showing that is was no longer appropriate - found real meeting within ‘family’ and created a new value around that.

Implicit values, how do you manage the new values vs the implicit values from the people who have been in the company for a while.

  • What worked well and what could be better?
  • Something must have been working well, but there are also things that you’re working towards. Looking at what we need to do more and be more and what, if put in place, will improve us and push us ahead?
  • Given your mission, what behaviour are we going to have to exhibit and do more and do less of to get to your goals?
  • If what you want is very far away from what it needs to become then this is a big task ahead - big organisational change.

How do you sell the importance of values to the senior team/founders?

  • It’s really hard, and it’s close to impossible. It needs to come from the top but getting buy-in is very hard
  • It may be easy to justify from an ROI point of view.
  • It can take you two years to get the buy-in
  • Come up with a project and plan, show what other companies do (companies the founders likes). Every huge and successful company that we’re trying to become has values. And pointed out the weaknesses in the company. This needs to be improved and this is how it can be done.
  • You also need the buy to in from the people who are executing it in a day to day and embody it.
  • If you know what they fear, then use that against them. If they are interested in finances, and you can reduce churn by x percent you can prove that it makes a huge improvement.

How do you see diversity have an impact on the growth of your company?

  • When you hired people that you won’t be friends with, but rather for specific skills and what you need in the company. Broaden the pool of people, not the same industries and backgrounds.
  • Skillset, personality and do they agree with our values. It’s not about connecting with a person personally.
  • Some team members are lone wolves but they are really performing in their roles.
  • For people to grow in the company, they need to improve skillsets
  • Superstar employees, they know they’re great and can be difficult because of this.
  • Some people fit in, others don’t. It’s about managing the individuals. Some people don’t like the space to have too much responsibility others like to be left alone. What drives them personally? Ask regularly how people like to be managed so that you can work into that. It can also change over time, so keep asking.
    • It’s fine if people don’t get involved with some activities, and that should be acceptable.
  • You don’t want to be in a room where everyone agrees with you. It doesn’t challenge the business.
  • Not all your customers are the same either, so you need to keep all opinions in mind and all different backgrounds and personalities.

What about values that don’t make the cut?

  • It’s not about not valuing thing that doesn’t make the cut, it’s just about prioritising some. And a value like honesty should be there anyway. You don’t want to value dishonest people.
  • Values are always evolving, you outgrow them and your ways of working, you need to rethink, even when you rebrand.

If you have new values and you see that a person that is in the team isn’t fitting, what do you do?

  • They probably didn’t fit before, but now you have reasons to say that they are not a cultural fit and aren’t bringing anything to the company.
  • Can use values to discuss bad behaviour. Does this behaviour fit within the company value?
  • As a Leadership team map the Performance and potential - 9 box model - (it’s only management, nobody knows you’re doing this) Once a year isn’t enough as the company moves so fast, so every 6 months. —> Better to measure people rather than values. Track as people are moving between segments - managers responsibility.

Acquisition: How do you deal with people that get bought into your company?

  • Do a full onboarding, very admin heavy. Onboarded like they are brand new employees.
  • Show that you value their expertise and where they fit in
  • Give them a period to challenge the business If you just do things your way you will squash their ways. That’s not the impression you want to give.
  • Even with a lady on maternity leave that was out for 9 to 10 months, the company had changed so much. She got onboard again and was grateful for that.
  • They haven’t chosen your company so give them the opportunity to actually want to work for you. They weren’t given an option.

General points:

  • Objectives rule everything.
  • Values determine ethics and govern objectives.
  • Give the team creativity and ownership of objectives.
  • Ideally people know what their role is and feel like they can make it into whatever they want to.
  • Free breakfast/ beers quickly become the norm and create a sense of entitlement. If you take it away people feel annoyed - but it is not a factor in retainment.
  • Think about timing - i.e. if you know there is going to be a restructure or a stressful time or a high churn of employees maybe wait until after.
  • People will use values against you.
    • ‘We have ‘Family’ as a value so we shouldn’t be firing anyone.’
  • Delivering happiness newsletter has good tips.
  • Make sure the values use language that is ‘on-brand’.
  • Netflix
    • lauded as a strong culture but is it the culture or the brand that is driving hiring?
    • They actively avoid complications to their culture i.e. they do not hire junior engineers. So they can be more empowering.
  • Culture can help drive customer focus - force developers to care about culture.
    • Can do work shadowing.
    • NPS a major metric
  • Difficulty in having consistent culture if portion of staff are shift workers - creates ‘them’ culture.