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Creating Company Culture in the Tech World 

Creating company culture is a challenge. Company culture is an interesting phenomenon. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where a culture begins and ends, who creates it or can change it, and when it started or might end. It is an ethereal, immersive, all-encompassing aspect of every company, but it is intangible. 

And yet, a good company culture is essential to a successful business. Hiring new employees, retaining talent, motivating teams and even onboarding new clients are all directly linked to the company culture. 

If we can’t see it or touch it, how do we go about creating company culture, or changing it? 

Setting company values and core beliefs is definitely not the way to go about it. How many times have you experienced the most horrific company culture, only to see the company's core beliefs listed as ‘treating people with respect’?! The same old core values get peddled out by just about every business, and they rarely ever feel in the least bit authentic. Producing a Powerpoint won’t change or create a culture. In fact, it is a total waste of time. 

Culture almost always comes from the top down. It is dependent on the business leaders. Sometimes it is a bit more complicated - if the people at the top are not the true leaders. But usually the people at the top are the leaders simply by virtue of the fact that they hold the most power. 

Creating company culture Culture eats strategy for breakfast quote

What is company culture?

It seems to be generally accepted that culture is made up from the ‘shared values and beliefs’ of the people who work in a business. This can’t be true - it would be impossible for every member of a team to share the same values and beliefs. Shared values and beliefs don’t really exist, at least not across a workforce, so they can’t be what sets company culture. We believe culture is actually about behaviour, reactions and rewards. 

Company culture is made up of a number of things:

  • The personalities of your leaders
  • The personalities of your staff
  • What is deemed to be acceptable communication 
  • What is deemed to be acceptable behaviour
  • What people are rewarded for
  • What people are penalised for
  • What people are afraid of 

These things all determine what people feel is acceptable behaviour, and behaviour is ultimately what sets culture: it is about your people and what they do. The way people behave and react to things is what sets culture. The way a company allows people to behave and react is what sets company culture. This is why choosing the right team is so vital. Read more about building a winning team in our post.

People learn by witnessing events unfold and seeing what consequences follow. People will ultimately do what is in their own best interests - we have evolved for millennia to do what helps us to survive. If people witness a colleague stab another colleague in the back and get promoted, that promotion will encourage others to behave in the same way - because they also want a promotion. But if that colleague is reprimanded, rather than rewarded, that teaches other team members that the way to advance is through honesty, integrity and hard work - or at the very least, not through back stabbing moves. 

creating company culture management treats people quote purple on yellow

Examples of creating company culture:

A member of staff spots a serious legal issue in a contract that has been acted on for years. It is an issue of competition law. It has gone unnoticed by the legal department. It is putting the entire business at risk. 

An employee notices this issue, and flags it up.

In a culture where leaders are open to discussion and welcome alternative points of view and are able to have a conversation with the appropriate leader, where it is acceptable to challenge things and where people are not afraid to put their head above the parapet, the employee will approach the relevant leader and explain the issue. If that employee is listened to, thanked and appropriate actions are taken to remedy the situation then everyone in the office will learn that the best thing to do in that scenario is come forwards for a considered conversation.

If the employee is not listened to, mocked or penalised for ‘causing trouble’ then other employees will learn that you need to keep your head down to stay out of trouble, and that they won’t be listened to anyway. 

An act likes that is what sets company culture, because it shows people what behaviours and attitudes are rewarded and what behaviours are penalised. Clearly, pointing out a serious legal issues is the right thing to do - it is in the business' best interests to know if it is at risk. But it also 'rocks the boat' - it is an uncomfortable truth that will be difficult to resolve. Do you want to create a culture where people feel able to point out problems? Or would you rather people didn't mention these things? 

Think very carefully about how you react to situations in your business. Your reactions and behaviours will determine the culture that your company has. Once that culture is set, it is hard but not impossible to change it. 

Do be careful if you are changing culture - you may encounter legal issues with a sudden change of culture - if someone is suddenly penalised for something that has been acceptable behaviour by others for months. So manage a change in culture carefully - see our upcoming article on ‘How to change Company Culture’ for more information about the best way to do it.

Learn how to spot a toxic personality in our recent blog article.

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Creating company culture: a note for employees

If you are an employee in a company with a vile culture, or just a culture that doesn’t suit you, then it is time to leave. If you try to change a culture when you don’t have the power to do it, you will be swimming against the tide. In an understanding company that aspires to be the best it can be, with truly exceptional leaders, you might be able to have a constructive conversation with them that has far reaching and positive impact on the culture. But, lets be honest, if you were in a company like that you probably wouldn’t be trying to change the culture in the first place!

Company culture is a personal judgement

It is worth saying that, whilst there certainly are some pretty objectively toxic cultures around, not every culture is for everyone. Just because you don’t like a culture that doesn’t mean it is a bad or nasty culture, it might just not be for you. A good culture, for you, is a culture that fits you. 

As an employee the interview process is absolutely critical - it isn’t just about them interviewing you, it is about you interviewing them. Think about what you want from your life right now:

  • Do you want to work from home or be in the office socialising? 
  • Are you the sort of person who wants people to be judged on the amount of time and effort they give to a business, or do you feel people should be judged by the results they deliver? Be honest with yourself. If you’re the sort of person who feels people should be judged results, then it wouldn’t matter if someone clocks less hours than you but gets more praise if their work had a greater positive impact. If the thought of that makes your blood boil, then you probably want a culture where people are rewarded for time and/or effort (and they are not necessarily the same thing!).
  • Do you want to work autonomously, or be managed and coached closely? 
  • Do you want a culture where the team feels like family? Think about what that means - family are close, they argue, they gossip about each other, but you will always have lots of social activity and stimulation. Or would you prefer a culture where people come to work to work, and satisfy their need for social connection in their personal lives? That would mean less gossip, less arguments but also less sense of personal connection.

There are no right and wrong approaches here, but you need to be honest with yourself and have the emotional intelligence to be able to understand what makes you tick. If you choose a company because you want it to feel like a family, don’t be surprised when the gossip and arguments start! If you choose a company because you want to come to work to work, don’t complain that there isn’t enough personal connection between you and your manger. Every culture has pros and cons - it can’t have everything in some magical balance of perfection that keeps everyone happy all the time. 

If you can, be open in your interview about the sort of culture you are looking for. Remember that creating company culture is a challenge, and it is impossible to create a culture that everyone is always happy with. We recognise that sometimes you just need a job to pay the bills, so searching for months for the right culture might not be a realistic option. If that is the case, make sure that you are going in eyes open, aware of the fact that the culture probably isn’t right for you. Use the opportunity to build your skills and experience so that you can move on to somewhere that suits you better. 

Choosing a job is like choosing a life partner: if you get it right, it will make your life easier, happier and richer. Get it wrong and you could be in for years of abuse. Honesty and authenticity are the keys to finding your perfect match. Ask probing questions. Give honest answers. 

Create your own company culture

If you really can’t find a culture you are happy with, it might be time to consider starting your own aware though, creating company culture is a huge challenge, and even the best cultures will never be able to keep everyone happy.

Creating company culture is one of the most challenging things a new business has to face, and it continues to be a challenge as a company grows and develops. Creating company culture is an ongoing task that never truly ends.


Find out out how to build a winning team, which is crucial to your culture.

Company culture is particularly topical at the moment as businesses debate their post-Covid return to work plans. Read more about whether it is safe to go back to the office in our post.

Volanto is on a mission to democratise digital. Contact us now to see how we can unleash your potential. Creating company culture is one of the areas we specialise in.


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