What Makes a Company Culture Great?
July 27, 2015

What Makes a Company Culture Great?

by Brian de Haaff

Culture. It is probably a term you hear often — and I believe that it is one worth discussing. Clearly, we want more than just a job — we want more control over how and where we work. And the right company culture allows us to make that happen.

But it is difficult to objectively look at one company and have everyone agree on what the culture is like, let alone pin down what makes for great company culture.

That is because “great” for me will be different than “great” for someone else.

The outsider’s perspective will be entirely different from someone who has been in the company for years. A new hire may also see things differently. She may be thrilled by the casual attire, flexible work hours, and free snacks. But her boss might despise the executive that he works with. Same company, very different views.

I think we can all agree that we seek a culture that inspires, challenges, respects, acknowledges and rewards employees. When those things are just not there, you feel it.

You may not care at all about the office refrigerator being stocked with goodies. What matters more is your ability to communicate freely with your boss. If that communication is absent, you will not care a bit about the spread available to you in the kitchenette, the workout room downstairs, or any other new perk they have dreamed up to improve the culture.

Superficial perks simply cannot make up for a culture in which the leadership is absent or employees steamroll over others to get to the top.

I am the CEO of Aha! (roadmap software for product managers), and many of our employees have found their way to Aha! because they like what they see in our culture. We have clear goals and work really hard to achieve them, but we also cheer each other on. We agree that work is an important part of life, and therefore we should be happy doing it.

As our company grows, we continue to attract like-minded, hard-working people who find that our culture aligns with what they are looking for. For both the company and the person it’s a great fit.

I have come up with a few unscientific ways that you can try to determine whether a company culture is great for you:

Know what matters most Since all people are wired differently, we all have different standards of what matters most to us. For example, at Aha! we focus on helping companies build better products, and that helps us set our priorities as a team. Identify what matters most to you, and let that be the standard that guides you.

Aligns with your values Your values are personal, and are a result of your unique upbringing and set of experiences. You have to feel a certain kinship with your company’s values. So if you are ashamed that your company has earned a reputation for unethical behavior, that is a sign that your values do not line up with the company’s.

Matches your ambitions The culture of the workplace also must line up with your personal and professional goals. Does the leadership encourage continuous learning and offer opportunities for advancement? Do you feel like you are growing? If you feel like you are on the road to nowhere, you will be frustrated.

A great company culture is one that best aligns to your values and ambitions.

So if everyone is bragging about the great company culture where you work, but you cannot entirely agree, pay attention to those feelings of disconnect and discontent. You may be experiencing an unpleasant culture mismatch.

Ultimately, you should go where you fit, and you will know it when you find it.

What do you think makes for a great company culture?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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