Building company culture is a lot like fostering a relationship in your personal life. It’s a unique situation that must genuinely reflect the people involved, account for their personalities and demonstrate respect for their beliefs and goals.
At the end of the day, there’s no inherently right or wrong way to build company culture (though there are plenty of consultants that would happily tell you different for a hefty fee). Whatever works for your business and employees is the right way to build company culture, whether or not it adheres to “best practices” or would work for another organization.
So rather than provide a list of tips and tricks that may or may not apply to your situation, we figured we’d share some examples of how real businesses are building strong company cultures, highlight a few ideas to try in your own efforts and provide some links for further reading. We’re fortunate enough to work with some of the most culture-driven companies in seven major tech markets, so we’ve compiled a pretty impactful list.
Let’s get to it.
How they build company culture: Blackbaud, a provider of cloud-based software for the philanthropic industry, built a company culture around a shared passion for giving back. “You can’t truly be successful at Blackbaud unless you are passionate about serving the nonprofit community,” says Brandon Phipps, VP of Sales and Market Development at Blackbaud. The company walks the walk by organizing team-wide service projects, providing time off to volunteer and offering a company match for employee charitable-giving. Employees are also encouraged to participate in the selection process of the company’s Blackbaud Community Grants program which awards grant money to local nonprofits in Austin, TX. Of course, it isn’t all work, as the company also hosts social events themed to topics they love, like pinewood derbies, Harry Potter and an annual Star Wars movie marathon.
What differentiates their culture: Blackbaud built a culture of people passionate about nonprofits.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture of passion. A business’s mission goes deeper than revenue. Emphasizing your corporate mission and hiring like minded people will reinforce the importance of what you do and foster a self sustaining culture of success.
How they build company culture: OppLoans is an online lender that uses technology to provide affordable credit to people who do not qualify for traditional bank loans. The company provides an invaluable service, but it’s a difficult industry with countless challenges. “They’re great problems to have, but they’re still problems,” says CEO Jared Kaplan. Given the complexity associated with this work, the company built a culture of constant development and opportunity that supports its employees at every stage of their career. OppLoans provides continuing education opportunities based on individual aspirations and offers promotions both within and across teams so people can follow their passions and remain a valuable asset to the company, even if they’re looking to change their career path.
What differentiates their culture: Transparency and the notion to ‘rule by motivation, not fear.’ Their team is driven by success, improvement and rewarding top performers.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture of support and improvement. Not only will your employees feel appreciated by the investment you make in them, they’ll be properly equipped for continued growth which will only help the company.
How they build company culture: Nerdery is a digital consultancy that helps mid- to large-size clients in the healthcare, retail and manufacturing industries. That’s a broad customer base, and to get the job done the company built a team of people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Creating one culture that’s authentic to so many unique people may sound impossible, but it’s actually just the opposite. “Trying to create a culture from the top down never feels quite right,” says Jim Butts, Principal Software Engineer and Team Manager at Nerdery. “So my focus has been in supporting activities Nerds are passionate about and encouraging everyone to share their interests — however obscure.” The company encourages individuals to explore their passions, and the office space reflects their range of interests with Jurassic Park and Chamber of Secrets themed conference rooms and a MAME Cabinet with 400+ games. When an employee is promoted, the team celebrates by filming a creative video centered around their interests and quirky personalities. Nerdery is one of the growing list of companies that’s ditching the idea of “culture fit” and moving to “culture add,” and if you ask us, it seems to be working.
What differentiates their culture: It’s centered on trust. Their team of Nerds are comfortable and proud to share their unique work and personal passions.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture based on authenticity and trust. Aside from embracing the individual factors that make every employee unique, this approach creates a more inclusive environment where people can be frank with feedback and recommendations.
How they build company culture: Tala is a fintech company that provides financial services to underserved people around the world. They’ve built a team that’s passionate about the mission and as diverse as the customers they serve. “We have team members from all walks of life, which brings in a diversity of opinions and experiences to meaningfully drive our innovation,” says Gaurav Bhargava, VP of Credit at Tala. The financial experts at Tala come from a range of backgrounds and experiences, which fuels creativity and growth. Their credit team alone speaks 10 languages, maintains equal gender representation and represents four nationalities. Tala also provides employees with opportunities to learn new business functions outside of specific roles to explore interests and gain a holistic understanding of the company.
What differentiates their culture: Equity and diversity are key to innovation. Their customers are their passion, and to serve them best, they built a team that encourages creative thinking and represents their customer base.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture that reflects your customers and mission. The best way to serve your customers is with a team of people who are relatable, knowledgeable and passionate about their service. It will also foster an environment of people who can challenge and support each other, boosting efficiency and product quality
How they build company culture: ServiceNow is a cloud-based platform that automates workflows, manages projects and simplifies collaboration for companies. “Growing our local culture is a constant evolution and discussion item, but we’ve already developed some traditions,” says Ryan Wells, Senior Technical Program Manager at ServiceNow. As a small company, they recognize how much of an impact each new addition has on their culture, and they encourage everyone to give input and lead new culture, diversity and inclusion initiatives. The team is just as excited as new hires during their first week, and the company sponsors team outings like karaoke, bowling and baseball games to welcome them into the fold. Inclusivity is a major part of their culture, so when one employee brought lunch from home while others ate out, they came together and brought lunch back to the office so that everyone could eat together. When it comes to company culture, little acts can have a big impact.
What differentiates their culture: One employee describes it as a ‘culture of camaraderie.’ Customers are embraced as part of their culture; they even bake a cake each time a new customer goes live.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture around individual interests. If people are comfortable sharing their quirks, others are likely to do the same. Especially for small companies where everyone has a significant impact on the culture, it’s crucial to make sure everyone feels included and represented.
How they build company culture: Eave provides mortgage services for luxury homes in Colorado. They carefully considered how each candidate will impact their culture to build a strong foundation as the team grows and evolves. “Our team … has done a ton of work to minimize unconscious bias, focus on diversity efforts, optimize for candidate experience and keep diversity top of mind daily,” says Miana Campbell, Market Development Relationship Manager at Eave. Creating a diverse and unbiased team is always a primary focus, and when considering candidates, their team uses gender-neutral pronouns, and they make a point to provide anonymous interview feedback to keep opinions as unbiased as possible. They also implemented gender pay equity guardrails to ensure equality across the company.
What differentiates their culture: Diversity and equality are priorities for every aspect of the company.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture that embodies diversity inside and out. Schedule regular diversity and bias conversations and trainings to prevent unconscious prejudice when interviewing and interacting with candidates, colleagues and clients.
How they build company culture: Evive is a platform that integrates big data with predictive analytics to help people optimize their work benefits. Like most companies, Evive experiences growth pains, but what’s kept their culture in sync is a collective commitment to make an impact and improve people's lives. “Work is such a large part of a person’s life, and the benefits and support platforms that go with that work can make all the difference in how someone goes from subsisting to flourishing,” says Andres Gonzalez, UI Designer at Evive. As a company so passionate about making an impact on people’s daily lives, their team is no exception. To reduce their ecological footprint, they created a ‘going green’ initiative that continues to influence their culture. Their team extends their impact beyond the office by volunteering at local organizations, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
What differentiates their culture: Creating a better world and impacting the lives of others are core values, and their team acts on their passions to support those values.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture based on a cause. Support employees interests by providing opportunities to volunteer, start a passion project or implement programs that incorporate the whole team to meet a goal.
How they build company culture: Yaro partners with healthcare providers to give consumers transparency and control over their healthcare. Like other small companies on this list, they’re conscious of each person’s impact on their culture and the need for multifaceted individuals to contribute beyond their role. “By removing the silos you’d typically find in a larger company, we’ve created a more cohesive, open work environment,” says Vanessa Righeimer, Content Strategist and UX Writer at Yaro. To put this philosophy into action, they’ve created an environment that encourages employees to work on projects across teams. When their product team was creating a new app feature for insurance claims, the director of operations and CTO provided feedback based on their unique experiences and improved the design. Their week-in-review happy hour provides an opportunity for each person to share successes and ask for help on their current projects.
What differentiates their culture: Clarity, intensity and community are key characteristics to their culture — in that order. During each interview, they ask candidates what those terms mean to them to ensure new hires are on the same page when jumping into their small communal team.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture that reflects your company’s present and future needs. Especially at small companies, each person contributes to multiple areas of the business and its culture, and the founding team will set a precedent for the company culture as it grows.
How they build company culture: Hireology is a software platform that helps companies manage the employee lifecycle. With a mix of 100+ local and 40+ remote employees, it can be challenging to create an inclusive and coherent culture. “When you have a blended team, your local staff can help bridge gaps and build empathy,” says Joel Schlundt, VP of Engineering at Hireology. Remote work opens up employment opportunities for both companies and candidates but can push the limitations of virtual communication. To ensure seamless correspondence, they’ve built a system to equip the team with everything it needs, including video conferencing in every meeting space and training for remote workers to prevent technical glitches. They also bring remote and local teams together twice a year so that people can get real face time — instead of just Facetime.
What differentiates their culture: Empathy and communication are key to building relationships between remote and local workers. They even implemented empathy exercises, where employees swapped jobs for a few hours to help them understand the challenges of other roles.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture that includes everyone from everywhere. Regardless of where your employees are physically located, it’s crucial that they feel a part of the team. Invest in quality technology and create a daily routine that incorporates remote and local employees so that they are able to build relationships and contribute to culture.
Bento for Business
How they build company culture: Bento for Business is an expense management software that helps small businesses control employee spending with smart employee debit cards. “Though we move at a fast pace, and it might seem that we don’t have time to sit and explain things, every employee at Bento loves sharing, helping and lifting others,” says John Turner, Full-stack Engineer at Bento. Bento’s motto - “Be Human” - illustrates the company’s dedication to both professional and personal development.development. To support team members in all aspects of their lives, several members of the company’s leadership team extend their mentorship beyond the workplace, helping employees be more human. This mentality of helping and supporting each other is transferred throughout the company from colleagues to customers and partners. When one employee was apprehensive about talking with the CEO, they began having regular meetings to build their confidence, discussing both personal and professional challenges and goals.
What differentiates their culture: No matter their level, employees feel valued in all aspects of their lives, including both their work and personal aspirations.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture of leadership and mentoring. Make sure employees are comfortable collaborating with colleagues at all levels. Encourage one-on-one meetings between various roles and teams.
Zoom Video Communications
How they build company culture: Zoom Video Communications is a platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat and webinars. “The happiness crew maintains the company culture at each location through events, celebrations, community involvement and volunteering,” says Steve Snyder, Account Executive at Zoom. That’s right, they created a happiness crew whose primary focus is to maintain a close-knit culture as the company grows. Different teams come together to volunteer for local organizations like the Special Olympics, Denver Food for Thought and Habitat for Humanity. New hires from across the globe attend a training session in San Jose to build relationships and learn about the company and its culture before their first day. Once they start, new hires are paired with a mentor to learn more about company culture and company outreach. During their weekly company-wide office meeting, employees recognize a colleague who supported them and share updates to keep everyone in the loop and show appreciation for individual successes.
What differentiates their culture: They make a conscious and continuous effort to grow and evolve culture with the company. During interviews, when candidates are asked “who motivates you,” their response is often a loved one, so the company hosts events for people to bring their child or parent to work for colleagues to meet who motivates them in their personal lives.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture committee. As a company grows, culture often become a back burner issue. Rather than allowing culture to run its course, create a team that meets regularly, establishes culture programs and re-evaluates culture as teams grow and change.
How they build company culture: SecureLink is a security platform for technology vendors and clients that provides customers with security, control and accountability. This high-tech company isn’t afraid to step outside the traditional tech candidate pool when growing their team. “Focusing on the individual and their abilities rather than their past experience gives us a tremendous advantage,” says Jacob Venard, Director of Customer Success at SecureLink. Rather than focusing solely on education and experience, they look for nontraditional candidates, hiring people with backgrounds in teaching, firefighting and philosophy. Joel Burleson-Davis, the VP of Technology, studied philosophy, ethics, ancient languages, history and Greek in college, then went on to study systems science in graduate school before joining the team. They hire people who are passionate about learning because they’re more likely to stay motivated, enjoy their work and tackle challenges with unique perspective.
What differentiates their culture: Personality and motivation trump education and experience.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture with a thirst to learn. Ever had a candidate your team clicked well with, but they didn’t quite have the background of other interviewees? It might be worthwhile to take a chance and hire people who are passionate about learning because you can teach technical skills to people who are driven to grow and conquer challenges.
How they build company culture: Trendkite builds technology that measures the impact of public relations campaigns. One thing that make their company unique is both their customers and teams are passionate about the product. “They exude happiness and drive. But what honestly sold me on the company was not the people — it was the product and how much everyone really believes in it,” says Ray Roberts, Market Development Representative at Trendkite. They search for people who are passionate about building a product that’s unlike other tools available and take pride in their work. They’re also a highly organized team with stellar communication skills both internally and externally. They know what they’re looking for in candidates, so the hiring process moves pretty quick.
What differentiates their culture: Great culture will directly influence the quality of service a company produces, and Trendkite understands that parallel. People are excited to represent the company and share the fruits of their labor outside of work hours.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture that’s highly organized and passionate about the product. Seek candidates who are passionate what your company does and understand the impact it has on customers. They’ll be more motivated to improve the product and will act as brand ambassadors, boasting about the quality of the service they helped create.
How they build company culture: Updater eases the pains associated with moving by transferring utility and digital services, reserving moving companies, updating accounts and forwarding mail. Rather than having multiple phone and in-person interviews, Updater has full day interviews. “Unlike a typical interview, the full day is an enjoyable experience that shows what it is truly like to be a part of Updater,” says Zebin Sakeeb, Services Engineer at Updater. This process saves time, resources and stress by condensing the entire interview process into one day. It also gives the candidate a unique opportunity to engage with the people they will be working with in their daily environment. Typical interviews are often one-sided, but this interview tactic allows candidates to determine if the role and culture are a good fit for them, and employees recall the experience to be more enjoyable and less stressful than traditional interviews they’ve experienced.
What differentiates their culture: They immerse candidates in their culture during the interview process. They create an equal opportunity for the team and candidate to assess the role, personality and skill set fit.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture where teams and candidates can assess fit. Interviewing is often one-sided, focusing solely on the needs of the company, but like any relationship, fit should be assessed by both parties. It can be difficult to measure culture fit through phone interviews and brief interviews, but a full-day interview can provide everyone with adequate information to make a final decision and end up saving time.
How they build company culture: Workiva’s cloud platform Wdesk helps companies manage data across departments and offers controlled collaboration, performance reporting, financial reporting and more. Building and maintaining technology as complex as Wdesk requires coherent leadership and communication across teams and roles. “Nurturing a high-performance, fast-paced, innovative culture where everyone's ideas are encouraged and collaboratively debated takes considerable patience, openness and vulnerability,” says Michael Bevilacqua, VP of Product Development at Workiva. “I’ve found the best way to achieve this is by modeling the behavior.” Debate is a major part of their culture and is highly encouraged and supported across departments. In order to yield the results required to keep up with their high demand product, it’s crucial for their team members to be open and honest and solve issues efficiently.
What differentiates their culture: Their leadership team fosters an environment of giving and receiving feedback. They are willing to admit mistakes, recognize individual talents, support opinions and disagreements and exude patience all while considering the team’s overall health and well-being.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture of leadership by example. Leaders greatly influence culture, so promote people whose leadership style matches that of the company’s mission and culture. People will be much more comfortable sharing ideas and be open to feedback if the people setting an example do the same.
What differentiates their culture: They hire people who are hungry for knowledge, and they continuously feed that hunger with stipends and opportunities learn.
How you can apply this strategy: Create a culture that prioritizes individual development. Both professional and personal development are major factors contributing to an individual’s success. Support your employees’ passions and they will be more engaged and motivated at work and life in general.