What’s company culture anyway?

Almost every candidate I’ve ever interviewed has either mentioned that our company culture was the reason why they applied for the job or has asked me to describe what our culture looks like. This is a good opportunity to dig deeper and ask the candidate “What does culture mean to you?” The answers typically cover a wide range, from “laid back atmosphere” to “wearing jeans”, and from “being able to work from home” to “young company”. But here’s the thing: none of those things define your culture. It’s not a dress code, or teleworking, or a specific demographic. Not at all.

Culture is something that is easy to see when you’re on the inside and hard to describe to anyone on the outside.

Here are some of my favorite definitions of company culture:

It’s how someone feels after interacting with someone in your company. At Hannon Hill, we want to make sure that every team member, regardless of their role and department, has face to face time with customers. That’s why it’s not uncommon for our Services Director, our VP of Engineering, or our Content Marketer to go to conferences or for a member of the Engineering team to be on a support call. One of the biggest measures of our company culture is indeed the way that our customers, prospects, and partners feel when they interact with us. This means that we need to live our values (being supportive, positive, and self-starting)  through and through, making them a part of each person’s fiber so that nobody even has to think about the right way to act. It’s part of our nature.

It’s how every team member acts when nobody’s looking. Similarly, you can look at company culture as something that is so precious to every team member that they will always act according to your common values and mission, even when nobody’s watching (including the CEO or their manager). The team member will know what to do, whether that’s watering a co-worker’s plant when they’re on vacation, cleaning the coffee maker, getting an early start to work on a special initiative, listening to audiobooks during their commute, and seizing other opportunities to get better at their craft.

I love this description from Harvard Business Review:  “Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off.” Culture can become particularly apparent in challenging situations, such as an emergency call from a customer or a high pressure request from a prospect. Do your team members feel empowered to act? Can you trust them to do the right thing? Culture also is also reflected in the way people interact with their manager. What do they do when they made a mistake or things went wrong? How do they express themselves? How do they greet each other in the morning? Do they feel comfortable bringing new ideas to the table?

Your company values are the core around which your culture revolves. Take some time to write down those values. Here are some examples:

  • Be humble and scrappy
  • Embrace challenges and change
  • Work hard, be nice and dream big (as seen at Atlanta Tech Village)

Now let’s get back to the happy hours, the free lunches and snacks, the casual dress code, the standing desk, and the bouncy ball seats. All of those can be attractive perks that can help you reward your team members. However, the single biggest perk you can give to your team your commitment to ensuring that they won’t have to work with someone who does not live the company values. 

What about you? What’s your favorite definition of company culture?

13 thoughts on “What’s company culture anyway?

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