How Not to Build Your Office Culture

“Culture is infectious – it’s viral and it’s central to accelerating your business. When you have a unified team that is rushing towards a common goal, you will create rocket ship trajectory. Every industry leader needs unbounded exponential growth to succeed in today’s world.”

Wehuns Tan, CEO Wishabi

Wehuns Tan is right.

Everything about culture – even the word itself, which was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2014 – is infectious.

Just look at the success of movies like The Devil Wears Prada and books like The Knockoff. 

No doubt, much of the appeal of office culture parodies with bosses we love to hate comes from knowing that these seemingly unbelievable stories stem from actual circumstances and events we can relate to. 

With all the time we spend in the office, it’s no wonder we’re intrigued. 

But as fun as office place nightmares are to talk and hear about, we don’t actually want to live them. 

Employees value company culture more than they ever have. And the idea of culture is going beyond nap and game rooms, pets in the workplace, and cake for special occasions. 

When it comes to company culture, what matters most is feeling appreciated and recognized.  

In this day and age, when job-hopping is “the new norm” (especially for millennials), companies need to do everything they can to keep their employees happy and productive. 

Here are four things you absolutely should not do if you want your employees to work hard, stay loyal to you and your company, and grow.

(Don’t worry. We’ll also give you examples of what you should do.)

1. Strive for Fear First, Love Second

You’re in charge. You want your employees to do what you say. 

Make sure they know that. Make them fear you. 

If they love you also, that’s just the icing on the cake. 

Or not. 

There’s a better way. 

And Squarespace has found it. 

The proof? The company was voted the best place to work in New York two years in a row

It wasn’t easy for Anthony Casalena, the company’s founder and CEO, to give up control of a project that began as his own personal dorm room operation

But he’s found a system that works for him. Instead of sitting in a closed office, he sits in the center of the office surrounded by his team.  

This way, he knows what’s going on in the office. But he’s not spying or throwing out orders.

He sits where he sits so that his employees know that they can approach him, and he’s not bothered by the fact that much of his day is taken up with communication. 

As he puts it,

“I don’t understand how you can have a creative culture and have me remain plugged into it if I’m this creature behind the curtain. It would be so weird.”

Squarespace is  now “a company where people have the freedom and encouragement to do their life’s best work.”

The company has now raised $78.5 million in venture capital and is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

Clearly, the “flat” style of management is working for them. 

2. View Your Employees as Robots

Oompa Loompas have the best job ever, right? After all, they work in the world’s most magical candy factory. 

The best thing is, they’re easy to manage. They all look alike, they all think alike, they don’t ever tire, and they live to work and please their boss. 

The same goes for your employees. They’re lucky to be working for you, and they deserve to be treated the exact same way. 

Make sure your employees are constantly working. 

Or not. 

There’s a better way. 

And Dropbox has found it. 

Thanks to an impressively long list of perks, including laundry, healthy meals, and haircuts, employees are constantly having their personal needs met, which makes it much easier for them to be productive. 

In addition to all the perks, employees are expected to put their individuality to good use by being as creative as possible, especially during Hack Week, when employees are given time to work on whatever they’d like. 

While most projects created during Hack Week don’t directly benefit the company, the week sparks ideas and stretches the minds of the employees. 

With the stresses of everyday life being reduced, and with their individual talents being recognized, Dropbox employees are positive and productive. 

3. Make Decisions Without Questioning or Listening

You know what’s best for your company, and by extension, your employees. 

You have a vision of what the company culture should be, which means that you’re the one who is going to create it. 

You, and you alone (or you and others in management), should make all the decisions. 

Or not. 

There’s a better way. 

And HubSpot has found it. 

Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, recently spent 200 hours creating the company’s “Culture Deck.” 

Why would he do such a thing? 
He’s got a solid answer:

I continued to get feedback from the HubSpot team that the original culture deck at HubSpot was starting to get a little dated — and it didn’t go far enough.  It talked about the kind of people that were a match — but it didn’t talk at all about beliefs or behaviors.  Meanwhile, the company is growing like wildfire.  We’re 460 people now and adding 25+ people every month. 

So, I thought to myself:  “Self, maybe it’s time to update the deck…”  I set out on a quest to talk to a bunch of folks, run some surveys, get some feedback, read a bunch of stuff, etc.  One thing led to another…and another…and another, and here I am. 

And yes, it was worth it. 

According to Kissmetrics

In just a few short years, HubSpot has hit the #314 spot on the Inc. 500 list and gone from $2.2 million revenue in 2008 to $52.5 million in 2012.

Though company culture wasn’t the only factor in HubSpot’s success, it definitely played a huge role. 

Hubspot’s culture is so solid they can even make fun of it: 

 4. Let Your Company’s Culture Build Itself

Cultures are created naturally. 

You don’t need to work on creating one, and you have better things to do than define something that already exists. 

Or not. 

There’s a better way. 

And Zappos has found it. 

Thanks to their core values, the employees at Zappos know what to expect of each other, and what is expected of them. 

At Zappos, hiring begins with a cultural fit interview, which is worth half the weight of the process

After the training process, employees are offered $2,000 to leave the company if they feel they aren’t a fit.

Why go through all that trouble?

Well, happy employees lead to happy customers

The Takeaway

Is your company culture working? 

To find out, you might start by asking your employees how they feel on Sunday nights. 


The struggle. #kramerdaily #sundayscaries

A photo posted by A Tribute to Cosmo Kramer (@kramerdaily) on

The last thing your company needs is employees who show up Monday mornings with knots in their stomachs

With the right culture, you’ll have an office full of talented people who are happy to be at work and stay with you for the long haul. 

And the happier they are, the healthier they’ll be. Which all translates into higher productivity. 

You’ll be happier and healthy too. 

So, no matter how small your company is, start building and implementing that culture deck and make sure that you and your employees are working towards the same goal. 

Then take a step back, look around your office, and prepare to be amazed. 

What makes your company’s culture special?