What does a vibrant company culture look like to you? Every business is unique, of course, but I'll wager you are challenged with the following: 

  1. Attracting and retaining top-level talent
  2. Inspiring employees to do their best work
  3. Creating a harmonious environment

When you began your business, maybe you dreamed of what working for you would look like. Employees would be constantly motivated, collaborative, and thrilled to have the job--so of course they would produce their best work! How do you create such a Utopia where employees are that engaged?

Everybody knows a great company culture is critical, but most go about creating it the wrong way. Typically, company leaders meet in a conference room, isolated from the staff, and come up with words to define their company's culture. This might be a list of "Core Values," or a set of "truths" to be posted in every conference room around the office. They roll out staff trainings, create expensive collateral, and blast these words across company websites--all in an effort to "tell" employees what the culture should be. After a while, they discover that the message didn't stick and their actual company culture is a far cry from what they have on paper.

If this has happened to you, it's not too late to reform. But first, a detox of all those harmful corporate toxins is necessary to reach the pinnacle of success. This will take time. Think of it this way: say you wanted to compete in an Iron Man competition. You put in so much time and effort at they gym, but the only things fueling your body are French fries and Twinkies. No matter how much good work you do, your efforts will be thwarted because you're not healthy at your core.

Sometimes companies, like bodies, need to detox!

Matthew Frassica has worked with known brands like Zynga and Peet's Coffee, and is currently leading the People function at PagerDuty, a successful startup in one of the most competitive talent markets in the country: San Francisco. He's created this 5-Step Culture Detox program to help you get back on track.

Define Your Vision as a Leader

As the brain of the operation, you need to map out a clear company vision. It is hard to create a strong culture if the leader can't articulate where the company is headed. Having a plan is critical to engaging employees and earning trust amongst your staff. Share this vision with your team and show them that they have an active role in the adventure.

Have an Ongoing Conversation

Sit down with focus groups and talk about what culture looks like. This can start with a simple definition of what constitutes a company's "culture." What is your culture now? Ask the right questions and be ready, willing, and brave enough to listen. Cultures of fear do not work. Leaders have to be willing to hear the bad and to be able to help guide the team to a healthy solution. This starts with understanding how people behave now and why.

Create a Visual of Your Culture

After you've accurately determined where your company is at, create a visual of what a solid culture would look like in terms of behavior. As part of your focus groups, employees may indicate that empowerment is an important part of your company's culture. Don't just define it--but create visual images of the behaviors associated with empowerment. Example: "At (our company), employees are empowered to do their best work by taking risks. Outcomes--those that work and those that don't work--will be equally celebrated and learned from." Train people to attend those behaviors without putting a stamp on it.

Identify What is Important to Your Employees

The yearly Best Places to Work awards define great companies as those who have a high percentage of actively engaged employees. These "Best Places to Work" successfully deliver in a number of areas: strong work/life balance, community/charitable giving, perks like gym memberships and wellness programs, etc.

But guess what? Your employees are individuals and may or may not care about these specific things. Your job is to find out what that they do care about. For example, engineers are among the most sought after talent right now, and in most cases they are paid very competitively. So what's to stop an engineer from leaving your company and going to another that pays more? We have learned that engineers become more engaged when they get to work on projects that are challenging and contribute to something big. So if you were trying to find a great incentive for your engineering employees, maybe allow them to work on their passion project 10 percent of the time.


Culture is not a word. It's a living, breathing organism. In order to maintain a harmonious environment--you need to work at it every day. As your company grows, your culture will evolve. Keep listening to what employees are saying. Engagement surveys and exit interviews can be windows into the current state of your culture, so don't be afraid to go back to the basics, and do another detox!