Tips to help smaller companies build a corporate culture

Tips to help smaller companies build a corporate culture

When Greg Besner's company, CultureIQ, was in its infancy, he took the entire company -- just a few people, at that point -- hiking. Besides strengthening trust and developing stronger relationships between colleagues, the adventure had another purpose: to determine the core values on which the company's culture would be anchored as it grew.

Culture kumbaya

"It sounds really cheesy, right? I mean, we all got on a train to upstate New York, we went hiking, we built a campfire, and we sat around and discussed what we care about individually and what we stand for as a company. It was very 'kumbaya;' but it was actually a very serious thing. We were sketching out the framework of our culture -- and to this day, years later, we still refer back to those six core values and the mission that we discussed that day," says Besner, CEO and founder of CultureIQ.

While not every company can afford to take time off for a hiking trip, you certainly can't afford to ignore culture, no matter how small your organization.

"I was an early investor in Zappos.com, so seeing how that organization grew from 70 to 5,000 people but still maintained that focus on culture and how it inspired employees was critical for me. It gave me such good insight into how to use culture, as a leader, to impact engagement, morale, branding, business metrics -- you can't build a great, sustainable organization without that culture foundation," Besner says.

An emphasis on culture can strengthen any company, regardless of industry, market share or size, and it doesn't have to be an expensive undertaking, either, says Kiyoto Tamura, vice president of marketing at Treasure Data, which was named one of Forbes' Best Cloud Computing Companies and CEOs to Work For in 2017.

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Culture is free

Rather than offering endless perks to get you in the office and keep you there, Treasure Data tells people to leave the office. In addition to this work-life balance dedication, Treasure Data's core values emphasize humility, autonomy and celebrating both the everyday and extraordinary wins, according to Tamura. The entire organization, from the bottom up and the top down, embraces these values; that not only makes culture initiatives effective, it doesn't cost a thing.

"The degree to which Hiro [co-founder Hironobu Yoshikawa] embodies humility sets an incredible example for the rest of the company. He's so focused on separating criticism and feedback from the person who's delivering it and he makes sure that everyone is heard, listened to and respected -- and that's something we all try to emulate," Tamura says.

The focus on humility and autonomy, another of Treasure Data's core values, is rooted in the philosophy of the open source movement, Tamura says. Working on projects or pieces of code that will be submitted to a global audience and subjected to feedback and criticism from other technologists worldwide is the ultimate example of both cultural tenets, he says. It's also contributed to diversity, Tamura adds.

"We believe open source is one of the best ways to encourage developer engagement and interest in the community, but it also opens up the field so the marginalized and underrepresented can participate just as fully in this massive network of collaboration. That sense of individual empowerment and accomplishment is just incomparable, and there's not a lot more humbling than seeing all these public arguments around your code," Tamura says.

[ Related story: How company culture can make or break your business ]

Celebrate good times

Finally, celebrating success and "wins," both large and small, at the individual and team levels is an important factor in company culture. People want to know that their contributions matter, are seen and heard, and are contributing to the larger mission and values of the company, Tamura says.

"You can try and lure great talent with cash, or flashy perks and that sort of thing, but you have to realize that most -- if not all -- technologists are passionate about what they do. This is one of their key creative outlets, and recognizing and rewarding that passion both outside and inside the four walls of your office is incredibly important," he says.

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