We have apps to stay organized and to manage our budget. We live and breathe by our smart phones and create lists so that we can check off the things we accomplish. And when we desire a specific outcome, we like being told how to get there.

Ironically, developing great culture at work cannot be prescribed. There is no obvious road map, no definite set of directions.

But after last week’s Small Talks series in Seattle, turnstone business manager Jimmy Kwan (@cultofkwan) will tell you there are a few things to consider as you journey toward great culture at work. With the brightest of the Pacific Northwest’s tech community gathered at the HUB Seattle (photo below), conversation around this issue led to some interesting conclusions:

There is no prescription: culture grows organically

Admittedly, this may come as a disappointment for the Pinterest crowd. There is no “board” with a 10-step process to follow. Instead, Small Talks panelists stressed that great culture will happen on its own if leaders are willing to model it.

Doing a “FedEx Friday” or stopping for a game of ping-pong will only be embraced if those in leadership participate with enthusiasm. A buttoned-up boss who shuts his door and sits still for 8 hours will spawn a team who does the same.


Give team members the freedom to be themselves.

If the only time you’ve ever worn a suit or heels was to your best friend’s wedding, then pinching into formal wear every morning is going to cramp your style. Having the freedom to be yourself and slip into your Tom’s and a pair of jeans is critical if it means maximizing your comfort level, and thus, your productivity.

But being yourself has a lot more to do with your work style than your fashion sense. For example, if you’re a night owl, you should have the freedom to work at home and not feel guilty that you’re not the first person rolling into the parking lot in the morning. You get the idea.  Freedom + comfort + productivity = great work culture.


If work is getting done, go with it.

Building on this last idea, small businesses who crave great company culture can learn from Zillow. A Seattle-based company is still operating with a start-up mentality despite swelling to 700 employees. Zillow believes that allowing individuals to be who they are is worth it if it means that work is getting done.

An imposed code of conduct that dictates behaviors while eating away at comfort and efficiency has no place in an inspiring workspace. Let it go, says Zillow.


Hire people who fit the kind of culture you aspire to have.

Many young companies are finding that fitting the office culture trumps ability or experience.  That means that the pressure’s on for newbies to not only put a best foot forward, but to show that he or she “gets” the culture of the company and can enhance what’s already going on in the office.

One speaker shared that at his company, each new hire must pass the “Would you share a workspace with this person?” test. Fitting the cultural norms helps perpetuate the shared values of the workspace, helping it thrive.


Ask yourself, “Who are we?”

Kathleen Philips, General Counsel and Head of HR for Zillow was present at the Seattle Small Talks and shared,

“I can tell you two things about our employees: they are super-fast. They know what they have to do and they do it. Second, they have the freedom to be themselves at Zillow. It’s providing individuals with the opportunity to showcase their strengths.”

Kathleen knows without hesitation the two markers of Zillow’s culture. And while there may be many more, she can share the foundational truths without stopping to think about them.

Can you do that for your company? What is your culture about?

There is no “right” or “wrong” culture. Instead, there are lots of choices and many paths to take to create the kind of environment that people love working in day in and day out.

And in the end, that’s the most important thing.


For further reading about culture, see this Award-Winning Hubspot Culture Deck or learn more about turnstone’s take on culture @ work here.

Post Your Comment