Employee Experience

How to build a company culture your employees will rave about

What makes some organizations synonymous with great company culture, while others fall below the fold? We took a closer look at the intricacies of building and sustaining company culture, plus the companies that have engaging cultures – and why.

Company culture permeates through every fiber of an organization. From new hire orientation to rewards and recognition, culture makes or breaks the employee experience – and the bottom line.

What is company culture?

Shared values, goals, ethics, expectations, and beliefs all add up to company culture – and drive how decisions are made, what actions are taken, and the business results that follow. Typically, culture originates with an organization’s founders or leaders and trickles down to employees. Whether that company consists of one employee or 1,000, culture dictates the workplace environment – even when that workplace is remote.

What’s the ROI of strong company culture?

Company culture plays an integral role in employees’ overall job satisfaction and success.
Here are some of the benefits of building a great company culture:

  • Increased engagement. Generally, employees enjoy their work when their values align with those of their organization. Conversely, disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year, according to a study conducted by The Engagement Institute.
  • Increased retention. When employees fit with the culture, they tend to stay – increasing retention rates and lowering costs associated with hiring.
  • Increased productivity. When employees are aligned with the culture and engaged with their work, companies see higher levels of productivity. For example, if your company is team-oriented, hiring people who thrive in a collaborative environment will help drive productivity.
  • Increased revenue. Engaged employees help drive business results. According to a Gallup report, highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability.
  • Increased satisfaction and wellbeing. The American Psychological Association reports that 89% of employees will recommend their company as a good place to work if the company supports wellbeing initiatives.

How to build and sustain a great company culture

Senior leadership and HR play critical roles in perpetuating a strong culture. If you’re not sure how to assess your culture, or need some help reshaping outdated norms and behaviors, these best practices are a great place to start.

  • Hire for culture contribution. Conventional advice says to hire for culture fit, but progressive companies up the hiring ante by recruiting new employees for culture contribution. That means, hiring employees that not only align to your company’s values, but also bring diverse experiences and backgrounds to the table, too.
  • Introduce and demonstrate your organization's core values through HR programs, such as your careers webpage, orientation, training, and performance management.
  • Reinforce core values through rewards and recognition. HR can ensure that appropriate awards go to employees who embody company values.
  • Assess company culture with a survey tool. Collecting employee data helps organizations develop strategies that support their objectives and goals. Our suite of survey tools can help you capture employee sentiment towards culture. Get started with your free Qualtrics account.
  • Analyze and communicate survey results. Leaders and HR should discuss areas of agreement and disagreement about the organization’s culture.
  • Validate and follow up on employee feedback. Through employee discussions, senior leaders can validate and ensure that employee feedback is being listened to and, where possible, addressed. Leaders may agree on organizational culture, but that doesn’t mean all employees see company culture in the same light.
  • Facilitate inclusive discussions around culture. Organizations that are doing the work to reshape cultural norms and behaviors must give all employees a chance to voice their opinions.
  • Commit to changes. If issues cannot be actioned, acknowledge them and be open about what is – and is not – possible.

In tech, we often hire for culture fit. Instead, we should hire for culture contribution

Judith Williams, Global Head of People Sustainability & Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at SAP

“We need to think differently and ask ourselves: ‘What does this new hire bring to my team that I don’t already have; what skills, background, and perspectives?’ We should hire the best person for our team, not just the best person for the role.”

Companies that have great cultures

Now that you have an understanding of how to build and sustain your company culture, here’s what great culture-in-action looks like.

Lynne Oldham, Chief People Officer at Zoom Video Communications:

“We have a 100+ volunteer force of employees called The Happy Crew, tasked with organizing activities around moments that matter to our people. From bringing employees together to welcome new Zoomies, to planning company-wide events and intersecting with our community at-large, The Happy Crew is an important driver of employee experience at Zoom. To keep things organized, they even have their own leadership team (including a captain!) and various sub-crews.

The Happy Crew played a huge part in Zoom being recognized by Comparably as the work culture with the happiest employees.”

Dave Gilbert, VP of Talent at GitLab:

“You hired people you trust, so trust them to do the work you hired them for. Leaders should also normalize the need for breaks during working hours. Just last week, a senior leader here at GitLab shared in a public Slack channel that he’d be offline for a few hours to help with child care. ”

You hired people you trust, so trust them to do the work you hired them for

Dave Gilbert, VP of Talent at GitLab

Dean Carter, Chief Human Resources Officer at Patagonia:

“Patagonia is a cause disguised as a company.

If you get arrested protesting in support of the environment, we pay for bail. For a nursing mom, we’ll pay for the mom and the nanny and the baby to travel. Those are not difficult decisions for Patagonia. They’re just in line with the culture.

With a cause so intense, we have to make sure our programs, policies, and procedures align with the culture. Anything we propose in HR that’s not aligned gets rejected immediately.”

Sergio De La Calle Asensio, Head of Engagement at Telefónica:

“Our Employee NPS is higher today [in 2020] than it was in 2019, which is testament to how we’ve supported customers and society in this unprecedented time, and our people’s sense of belonging. At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, we sprung into action by building and launching a pulse survey with Qualtrics.”

The pulse uncovered the biggest challenges facing Telefónica employees globally, and how the company could act in the right way.

“Longer workdays and working at home dealing with family responsibilities were our two biggest concerns globally. When we looked at what people wanted, over a quarter wanted more guidance on organizing their day. Nearly half were after more information balancing work and life.”

That feedback led Telefónica to take a number of actions, all of which have contributed to a higher ENPS.

Learn more about creating an Employee Pulse Survey

Geoff Ho, PhD, Director of Organization Development Research at Rogers Communications:

“Through our employee experience survey, we learned that our front line employees — for example, people in our retail and call center employees — felt like their voices weren’t heard as much as our corporate employees. So ‘Voice of the Front Line’ was born.

One key initiative within the ‘Voice of the Frontline’ is a quarterly call out for ideas directly to our frontline employees on how to improve the employee and customer experience. These ideas are visible to everyone, and can be voted up by employees. The creators of the top five voted ideas have the opportunity to present the idea to a panel of directors with the top three being presented to the VPs who then choose a winning idea for the company to focus on. It’s doubly beneficial — our leaders get great ideas about improving our customer experience directly from our front line and employees also feel heard and valued.”

Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow Group:

“At Zillow, we give people the power to unlock life’s next chapter. Due to COVID-19, we’ve seen a real surge in people rethinking where they live and, ultimately, deciding it’s time to move – whether it’s moving closer to family for a support network or out of a densely-populated area. This shift is partly why we want to support our employees to continue working remotely, so they, too, can be in a space where they feel happy, comfortable, and safe.”

Zillow quickly moved as one of the first organizations to give employees the option to work from home for the remainder of 2020 to eliminate some of the uncertainty around returning to the office.

Karalyn Smith, former Chief People Officer at Sephora:

“Our employee engagement survey is a super valuable tool. It makes people feel heard and it also gives us insight. We follow up with focus groups, and we do store visits. We ask questions like, “If you were talking to the big boss, what’s one thing you would ask to change as a company?”


Learn how Patagonia, Zoom, and Sephora get culture right