A strong and effective company culture is much more than a kitchenette stocked with free snacks and a ping pong table in the center of the office. While these are nice perks, the outcome may or may not have a significant impact.
It all begins with the intentional development of values and a strong mission statement that's demonstrated throughout the company. But founders don't always reinforce their beliefs with actions that show they truly care about their people. Sometimes, it's just not easy to think of ways to get this important message across.
To get your creative juices flowing, I've gathered some examples from successful CEO's who've seen great results by implementing significant, yet uncomplicated, cultural changes. These changes drive their values and mission while letting employees know how critical they are to the company's success.
Brent Smart, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi NY, hosts monthly "Family Dinners," where he gathers people from different departments, junior and senior, new and old, creating a new mix of people who don't normally work on the same teams.
It's a casual, open, honest, and authentic bonding session where nothing is off the table and where staffers can get to know each other and the leadership on a more personal and human basis. So much so that the dinners often end up at karaoke for dessert.
"An Italian Family Dinner is a brilliant metaphor for the type of culture we need at Saatchi to be a great creative agency," says Smart. "Everyone around one big table; different disciplines and talent surrounding a business problem. There are lots of debates, opinions, and passion." The dinners encourage people to ask any question and hear first hand from the CEO what is happening and why--and the results have been very positive. Saatchi & Saatchi's culture scores have greatly improved because of this transparency.
Don Smithmier, CEO of GoKart Labs, developed a program he calls The GoKart 600 where, for an entire work day once a year, teams gather to invent a new business. They are given six-hundred minutes and six-hundred dollars to work with. Beginning with a real human need or problem, team members do research, create the brand, prototype it, and even try to get some user feedback in the same day. They end the day with an investor pitch and demo.
"We're in the business of creating and growing businesses, so, we are start up nerds," says Smithmier. "Everyone here is interested in either getting their own startup off the ground or teaching our clients how to do it."
The GoKart 600 process reinforces fearless exploration and purposeful innovation, two of the company's key cultural traits. "It also teaches our teams about startups and the pitch process," says Smithmier. "And, it's a way to test new design, prototyping, collaboration, and coding methods on our own work versus doing it on client work."
Smithmier admits that it's a lot of time and money to shut down the client work for a day, but the team sees and appreciates the investment and find it very re-energizing.
Mike Samson, co-founder of crowdSPRING, has implemented many programs at the company including unlimited vacation time and work-from-home Friday's. Samson says these policies effective, not only because a happy employee is a more productive, loyal employee, but because they also reduce stress. "Employee's can easily arrange to be home to wait for the cable guy," says Samson. "We also find that employees actually work longer hours because they appreciate the culture and flexibility."
Taking it a step further, Samson also encourages employees to avoid setting their alarms so they are well rested for the day ahead.
CEO Steve Huey at Capture Higher Ed, a company that helps universities attract, engage, and recruit mission-fit students, says he wanted to create a feeling of "we're all in this together".
"We wanted a laid-back atmosphere that fostered creativity, emphasized communication and honesty, and made people come together more like a family than as coworkers," says Huey.
To accomplish that Huey and his team have created some fun traditions at Capture Higher Ed. They include:
Celebratory company meetings.
The last Friday of each month is a time to welcome new employees, celebrate new partnerships, and reflect on company goals and values. Prior to the meeting, people can submit anonymous questions directly to Huey that get answered during the meeting. They also have a cake that recognizes something that's happened in the past month. "Our last cake read "#750" because the company had debuted as #750 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately held U.S. companies," says Huey. Meaningful achievements are often celebrated with a Champagne toast.
Team members can write an Awesome Card to a co-worker, thanking them for doing something extraordinary. All Awesome Cards are read aloud at the monthly company meeting.
Dog-day Friday (my personal favorite).
Every other Friday employees can bring their dog to work with them.
Build-Your-Own Food Day.
Once a month employees gather to build their own foods like pizzas, quesadillas, or tacos. Everyone brings ingredients and they spend time together in the kitchen cooking and eating together while watching Family Feud. To Huey it resembles a happy family reunion.
What traditions and offerings best represent the values and mission that make your company unique? Share them with us here!