A lot of companies talk about culture. However, not many truly define what it means to have an environment that makes work feel less like, well, work. Instead, that environment should be something that adds satisfaction, happiness and motivation to each workday. It should provide purpose and direction.
Developing a great company culture is easier when you know what ingredients to put together, and in what measure. It’s kind of like brewing the perfect cup of coffee. You make the brew and take that first sip; and the satisfaction you experience is hard to put in words. You just know it’s good.
Here are some companies that exhibit the ingredients of that perfect brew, and why:
Prezi is a presentation-software company, based in Budapest and San Francisco, which recognizes that cultures don’t always have to be about the extroverts in their ranks. In the past, numerous organizations have seemed to only praise and move outgoing people up the career ladder. Since these people may also be loud and pushy, they’re seen as the ideal; they must know what they’re doing, right? In reality, however, the quieter types may actually be the key to a company’s success.
Consider Prezi, which takes looking inward to a new level, due to its CEO and co-founder, Peter Arvai. Arvai refers to himself as an introvert; he’s even talked about this characteristic in interviews like this one in Fortune magazine. Arvai has said that at his company, introverts are encouraged to work on their own as well as be active team members.
That doesn’t mean that the company overall is quiet and antisocial. This CEO just believes that introverts can add more to a company in terms of their creativity and imagination.
“While partying and extroversion are the norm in some startups,” Arvai told Fortune, “most companies need a variety of roles within the company and different personalities that fit those roles. Some [who are extroverts] need to be around others to thrive, while others [the introverts] need to be alone, so they can focus and get their work done.
“Some startups consist of drinking and high-fiving,” Arvai continued. “Others, like Prezi, have quiet rooms and meditation rooms — small areas to provide brain space — and even more have a mix of both.”
JavaPresse Coffee Company, a ground-coffee seller headquartered in Cheyenne, Wy., has leveraged its strengths, including product functionality. According to the company’s website, its culture springs from its pride in its patent-pending burr grinder and its emphasis on the customer experience, which prompted the founding of JavaPresse’s specialty coffee club.
The organization is internally unified by a common mission to help customers experience consistent happiness. As company founder Raj Jana noted in an interview with Inc. magazine:“I think, more than anything, our mission statement has united our team to deliver messages, products and designs with an air of consistency. Our core values are built around a desire to help customers stay grounded; and the energy we put out to achieve our mission returns itself tenfold, with the right customers, who are passionate and excited to be a part of our family.”
SquareSpace, a website-development platform, was named by Crain’s New York Business as one of the best places to work in New York City.Behind the scenes, it’s Squarespace’s company culture that accounts for that “best place to work” award. And that culture? Its base elements include free movement and communication between staff and executives, features also described in a feature story by Entrepreneur.
While this openness tends to be a standard feature of startups, something happens when those companies grow; the openness often is lost. However, Squarespace has worked to continue this freedom as part of its culture, by purposely not adding layers of management, and ensuring that all employees have a say.
In the Entrepreneur interview, the company’s CEO, Anthony Casalena, noted that the challenge was to get all 500 employees on the same page in terms of thinking and believing. That’s why the culture focuses so heavily on communication, he said. According to Casalena: “You have to do a lot of work to communicate what we’re going for, what ‘good’ looks like, what ‘bad’ looks like, what the values look like.”
According to the Crain’s article, the result is confidence, motivation and ownership, all of which define the Squarespace culture.
LEGO, the imaginative play-and-build platform company headquartered in Denmark, with offices and locations worldwide, has a fun company culture evidenced by what it makes — and the new products its employees dream up. At LEGO, a continuous focus on wonder and imaginative play help make up company’s culture, according to an interview with Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, LEGO CEO, available on YouTube.
In order to have creative, happy and satisfied employees, the CEO said, he knew that the company had to build a work environment around the same values it was building into its products for the children and parents that are its customers. This has included setting up what is more like a studio and play space than your typical office format. WIthin this space, children often visit and interact with the team during tours and product testing.
Interestingly, there are no manuals or rule books at LEGO to frame what employees do; and the attitude behind that encourages a freer-thinking environment than that of traditional stuffy cultures. Such stuffiness might stifle the innovation LEGO wants.
REI’s culture is about social consciousness and the need to take care of the environment. The company models this characteristic by caring for its customers and employees, equipping them with what they require while making it easy for them to be environmentally sensitive in their jobs.
This ownership goes well beyond just words on a page. In fact, REI is a retail cooperative whose employees own the company. As Jerry Stritzke, the CEO since 2013, explained in an article for The Atlantic. “There’s a real sense of community that’s phenomenally important. I would say it’s a compelling competitive advantage; and, as we look to the future, I think that the idea of having a community organized around a shared passion — in this case a love of a life lived outside — is really important.”
In this context, employees are rewarded for outdoor-adventure product ideas. An example is the idea someone suggested, of sending out people to repair recently purchased REI gear so the gear can still be used — rather than have the company encourage customers to buy brand new merchandise.
In this spirit, given REI’s “shared passion” culture, the company holds town hall meetings to get employees comfortable with the idea that they have a say in everything, that their ideas drive change. Theirs is a culture of immersion — whatever belongs to the company also belongs to the employees.
The recipe for an exceptional culture
The perfect company culture is not about ping pong tables, extra days off and the freedom to telecommute. Instead,it’s one where on-site and off-site employees enjoy the same benefits. Other attributes might include an emphasis on workplace equality and fairness, ownership and trust, openness and appreciation.
The perfect culture looks and sounds great on paper, but it also looms large in employees’ real-life experience because it emphasizes admirable core values. Finally, the perfect culture is one where leadership leads by example and where employees emulate that lead. In short, “culture” permeates everything.