94% of entrepreneurs agree that a great company culture is essential for business growth and the bottom line. But what is culture exactly, and what does a positive company culture actually look like?
We've put together 7 company culture examples from successful companies to demonstrate how their positive culture has been key to their success.
What is company culture and why is it important?
Company culture describes the social order of an organization and its shared ideas, values, and behaviors.
These characteristics shape what's encouraged and accepted in an organization, such as communication style, dress, social dynamics, and work expectations.
A healthy and functional organizational culture is one in which individuals are empowered to produce their best work and teams collaborate effectively to work toward organizational goals. Better yet, positive company culture can increase employee engagement.
In contrast, a dysfunctional company culture can turn toxic, leading to low employee satisfaction, reduced employee retention and sinking morale—all of which hurt your company's bottom line.
There is also a difference between workplace experience and company culture. Office snacks or comfy break room couches can contribute to a positive workplace experience, but they won't make an organizational culture stand out.
Company culture is cultivated by an organization's leadership and is closely coveted. We'll now take a look at some examples.
7 Company Culture Examples
Companies with strong cultures are innovative, attractive to work for, and enduring. Let's look at examples of successful companies and how their intentional approaches to nurturing culture has contributed to their success.
Patagonia is a popular outdoor and lifestyle brand founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, a keen mountain climber.
Chouinard wanted to create an "un-company" that takes care of employees, customers and, most importantly, the planet.
Its employee handbook, titled "Let My People Go Surfing," (the title itself tells you a lot about how informal communication is) encourages employees to surf, ski, or get outside whenever conditions are good.
Sounds pretty cool, right? This helps ensure employee wellbeing and also ensures that any team member, present and future, is committed to the outdoors. Patagonia employees are, by and large, core product users and nature lovers, keeping innovation close to the end user and their founding values.
This meant that, when the company was trying to work through a problem with one of their products breaking their promise to protect nature, a social and environmental responsibility director, quality person, sourcing manager, and a sourcing director each had equal say on which suppliers Patagonia worked with. Eventually, a balance could be struck between price, quality, and environmental impact.
Patagonia is widely recognized as one of the world's most innovative companies and their employee turnover rate is a mere 4%. This is in no small part due to their culture feeding into product development and how they treat employees.
Google values employees that are creative, collaborative, and who show initiative. These values aren't only sought after in employees, they're also part of what drives the company as a whole.
Google's corporate values are more akin to a philosophy. Their page titled "Ten things we know to be true" lists each of the company's core values. Key among them is the belief that work should be a fun challenge.
As they write, the "atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge in a café line, at a team meeting or at the gym, they are traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed."
The speed with which new ideas emerge and are put to the test is obvious with a project like Google Stadia. Google announced its intent to dive into the lucrative video game industry in a novel way: by providing users with the ability to stream games from their Chrome browsers with no additional hardware requirements. Google announced Stadia in October 2018 and launched a beta test later that month.
Beyond Google's philosophy is also a willingness to take care of the people who work for the company. When data showed most of its turnover was associated with new mothers, for example, Google started offering 18 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Pixar wants to "make great films with great people." The company's desire to tell meaningful and beautiful stories is reflected in its workplace culture. It pushes for excellence but only on a foundation of community, collaboration, trust, and creativity, fostered by candid feedback and brainstorming sessions.
In his book, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Pixar co-founder Edward Catmull, wrote that "it is not the manager's job to prevent risks. It is the manager's job to make it safe to take them."
What does that mean exactly? It means that one of Pixar's main goals is to foster a culture of open creativity, where egos and fear of failure do not get in the way of creating memorable stories.
A testament to this positive work culture of innovation is the unprecedented success of Pixar's movies since it launched with Toy Story in 1995 (feel old yet?) which totals 26 films and 210 awards. They produce everything in-house, never buying scripts, and hold 507 patents globally in film and animation technology.
Back in 2019, REI celebrated being ranked on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For. That's great by itself, but it was REI's 22nd consecutive year on that list. So, how does a company make it on such a prestigious list 22 years in a row?
REI aims to attract outdoor-oriented employees who are committed to the environment, community, and outdoor recreation. It also strives to put its employees at the center of company culture. And with employee engagement exceeding 85% and a retention rate that's double the industry standard, it's safe to say REI's strategy works.
To maintain employee engagement and brand alignment, employees participate in Challenge Grants, where they suggest unique outdoor challenges for the chance to win REI gear.
Above all else, Starbucks' company values hinge on inclusion.
In 1991, the company introduced Bean Stocks as a way for employees to share in the company's financial success. In a nutshell, Bean Stocks convert to shares of Starbucks stock after two years of continued employment.
To reflect the fact that employees now share the company's success, Starbucks refers to them as partners. As Starbucks states, "we call our employees partners because we are all partners in shared success." In doing so, Starbucks ensures that its employees are incentivized to provide outstanding customer service and focus on making the company thrive.
In addition to investments in staff training and incentives such as stock options and health insurance, Starbucks celebrates its employee diversity and fosters an inclusive and accountable workplace through grants, nonprofits, and community partnership development.
Shopgate, a successful mobile commerce platform, has a simple goal to offer clients an excellent product built on the foundation of a confident and collaborative team culture.
Shopgate leverages its employees' creativity and expertise, two core values, by having a horizontal hierarchy. As such, all contributors are equally valued and celebrated, creating a positive culture of openness and shared vision.
This helps them to work effectively across multiples timezones and nationalities with lots of cross-departmental collaboration. For example, a product manager feels comfortable spitballing ideas from someone in the accounting team to get a fresh perspective on a problem.
Cultivate positivity. Show gratitude. Improve consistently. These are just some of Buffer's corporate values which highlight the company's philosophy of inclusion and its focus on helping employees create courageously.
With the firm belief that growth is only achievable through constructive and honest feedback, Buffer focuses on transparency and honesty. Whether dealing with clients or with employees, those values remain true.
Key among Buffer's values is transparency, which actually tops their list. It's Buffer's belief that transparency is a tool to help others.
In practice, this means that Buffer shares pretty much everything, from annual income to individual employee salaries, and keeps employees informed on all company decisions.
As the above examples demonstrated, company culture-which translates to staying true to a shared vision and values-is key to organizational success.
Think about your organization, do people live the values day to day? Are there elements you think need improvement?
Some resources to help:
- Company Culture: Why It Matters And How To Improve Your Own
- How To Build A Culture Of Innovation (with inventor John Carter)
- Types Of Company Culture: Which One Are You?
- 33 Words To Describe Company Culture And What They Really Mean
- How To Create A Warm And Welcoming Workplace Culture (with Maggie Smith from Traliant)