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What Actually Makes For A Great Office Culture—According To 4 Founders Who’ve Created Exactly That


office culture

Unlimited vacation policy. In-office barber shops. Open-floor plans. Lavish team off-sites. 

Employers today offer an array of perks, promises, and packages in an effort to both retain top talent as well as cultivate that coveted—albeit intangible—corollary trait: a great office culture, conducive to both employee happiness and general success. 

But what, exactly, does a great culture make? How can you go about fostering one? Is it simply a matter of fitting your office with ping pong tables and giving your employees lots of vacation? Or does it require something more than that? Amazon offers employees generous stock options, maternity and paternity leave, and a meaningful discount on Amazon products—but conditions at Amazon’s distribution centers are abysmal. Can it be said that Amazon has a great culture? 

It seems that what makes for a great office culture—one that not only engenders Amazonian profits, but that inspires—is more varied, strategic, subtle. As technology evolves, new opportunities to create influential companies in the economy of tomorrow will continue to pop up, and aspiring founders—those who today perhaps only dream of opening their own shop—will compete to seize them. One of their ultimate goals will be cultivating a sound, productive office culture. 

Here’s what that actually requires, according to four founders who’ve done it.

––Dan Moore

Offer employees fulfilling job with opportunities for growth (Tero Isokauppila, Founder of Four Sigmatic).

“Perks don’t make employees feel fulfilled—rewarding work does. In fact, psychologist Frederick Herzberg proved that as early as the 1950s when he devised his Motivator-Hygiene theory. Herzberg surveyed numerous employees to find out what elements made them feel good or bad about their jobs. He found that certain “motivators”—such as achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth—lead to satisfaction. 

Notably missing: ping pong tables. Perks like ping pong would fall in the “hygiene” category, which includes company policies, supervision, work conditions, and salary. According to Herzberg, hygiene factors are only beneficial if motivators are also high. On the other hand, if employees feel like they’re growing and developing, they’re more likely to be motivated and satisfied.

Not all perks are bad. But perks shouldn’t be the main focus. Don’t just offer your employees something because Google is. Instead, talk to your team and figure out what would make them happy––what they want. What inspires them.”

Read more here.

Invest in diversity (Angela Hood, Founder/CEO of ThisWay Global).

“Your workforce is the greatest asset to have in carving out a competitive edge. A diverse employee base brings more knowledge, perspectives, and experience to the company, which makes it appealing to a wider global audience. To me, diversity is about asking questions, not making assumptions. It’s also about being open to learning what a person is about, rather than judging them based on their ability to put together a resume (unless their job is to write resumes, of course). I have met “old” millennials and “young souls” inside people who are in their 80s.

In other words, what you see isn’t always what you get. I have benefitted in extraordinary ways by dropping preconceived notions and becoming true friends, and in some cases business partners, with people that may have polar opposite views from my own.

Without diversity, you’re playing checkers when everyone else is playing chess. That’s why companies and organizations with best-in-class diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs deliver a better ROI, and outperform in the stock market than those without them.”

Read more here.

Hire people with values that match yours (JC Grubbs, founder of Tandem).

“Hire people who share your company values, and make no exceptions. Because exceptions to this rule are direct threats to your company culture. 

If you’re the founder of a small, early-stage startup, you’ll be able to keep close watch over your company culture to keep it in check. But once you begin to scale, a lot of that responsibility will fall on management’s shoulders. At this stage, coaching and providing performance feedback become crucial to shaping and maintaining company culture. 

This is where we’re at right now at Tandem. We built and maintained great company culture as we grew from 10 to 20 to over 30 employees. Now we’re working hard to keep it in place as we grow even more. 

It’s impossible to carry every feature of your small startup culture with you as you scale, and that’s OK. Each new hire will bring their own influence to your company, changing the dynamic a bit. Embrace that, but make sure to never stray from your core company values.”

Read more here.

Invest in your key performers like they’re Lebron James (Glen Allison, COO of Honey).

At any given company, your key players––the LeBrons of your team––are the ones who are going to drive growth and progress. They’re also the people you expend the most effort bringing onboard. It’s your responsibility, for these reasons, to ensure they have everything they need to be their best selves.

Oddly, many companies neglect that. They spend time and money bringing on star performers, and then they just sort of assume they’ll do great things on their own. Instead, they focus their development resources on onboarding rookies. It’s like recruiting LeBron onto your team but not giving him a conditioning coach or a trainer, allowing him to essentially atrophy.

And giving them what they need to thrive is crucial, since the value they’ll bring by operating closer to their maximum potential is a genuine difference maker––especially when you consider how the LeBrons of your team, if cultivated and supported correctly, will turn into coaches themselves. And when that happens, there’s a residual effect where everyone becomes inspired, enabled, and encouraged to elevate their game.”

Read more here.

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