You company's culture will develop whether you design it or not.
That's why it's essential to:
1. Have a point of view on what culture you want to have.
2. Live and model what you have stated the culture to be.
But how do you decide what's important?
It starts with asking a series of questions. These questions will have unique answers that can help identify who you are and what your company cares about. Questions like:
- What does your office space look like? At eBay I was shocked when I found out I'd be working in a cubicle, but then I realized Meg Whitman did too and this arrangement exemplified the open and collaborative style that defined the workplace.
- Do you have a learning environment? What are the opportunities to receive mentorship and personal growth? Bain famously allows employees in their third year to take a six-month "externship" where they work in a different office, or for a different organization.
- Do people have to come into the office, or can they work from home? At my investment firm WIN, we value outcomes over face time and allow for people to work from wherever they want.
- What working hours are expected? At Salesforce employees get seven days a year off to volunteer, signaling people are at the company to do more than their jobs-they also spend time engaging with their communities.
- How frugal are you? Josh James, the founder of Domo, wrote a great blog post about why he didn't replace the stained carpet in his new office, saying it was a great reminder to stay "scrappy."
- How are deadlines managed? At WIN, deadlines are self-imposed and important to keep; we also have a mandate to be responsive in hours, not days.
- What about pets, are they allowed in the office? I didn't appreciate getting licked on my head by a Labrador retriever who found his way to my cubicle when I was CEO at LiveOps, but his owner appreciated having him there.
- How do you welcome new people? When I was the CEO of LiveOps, I welcomed every new hire on his or her first day. We also brought doughnuts in and asked people to come by and say hello to the new folks. Unfortunately this ignited another cultural phenomenon--the start-up 20-pound weight gain!
- How do you deal with problems? Do you tell people about them early or do you wait? At HP Meg Whitman implemented a "24 hours to resolve or escalate" policy. At eBay and LiveOps, we had post-mortems on each issue encountered. By not making it a blame game, we encouraged people to ask for help early, and learn from their mistakes.
- How do you manage departures? In the early days at eBay, we didn't spend much time acknowledging exits. However, we eventually became more enlightened about supporting individuals chasing their dreams, and we began to celebrate them on their way out.
I admire all of these customs that create these companies' unique cultures. But remember, authenticity is a crucial element of the strongest cultures. That's what provides a solid foundation yet also enough flexibility as you grow. This type of culture will never come from copying anyone else's company--it comes from creating something you believe in.