How Atlassian, Warby Parker, Reddit Are Building World-Class Company Cultures

Experts have been touting the benefits of a healthy company culture for almost a decade now, but few can identify tried-and-true methods that are guaranteed to build one. In part, that’s because, by its very nature, company culture must be unique to each company – it’s a complex, living characteristic of a company that evolves with each new hire. But it’s also because it can be hard to identify specific examples of a healthy company culture at work.

Just a few weeks ago, leaders from Atlassian, Warby Parker, Reddit, and more gathered for the annual Culture Summit to talk about company culture tactics that are working for them and to share best practices for 2018 and beyond.

Here are three trends from best-in-class companies that you may want to start building into your company culture strategy:

Don’t Hire for Culture Fit – Hire for Culture Growth

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t hire for culture fit, hire for culture add.” But how does that play out in the real-life context of attracting and selecting new employees?

In her Culture Summit keynote, Helen Russell, Chief People Officer of Atlassian, shares research that explains why culture fit may seem like a good idea at first but actually becomes a limiting factor as a company grows: in the 1990s, professors James Baron and Mike Hannan studied the recruiting and hiring methods of successful (and unsuccessful) startups. They found that every early stage company that used blueprint for attracting and hiring employees that focused on a higher emotional and cultural fit succeeded to IPO… but post-IPO, the companies that delivered the highest growth in market capitalization were the ones with a model focused less on culture and more on skills and individual potential.

Why the shift? Russell explains that what made a company successful at an early stage – the higher emotional, higher cultural element – actually caused group-think and got in the way of success as the company grew. In a more complex and competitive post-IPO world, companies need more innovative and divergent thinking, which simply can’t happen when you’re hiring people who think the same as the people who work for you and desire to conform to how things are already being done.

[Related: How to Build Company Culture Through Content]

Don’t Discount the Power of Rituals, Even If Your Rituals Change

Susan Lee, VP of People at Warby Parker, focuses on the power of rituals, or small and tangible improvements to one’s workplace that design how employees interact from an atomic level up. From simple onboarding rituals – such as how new hires at Warby Parker get a copy of Jack Kerouac’s book Dharma Bums because the company name is derived from two characters in the book – to a company’s choice of yearly performance reviews versus continuous reviews, the rituals and habits you encourage and discourage eventually come to influence the development of culture.

How do you build meaningful ones? It’s not a random process. In her keynote, Lee highlights three important aspects of rituals that strengthen and reinforce your company’s culture and core values: they start with a purpose or intention, which manifests into a ritual or tradition, which in turn produces a cultural impact or behavior.

“When rituals are based on intentions and have a cultural impact, the rituals aren’t precious,” says Lee. “What’s precious is the intention and the impact. That ritual in your company can change at any given time – or not – as your company grows. But you have to decide what those things are in your company that no matter what – no matter how big you get, no matter how good or bad your finances are – are non-negotiable, and make sure you’re creating rituals around them.”

[Related: 5 Ways Facebook Builds Success Through Company Culture]

Expand Employee Lifetime Value by Being a Second – and Third and Fourth and Fifth – Employer

Few HR managers walk into work thinking about how they can help employees leave the roles they’re in, but executives at top-performing companies, like Katelin Holloway, VP of People at Reddit, are starting to work with employees on career pathing and asking the question, “What comes next?”

“In the socio-economic climate we’re in, employees are leaving and the tenure window is closing fast,” says Holloway. “When I first got into tech, the average employment length was around two and a half years and now it’s a year and a quarter. With the amount of time we invest in onboarding and training to help an employee thrive and be productive, and then all of a sudden they leave.”

Holloway continues: “From a recruiting and retention standpoint, we’ve started wondering, ‘Why can’t I be that second employer, as well?’ That means thinking about what comes next for internal mobility, different opportunities, learning and development for every single individual, doing what we can to create one, two, three careers for every employee and expand the employee lifetime value of everyone who works here.”

If you’re not confident your company culture is as attractive and effective as it can be, it’s time to make some changes. Consider how you can adjust how you hire, develop rituals, and create new opportunities for your employees to contribute to a healthier, more functional company culture.


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