What Company Culture Means to Us

Dexter, Envision's Company Culture Dog

Ah, company culture! It’s the buzzword all industries can’t seem to shake but what does it actually mean? Is it indoor slides and weekly keg parties? Is it insurance coverage and a parking spot? Is it casual Fridays or daily tarot readings? When companies say, “Company culture!” it’s usually the herald they set waving in the proverbial wind to show that they are hip and cool and know what you want.

But do they really? And what exactly *is* company culture, anyway? Last year (2018) Envision went through a transformation. We realized that though we’d been in business for 17 years, it was time for us to make a change so that we could start to move in a new, exciting direction. We’d still focus on design and marketing, but it was time to elevate ourselves and our offerings. This post is how we changed our company culture and some tips on how you can endeavor to do the same (and how it can actually help you make more money).

Company Culture: A quick definition

Company culture is all of the elements of what makes your business, well, your business–it defines not only the personality of your company but also the traits your employees (and clients!) should have to help grow your team and your revenue.

  1. Some common elements of company culture:
  2. Company Core Values
  3. Company mission
  4. Company code of ethics
  5. Company goals
  6. Company expectations

(PSST: In a later section I’ll go into what these mean and how you can create them for your company!)

By developing these ideas, you can begin to define your company culture. These values should serve as a guide for you and your staff and influence your hiring (and firing) decisions.

How we came up with our company culture

I’m going to give you the Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) version of this story: in 2018 we realized it was time for us to make some big changes. We were moving along just fine but wanted to grow more–not just in talent but in our book of business, as well. We have a wonderful book of core clients but it was time to expand our Envisionary family and help some more brands and businesses grow with us.

How did we get started? David Smith, our CEO/President/Founder/Creative Director/Den Father/Guru sat down and came up with his ideal core values, the things he wanted Envision and its employees to be. After much brainstorming and impressive crumpling of paper, he decided on the following values:

  • Committed
  • Caring
  • Enthusiastic
  • Passionate

These 4 adjectives represent what every Envisionary, including Dave himself, should embody. It’s something we have on our whiteboards, it’s something we talk about in team meetings, it’s the framework we use to evaluate each other, set goals, and hand out rewards.

These core values then started to embed themselves into our daily lives, our rituals, and our work. It has become almost a mantra for us–calming, encouraging, and motivating. With our newfound core value system, all the other areas of our team started to fall into place.

How we use our company culture

And just as things started falling into place, some things started falling out of place. There is a harder side of establishing company culture we don’t often see: when someone on your team doesn’t embody the new core values. They may represent your past, but they don’t represent your future. It doesn’t make them bad or poor at their jobs, but having people who don’t embody your company culture makes it difficult to truly move your business forward.

When we unveiled our company core values to the team, it wasn’t with fireworks or a bouncy house, it was in one of our all-hands meetings. Each core value was explained, and everyone decided that they made sense for where we wanted to go and they were ready and excited to have more structure and definition for our future.

The glorious thing about company culture? Once it’s defined, it can give your team a sense of purpose and a clearer path for them to follow. Our core values told our team members exactly how we wanted our company to be seen and how we, in turn, were expected to be seen by the company. Company culture only works if it’s the whole company that makes the change–leadership that holds itself to a different standard is either underestimating their team or overestimating themselves.

The key is: we’re all in it together–from CEO to Intern.

How to create a company culture 101

While I can literally write an eBook on how to get started, I’m going to give you the shortened version of the things you need to do to get started on creating your company culture. I listed in an earlier section 5 things you need to define in order to get your company culture going. I’m going to list them again, but this time, with some definitions and tips:

  1. Core Values: The foundational beliefs of your organization. These are either keywords or keyword phrases that exemplify what your company is and what it believes.Tip:
    Remember when I said earlier that Envision’s core values are Caring, Committed, Enthusiastic, and Passionate? We opted for simple, one-word values that are easy to remember for everyone on the team. Each core value has a longer definition, but the point is to make them memorable so anyone on your team can recite them at any moment.
  2. Company Mission: Your mission is simply what you exist to do. Don’t make it too generic like “We exist to provide great service.” Technically, everyone exists to do that (or at least they say they do), so make your mission statement very clear and concise. An example of a famous mission statement is that of outdoor apparel creator, Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”Tip:
    Write many drafts! This, like all company messaging, takes time to craft. Call in people from all departments, do surveys, polls, let the people share their thoughts on what they think your company exists to do. This mission statement is for everyone and so everyone should have some kind of hand in its creation, so they’re already invested and bought into the process when it’s time to roll it all out.
  3. Company Code of Ethics: Now that you know your core values and what you exist to do, it’s time to lay out in clear terms what is required and acceptable behavior for your company culture. This sounds very formal and conservative, but it can be simple. Google’s code of ethics? “Don’t be evil.” While there are varying degrees of incredulity concerning this particular declaration, the point of this example is that this doesn’t have to be written on a parchment scroll that unfurls to a comically long length. It can be 3 – 5 simple rules.Tip:
    Creating a code of ethics is rather simple! Take a look at your core values and mission statement to help you guide the way. For instance, if one of your core values is “Committed” then perhaps a good inclusion on your list might be something like “Be helpful”. At Envision we’re not only committed to our clients, we’re committed to each other, as well. If a teammate needs a hand, help them out. If you see someone struggling, lift them up. We don’t make this work unless we’re all working together. Make it clear, concise and easy to follow.
  4. Company Goals: This one is interesting because some people have an Agile framework and some people utilize a Traction framework and some people do whatever they want because they don’t know what those other things are. That’s OK, the point is, setting concrete goals for your company gives everyone something to work towards. If your goal is to grow, define what that growth means: is it more sales? Is it the addition of more team members? Is it an additional office in a new location? Whatever your goals, make them clear so people know what they are and how they can work to help the company achieve them.Tip:
    We make quarterly and annual goals for leadership and each team. Our goals for leadership focus on ways that we can improve our company–new incentive programs, new hires, team building, updating of tools and services, etc. Our team goals focus on professional development, client relations, new services, and innovations we can make for our teams and for the company as a whole. These quarterly and annual goals are scheduled out in Asana, our organization tool, and we parse out each task with concrete due dates. These goals should be taken just as seriously as your products or client work.
  5. Company Expectations: These are based on core values. What do you expect from all of your employees in order for them to embody and embrace your core culture? Usually, the definitions of your core values and your code of ethics can help create an understandable company culture with staying power, but if you can incorporate your culture into your review process it helps emphasize how important it is for your employees to understand what’s expected of them as part of your team.Tip:
    Review the company culture code with your team. Make sure you judge job candidates by your company culture standards and that every team member understands what is expected of them.

How your company culture can make you money

While some business owners may raise their brow at what they might consider a “kumbaya” approach to business, it’s a simple equation really:

Clearly Defined Company Culture + Consistent Business = Happy, Productive Employees

Happy, productive employees do more work, and they do it happily because they are invested in their work, its continued growth, and its survival. That productivity means more work, more deliverables, better product, better customer service, higher retention rates–the list goes on.

Company Culture, The TL;DR version

Having clearly defined values, ethics, and goals means your team understands the work that needs to be done and how they can each do their part. They understand what is expected of them and what it takes for them to succeed. Once everyone is on the same page, your company can start to focus on bigger and bigger goals because, finally, you’re all on the same page.