Discover how to choose and enshrine your company's culture and values from iconic examples like Amazon, Starbucks, and Netflix.
A company's culture and values are the essence of what it stands for, a guiding light for the way work gets done internally and a proxy for its identity and reputation externally. Identifying your company culture and values can be an intensive process, but that's not where the work ends. Documenting the results clearly and in detail is just as important as the identification process itself. Missing this step can lead to they decay of norms over time, marked by inconsistent decision-making, unfocused goals, and internal misalignment about behaviors and expectations. Without clear documentation, companies may struggle to maintain a cohesive identity as they grow and evolve.
Documenting your company's culture and values, on the other hand, brings clarity, cohesion, and a shared sense of purpose to your team. Writing down critical information about the core beliefs and principles helps to guide employee decisions and behavior, creating an environment of structure and accountability. Free from confusion about expectations about behavior and performance, employees are aligned on how to best make progress towards company goals and can focus their efforts there.
Culture and values documentation is largely driven by the unique characteristics of a company and therefore will vary quite widely, but it generally contains information about a company's mission and purpose, professional values and core beliefs, and/or operating principles. All of this information has the purpose of guiding decision-making and behavior, collective and individual and day-to-day as well as big-picture.
Netflix's culture and values document, for example, has been viewed millions of times since its publication in 2009 and is now considered by some to be the industry standard. It addresses culture and values in a long-form and wide-ranging fashion, incorporating in each section examples of company policies that arose from the value at hand. Key tenets like innovation and inclusion are described alongside more detailed prescriptive and proscriptive guidelines for behavior. "There are no 'brilliant jerks'" at Netflix, their documentation reads, setting a clear and immediate standard for how employees should conduct themselves.
Google, on the other hand, merely discusses "Ten things we know to be true." These are the ten core values held by the company since its earliest days, presented as a holistic overview with a simplicity that belies the values' deep meaning. That "it's best to do one thing really, really well" may seem obvious, but this value (the second of ten) is what made Google Search the universal daily essential that it is. This simple yet resonant approach makes Google's "Ten things" a particularly powerful entry into the pantheon of culture and values documents.
Writing down your company's culture and values creates a clear set of expectations that everyone, from prospective hires to top executives, can use to guide their decision-making. Existing employees can refer to the document as a source of both inspiration and guidance along their professional journeys at your company, and those who feel a connection to it are more likely to remain productive and happy in the long-term.
Prospective employees can find culture and values doumentation useful too, as a bellwether of sorts as they imagine what their own journeys might look like. Clearly-defined cultures and values help candidates determine whether they align with your company's ethos and norms before they apply. Not only does it help your employer brand stand out in a crowded field, but it can attract high-quality applicants who resonate with your principles, improving the fit of your candidate pool and reducing turnover rates once they come on board.
Start at the beginning. Examining your company's earliest days will provide a starting point for articulating culture and values. Check in with executives or even longtime employees. Why was the company first established? What problems were being solved? What values and principles were motivating factors? Track the evolution of these over time, if relevant, until the present day. Nowadays, what makes your company unique? What are its goals and vision, short- and long-term?
Get input. Though leadership sets culture and values, your rank-and-file employees are the bread and butter—they may not create company culture, but they are immersed in it, and uphold it and can even change it in myriad ways. Employee thoughts and feedback will produce insights very different from those of executives, so this step is essential for creating culture and values documentation that is broadly inclusive. Asking for employee input not only demonstrates that the company values their contributions, but also helps you create a culture that everyone can buy into.
Give examples. Including clear and illustrative examples of company culture and values in practice can help employees understand exactly what is expected of them. Zapier's values document offers "tips on how to apply (and not apply)" each value. To demonstrate how to "grow through feedback," the document offers "I seek out and account for customer feedback," versus how not to: "I avoid customer feedback because it may critique my work, or because I know what's best for our customers."
Consider recruiting. As you draft, remember that prospective employees may one day read your culture and values document. Consider the types of things they'd want to know. How can you attract like-minded workers, and detract those with contrasting attitudes and perspectives, while still putting your company's best foot forward? Be as detailed, accurate, and honest as possible; this will save candidates and yourself more time in the long run.
Iterate. Just as an individual does, as your company grows, learns, and develops over time, it will change in material ways. These changes will inevitably affect your culture and values, so your culture and values documentation must be a living thing. Create a timeline and process for reevaluating your culture and values to ensure that they still feel in alignment with who and where your company is today.
Culture and values nowhere to be found in your company documentation? Before you take pen to paper, draw inspiration from influential companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google, and more.
Like Google's culture and values document, LinkedIn's "How We Show Up in the World" is on the simpler side, providing a six-point guide for expected behavior, including things like treating other LinkedIn employees with trust and care and being responsible for embodying diversity, inclusion and belonging.
Ben & Jerry's goes further, detailing not just their economic and product missions but their social one as well, which "compels [them] to use [the] company in innovative ways to make the world a better place." This is underscored less by individual behavior and more by larger business decisions, like using cage-free eggs and working with vendors that provide jobs for people who traditionally face barriers to employment.
Stripe's "Operating Principles" details how Stripe employees work and who they are, and also includes some "classic slogans" that aren't strictly part of company operating principles but convey deep meaning internally, like "We haven't won yet" or "Really, really, really care."
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