How We Built a Company Culture that Puts People First

As a business leader, it’s easy to confuse company culture with the trendy perks that make a work environment seem attractive from the outside. As a CEO of a growing company, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. Come to our office and you will see roulette wheels lined with wellness and travel rewards, catered lunches every Thursday, trophies for trips to the Caribbean and exotic locations, Mariachi bands lining the office lounge on celebration days, and so on.

Make no mistake, these all make the office environment a cool place to work, but these are nothing more than perks. They don’t define the culture. Ultimately, true culture comes down to people.

If you’re a business leader out there who’s looking to make an investment in people to build a meaningful company culture, here are some people-first tips to keep in mind.

  1. Remember Your Survival Days

When you’re starting out in business you’re in survival mode, plain and simple. You’re simply doing everything you can to earn respect. This is when the ethos of your company’s true culture is born.

As your company gets bigger, ask yourself, “What did our company do when we were in survival mode? What did we stand for when we first started that made us successful?”

In our company’s case, our survival mode days were all about an underdog journey, a tale of beating odds and being told that we were wrong. A tale of loyalty and giving back.

The companies that tend to build culture the right way – and do it for a sustained period of time – are the ones who embrace their roots and make it a core part of their culture as they get bigger.

  1. Visuals Are Key

The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words rings especially true when reinforcing company culture. It’s one thing for employees to hear about company culture, but it’s another thing for them to actually see it.

Every quarter we sit down with our entire company and host a checkpoint. We kick each one of these sessions off with a photo album of cultural events, highlights and bonding moments from the previous quarter, as if we were a family flipping through a photo book and reminiscing over the moments that brought us closer together.

Employees hear about the company’s culture all the time – in recruiting materials, company handbooks, and on your website. Help them see it and feel it.

  1. Align Business Values With Life Values

Don’t be afraid to get a little personal when it comes to creating culture.

Perhaps the best way to build genuineness and integrity in your culture is to take what you believe in in your life and apply it to your business.

I run our business with the same core values and the same approach that I apply to my life. What matters most to me in life is exactly the same as what our corporate culture represents – it’s a symbiotic relationship. Be loyal to those who got you there, give back, compete, care, and experiment.

Chances are you have your own set of values that are near and dear to your heart. Embrace those values, and don’t be afraid to let them spill over from your life into your business.

  1. Hold Yourself Accountable for Anti-Cultural Behavior

Face the facts. You’re going to make mistakes that contradict your cultural ethos from time to time.

Even the greatest leaders of all-time have displayed flashes that run counter to the culture they’ve worked so hard to create. If you think Steve Jobs didn’t have moments of anti-Apple behavior you’re kidding yourself, and if you think Jeff Bezos hasn’t done one or two things over the years that are anti-Amazon in nature, then I have a bridge to sell you. The reality is, all great leaders and culture kingpins make mistakes.

The important thing is to hold yourself accountable when you display these moments of behavior that run counter to the culture you’re trying to create.

Flag your mistakes, embrace them, make your people aware of them, and get better for the future. This level of accountability will earn the respect you’re looking for from your team and demonstrate a genuine commitment to your culture.

  1. Challenge the Culture Control Theory

Critics say that you will downgrade your culture by one degree for every important step of scale that your organization takes.

Challenge this theory. Lose sleep over this theory. Refuse to buy into this theory.

From first-hand experience, I can say that it will be infinitely more difficult to maintain – and dare I say, improve – your culture as your company gets bigger. Span of control, quality assurance, and separation on the org chart all create challenges that will make it difficult to sustain your culture as your organization grows. However, there’s a difference between difficult and impossible.

If you’re willing to make the investment and sacrifice that comes along with building a thriving and living culture for your company, it can actually improve in direct proportion to the scale of your organization.

Now go forth and build your own people-first culture!

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