In recent years, we've heard plenty about companies creating a culture intended to boost morale and productivity. But the creating of a company culture is nothing new. What is relatively new is the promoting of your company's culture. It's not enough to have one. You must sell it, too--sometimes, it feels, as much as your product or service.

And that's a good thing.

You can't spell "culture" without "cult." The word "cult" has a negative connotation, and in many instances, rightfully so. But one of its definitions is non-controversial: "an exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest" (American Heritage Dictionary). I'd add to that the notion that the voluntary shared interest stimulates a meaningful devotion. The kind of commitment that benefits (rather than scares) others.

Sports teams and rock stars whip their fans into a frenzy just by showing up, which is cult-like behavior--but that energy commonly has a positive impact on their respective performances. So why can't the same happen for startups and other companies?

Executives and managers want their employees to like their company. But if the company culture inspires love, barriers fall. Team members tend to work harder without prompting and are less likely to be deterred by a challenge or a failure. They want to do well not only for themselves but for their colleagues. Again, a meaningful devotion.

This is why SocialRadar asks our team to stay late on two fixed nights a week--and buys them dinner, and encourages them to eat together away from their desks. This reinforces that we value their contributions--and their companionship, and their personal lives. It's people sharing an intellectual (and maybe esoteric?) interest for the greater good.

Sometimes it's the opposite--we ask our team to go out, together. We've hit superhero movies on opening day and Nationals games (not on opening day, admittedly, but still fun). A robust office culture forges more than colleagues...also friends.

Fostering a "healthy cult-like" atmosphere (an oxymoron until you know I mean an atmosphere of sincere and abiding love and respect) can even affect the company in the public's view. Effective company cultures remind employees that they are people first, employees second. Employees who feel intrinsic then speak highly (privately and on social media) of the experience--even after they leave it.

In setting out to build a company culture, I wanted it to be more than a vague feeling. So we wrote a culture deck to articulate in uncertain terms what we would try to achieve. A culture of high expectations, mutual respect, and fun is an idea around which people would be passionate, a purpose through which people would thrive. And now I see the kind of good a cult(ure) can do.

Published on: Jan 20, 2015