The Best Company Culture Isn’t Elusive — It Just Takes Work

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“Company culture” has received a lot of lip service over the past few years, with businesses striving to land on “Best Companies to Work For” lists and obsessively monitoring their Glassdoor reviews. As Millennials bypassed Generation X to become the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, Millennials’ valuing of company culture above everything else made creating an appealing company culture even more important.

Many companies, however, have continued to treat brand and company culture as something beyond their control, something established by “the powers that be.” What they fail to realize is that they are the powers that be — their efforts are what directly establish the very culture being created within their walls and beyond.

Developing the best company culture possible doesn’t require magic, and it isn’t something that belongs to the masses, independent of the C-suite’s mission or influence. What it takes is work and intentionality, two things any leader can invest in starting today.

Think Through Your End Goal

Raj Jana, the founder of JavaPresse Coffee Company, graduated from college and immediately began working long hours in pursuit of each promotion needed to climb the corporate ladder. Then, one of his mentors died three months prior to retirement. Realizing his mentor would never get to spend endless days woodturning, as he’d dreamed of, Jana was motivated to reverse this ladder-climbing mentality.

Rather than envision happiness as something he’d get around to “someday,” Jana founded his coffee company on the idea that happiness is an intentional choice made every single day. Inspired to help others appreciate — and stay in — the present, JavaPresse’s mission became to transform everyday coffee rituals into “extraordinary daily experiences.”

“I think, more than anything, our company vision has united our team to deliver messages, products, and designs with an air of consistency,” Jana explains. “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 10 times with the right customers who are passionate and excited to be a part of our family.”

Mortality is a good reminder of what’s truly worthwhile, and it’s good for every leader to ask a simple question: Why should our employees spend a third of their day here versus somewhere else? Defining what makes your specific company the one that deserves people’s time and attention — whether it’s making coffee, building engines, or developing marketing campaigns — is the first step in creating a strong company culture.

Ask What Employees Want — and Need

The next step is going beyond the C-suite to consider what employees want — and need — from your company. As leaders acquire more and more resources, it can be easy to forget that employees often don’t have the money, time, or assistance leaders do. The next question they should ask: What can we do to make it possible for our employees to spend a third of their day here?

Grocery chain H-E-B was named one of Indeed’s “Best Places to Work: Culture,” and its achievement stems, in its employees’ eyes, from the brand’s ability to make every employee feel valued and receive help from people at all levels of the organization. “I love that the managers, all the way up to the store managers, are actually doing something,” one employee said. “They don’t just stand around and watch you work.”

And part of making employees feel valued meant making the work setting more flexible than in a traditional retail environment. Also named the top retail place to work by Indeed, H-E-B earned accolades from employees for offering flexibility in scheduling, generous bonuses, and employee development. The company has clearly considered what will make its employees stay for more than a season.

As every employer knows, employee needs can change with the stages of their lives as well. Affiliate marketing firm Acceleration Partners crafted a parental leave policy to ensure that its employees’ new circumstances didn’t impact their ability to contribute. The organization offers flexible re-entry for new parents in recognition of the fact that almost 75 percent of unemployed mothers would have returned to the workforce with a more flexible schedule in hand.

Find Ways to Spread the Love

The third question leaders need to ask themselves is simple but often overlooked: How can we ensure that our employees help each other while they spend a third of their day here?

One smart way companies have locked down employees who are devoted to each other’s success is through referral programs. Boutique app development company Appstem realized it needed a way to compete with bigger tech companies in San Francisco and implemented an employee referral program. The program has enabled the company to spread the word about its benefits, like a flexible work setup, and it’s helped with employee retention, too: Employees who refer friends and former colleagues are more invested in staying, and these close-knit relationships lead to more internal collaboration.

Other companies have done the opposite and cleaned house to ensure their highest-performing employees aren’t held back by those who refuse to engage in hard work. “Top performers want to work with other top performers,” explains Bill Sanders, managing director of consultancy Roebling Strauss, Inc. “Keeping low performers around directly lowers the moral[e] of everyone else, even average performers.”

Company culture is increasingly important in attracting — and keeping — the best talent, but it’s not elusive. If leaders ask themselves these three questions, they’ll create a culture that people will happily and successfully spend a third of their day in for a long time to come.


Raj Jana

Raj Jana is the founder of JavaPresse, a lifestyle brand that transforms ordinary coffee rituals into extraordinary daily experiences. He’s been mentored by some of the world’s most inspiring leaders and hosts the weekly show, Stay Grounded, to help listeners achieve more happiness in daily life.

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