Company Culture

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Company Culture

How To Keep Good Talent With Company Culture

Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence in business these days—the adoption of advanced tech like chatbots, complex algorithms, and robots is a scorching hot topic. While the evolution of machines in the workplace is as exciting as it is unsettling, the success of modern day enterprise still very much lies with humans.

The truth is, people buy from people.

Research consistently shows that a happy workforce is more engaged, creative, productive, motivated, and successful, and while the connection between employee happiness and customer happiness is nothing revolutionary, it is more pertinent today than ever.

One one hand, millennials have been dubbed the “job-hopping generation,” with 91% expecting to stay in their current job for fewer than three years. On the flip side, millennials who feel they’re at a great company are 25 times more likely to plan a long-term future at that workplace.

That means hiring and holding onto talent is a bigger challenge than ever before, but getting it right can be the difference between a struggling startup and a thriving company. So how do you create a company culture that keeps employees in it for the long haul, while supercharging your brand following, and ultimately, your bottom line?

The Human Factor

We naturally make decisions based on people we like. When I was a kid, I always wanted the latest Adidas football (soccer) shoes, not because they were higher quality or a better value than Nike or Puma, but because my childhood hero David Beckham wore them.


It isn’t just children who are so easily influenced by people they admire and respect, either. In 2017, Influencer Marketing became one of marketing’s biggest buzzwords, as well as a billion dollar industry—the latest research from Nielsen found that only 33% of consumers trust advertisements, whereas 90% trust peer recommendations.

The same rules apply in a business-to-business context too. When choosing an agency or partner, clients want a team of people who get along well and spark each other’s creativity and performance. They want to join a great company culture and work with people who make the job stimulating, interesting, and fun. Being good at what you do is obviously important too, but when your competition is also good, it’s your people who make the difference.

But working with people can be a lot more challenging than creating a great product or sales funnel. Here are a few core strategies you can use to empower your team to operate at peak level.

Embrace Flexibility

How we shop, travel, order food, book a taxi and even find romance has evolved with technology, but the way the working week is structured appears to have been frozen in time for many organizations.

Millennials are disillusioned with the traditional 9-to-5 work schedule. Getting out of bed to sit in a cubicle, chained to a desk for nine hours is a real nightmare for many people in your hiring pool. The traditional schedule made perfect sense for most industries 20 years ago—and still does for some customer-facing teams today—but laptops, smartphones, email and Wi-Fi mean there are new parameters for how, when, and where we can work.


Today we are “always on,” with 89% of millennials regularly checking their work emails after work hours. More significantly, 77% say flexible working hours would make them more productive at their job.

Identifying duties and roles that can be performed remotely and leveraging technology that helps your team communicate with each other clearly and efficiently is all you need for your team to enjoy some flexibility.

Using email, Skype, and the old-fashioned art of phone calls, along with project management tools like Slack and Trello, you can manage remote teams and streamline communication. A lesser-known app called Sneek will even enable you to start an instant video-chat with your teammates with a single click, no matter where they are in the world. This allows you to grab a few minutes of facetime with an employee on a different continent, as if you had just walked over to their desk.

If you work in the service industry and bill your clients by the hour, you can also use a time-tracking app like Toggl to track how long employees have spent on different tasks, regardless of when or where they carry out their work.

Besides remote work, companies like Netflix even allow unlimited time off for staff, putting trust in their employees to manage their tasks and projects, and allowing them to structure their time around what needs to be done.

Flexibility will make employee happiness, efficiency, and quality of work improve, meaning your team will value their jobs more. And when we value something, it follows that we will do our best protect it.

Make Work Meaningful

Research consistently shows that people who find meaning in their work report better health and wellbeing, are more engaged, display better teamwork, and view mistakes as learning opportunities rather than setbacks. These qualities are all directly linked to performance, meaning a team that’s working just to earn a paycheck will cause your bottom line to suffer.

Having a clear purpose will help your business attract people who share the same values as your company, making them a better fit and better performers. Leadership and communication expert Simon Sinek is known for popularizing the concept of “why,” the idea that having a clear and powerful “why” is the key to inspiring your team and keeping them on track and working towards a common goal. According to Mr. Sinek:

When we provide people with a reason to come to work that they care about, they will give us their blood, sweat and tears. They will give us their discretionary effort and their passion and their best work, not because they have to, but because they want to. When we give people a reason to come to work, people will come together and put their egos aside to find ways to bring our shared vision to life.

Defining your company’s why and articulating it clearly will ensure you attract talent that “fits.” Think about the reason your company exists and write it down in simple terms. This “why” is often an extension of the founders’ own beliefs.


All brands know what they do, some know how they do it, but few understand why they do what they do.

For example, Dove does not create soap and beauty products to simply turn a profit. It has a more profound purpose. Dove exists to celebrate beauty and help improve the self-esteem of women worldwide. Working towards that mission is a more powerful reason to get out of bed in the morning than to sell soap.

Similarly, Nike believes that everybody is an athlete, and the company can bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. Airbnb exists to empower exploration and open new experiences so that people can belong, anywhere. These are powerful reasons to come to work.

Establish what your startup believes and help your team understand that they are contributing to a cause greater than themselves. Doing so will help your staff fall into that rare category of people who can say, “I love my job.”  

Make Simple Rules (Not Stupid Rules)

Some companies treat their staff like robots. A good friend of mine worked at a company where employees were encouraged to work through their lunch breaks, had software installed on their computers that monitored everything they browsed, and were banned from listening to music on their headphones. The company even installed an instant boiling water tap, not for convenience, but to reduce the time staff spent taking coffee breaks.

This company tried to squeeze maximum productivity out of their team by treating them like robots, but in the end, productivity was low due to high stress and a toxic working environment.

Systems and processes are obviously important for scaling any business. But rules should be simple, not stupid.


Interactions with co-workers are a key predictor of happiness in the workplace and creating a great company culture, and research shows that a fun working environment is directly and indirectly linked to task performance, creative performance and willingness to “go the extra mile.”

That means it pays to foster an environment that makes your team feel comfortable about taking a break to chat with their colleagues. Restricting social interactions in the workplace is likely to reduce productivity and performance, not enhance it.

Here are some other examples of stupid rules:

  • No mobile phone use during working hours
  • Lunch breaks must be taken at noon
  • Disciplinaries for being 5 minutes late
  • No sick day allowance
  • Restricted internet use

The above examples signal that the company values policy over performance—over people. It also fosters a culture of distrust, especially if there are strict rules about providing proof of illness or bereavement. It says a lot about a company if an employee would fake a death in the family just to get half a day off.

Trusting your team and giving them autonomy will allow them to experiment, learn, and grow at a much faster pace than if you try to micromanage them (not to mention most people hate being micromanaged). This level of trust will also help your team feel more fulfilled and valued, and is a much more effective motivator than surface level perks like free pizza or office ping-pong tournaments (although there is still a place for these morale-boosting activities).

Here are some examples of good rules:

  • Always ask, “How can this be improved?”
  • Treat everyone with respect, regardless of their status
  • Share ideas openly and proactively
  • Talk like a human (say “use” instead of “leverage”)
  • Admit mistakes and always be honest
  • Say what you think, even if it is controversial
  • Celebrate wins

Focus On Outputs, Not Inputs

Rather than focusing on policies and trying to track how hard staff work, instead focus on results. This might sound obvious, but many organizations are more concerned with process than actual impact.

Which of the following two companies is likely to be the most successful?

Company A disciplines employees if they turn up to work after 9 a.m., and all staff must provide documentation as proof of illness in order to take a day off. Staff are not paid for sick days, are forbidden from visiting any website that does not directly relate to their roles, and are only permitted to take three coffee or bathroom breaks per day. This company is proud of their low absenteeism, and says they have the hardest-working team in their sector.

Company B offers flexible working hours, up to 14 days annual sick pay and unlimited holidays. Employees are given a great deal of autonomy and are responsible for planning their own tasks and projects, and they understand mistakes can be made so long as they learn from them. Collaboration and sharing of ideas are rewarded and job performance is measured by nothing other than deadlines met, quality of work, and quantifiable results.

Assuming both companies operate in your industry, which one would do you think you would perform better in?

Working hard and getting results are not mutually exclusive, as the 80/20 principle dictates. It’s likely that around 80% of outputs come from around 20% of inputs, so identifying key areas and focusing on those activities that generate the best results is a better way of maximizing performance than trying to squeeze 100% hard work out of your staff 100% of the time.


A Great Company Culture: How To Hire People Who Fit This Ethos

People only find something valuable if it aligns with their core needs and motives. This is why people perform better in their jobs when their personal values are aligned with the company culture of the organization they work for. They do their best, because they value their jobs.

To hire people who are a good fit for your company, there are a few things to consider in the recruitment process:

  1. Find people who are motivated by more than just money. Ask the candidate what they are passionate about and search for examples of times they have shown an eagerness to progress in areas related to the role. Separate those who take pride in their work and those who work just to pay the bills.
  2. Get to know the real person. Interviews can be strategic chess games with tricky questions that make the candidate hide behind their interview façade. The problem with this approach (other than an uncomfortable experience for both parties) is that the person you interview is not the person you hire. Avoid the interview cliches and begin with broad questions that reveal the real person (such as “tell me your story”), before diving into more typical questions about their skills and experience.
  3. Identify those with the most potential. Growing a company involves continuous improvement in a volatile, complex, and fast-changing environment. A company is never static, and its team needs to grow and adapt in tandem. That’s why hiring for potential, not experience, is the best way attain long-term success. “The question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones,” says global talent expert Claudio Fernández-Aráoz.
  4. Hire people who are inherently nice. This one is simple: nice people make for a nice place to work.

Make Your Workplace Somewhere People Want to Work

Unsurprisingly, the most successful companies in the world are also the best places in the world to work.

Instead of micromanaging and obsessing over how employees spend every moment of their time in the workplace, leadership should focus only on what matters—results. Celebrate their human nature, rather than trying to turn them into robots.

People are the most valuable asset of your company. Hiring well and fostering a great company culture leads to better leaders, more effective managers, better decisions, and a greater return on investment.

Even if you’re a one-person band right now, it’s not too early to apply this ethos. To become a great company, you have to act like a great company from the start, before it becomes one.


How To Keep A-Players With Company Culture was originally published on Foundr