Many people don’t understand the difference between company culture and values. Values are a set of thing that you say are important and right. They’re very high-level and are a set of ideals that you aspire to have. Generally, they’re immutable and an innate part of who you are. Culture is really just the embodiment of those values. They often come in the form of processes, practices, team structure, how you communicate, traditions, and more. While values are more or less static, culture can constantly change.
In the same way a company’s product is an embodiment of its mission, a company’s culture is an embodiment of its values. I’ve found that one key to building great company culture is to think of building culture in the same way that you think about building your product.
There’s many ways to build a great culture, but here’s a couple things that can help.
Define your values
One of the first things we did at ZenPayroll after we hired our first 5 employees was to talk about our personal values. We then discussed which of these we felt were important to have as our company values. Most of our initial hires were engineers, and many of them probably felt at the time that we were wasting a bunch of time talking about our feelings instead of coding. As the CTO, I’m sure I had some of those thoughts in the back of my mind as well. Looking back, this was probably the single most leveraged thing we did as a company. The 6 values we came up with still live with us today and are the bedrock on which our culture is built on. Having strong and clear values that everyone commits to is a prerequisite to having a great culture. Strong values espouses a strong culture. Weak values espouses a weak culture.
Measure and iterate your culture
In the same way that we measure product NPS, user adoption of new features, and the conversion rate of our on-boarding funnel, we also measure our company culture and iterate based on the results. These culture measurements are done in a surprisingly similar way to how we measure product.
We regularly out surveys we call "ZPulse" that contain a number of culture-related questions that everyone is encouraged to answer anonymously and truthfully. The results are compiled, cut by department, and shared with each of our People Empowerers (our version of managers) with suggestions on what they can do to improve culture. It’s really important to be honest with ourselves about the feedback and proactive about implementing changes.
Culture can seem like a very intangible thing to build in a company, but I find that if you think about culture in the same way that you think about product, it’s much easier to understand and build.