Culture and values you want in your company

The single most important advice Peter Thiel (Co-founder of PayPal & Palantir) gave to Brian Chesky (CEO of AirBnB) after he invested $150M in the company was, “Don’t fuck up the culture”.

He didn’t say “Don’t waste the money” or “Don’t buy a Ferrari”. What he is implying is that you need a good culture to build a successful company. But what the heck is company culture?

You can think of company culture as the DNA or genetic code of the organization. The personality of a person determines how he or she thinks and behave. Similarly, a company’s culture and values determine how the organization functions and operates.

So why is this so important? Why should you care about this? Well, similar to how you should not ignore an employee with personality issues, you need to guard and actively shape your company culture. Bad culture affects the entire company and reduces productivity. Once rooted, a culture is very hard to change, so it’s better to start cultivating it as early as possible.

If you are running a company and have not thought about the type of culture you want, you need to start NOW. Get your whole team together and work out the values and principles you all believe in as a company. Write it down and send it to the entire team.

Starting out may be difficult but the good news is there’s no monopoly on any culture and values. You can cherry pick those you like from other companies. In fact, the easiest way to start is to emulate what other companies are doing and adapt them to your needs.

However, you do need everyone in your company to be onboard. Your team as a whole must be involved in defining the company’s culture. Not the other way round. You as the founder or management can’t pick one and then make everyone do it. That’s a policy and a culture you should avoid.

Since I’ve had first-hand experience working at 2 companies (Says.com & Mindvalley) with awesome culture, I’m going to share some of their values and what they do to encourage and nurture them. Both of these companies are Worldblu-certified Most Democratic Workplaces for many years, so their employees are directly involved in creating and shaping the culture.

Learning & Growth

The most common and arguably the most important culture in successful companies is the culture of learning and growth. This is doubly important for tech companies to constantly innovate and out-perform their competitors.

On the first Friday of the month, unless they are working on something critical or time-sensitive, every single Mindvalley employee is encouraged to learn something new. They could either attend learning sessions conducted by their peers or venture into something new on their own. They are given the freedom to learn anything they want during work hours for that day.

Another simple thing you could do is setup a company book budget. Mindvalley has a quarterly book budget where employees can order any book from Amazon and the company will pay for it. Over time, you will build up this massive library of books which will benefit both existing and new employees.

Productivity Focused

Obviously, every company would want their employees to be as productive as possible. So this is usually implicit in the culture but varies greatly on how it is encouraged or enforced. Ideally, you should work towards a more result-oriented working environment.

Both Says.com and Mindvalley have flexible working hours and allow their team to work remotely. This may sound counter-intuitive but allowing employees to choose when and where they work, actually improve their well-being which will then lead to greater productivity. You do need to set some limits and rules to prevent abuse.

Fun at work

Your workplace is like your second home. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it, so why not make it fun. Going to work doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Invest in a vibrant space that inspires creativity, foster collaboration and improves happiness. Happy employees are good for business. 

Says Hideout

Says Hideout

Says.my Hideout is an open-concept workspace utilizing lots of wood, bricks and glass for a minimalist industrial look. On the other hand, Mindvalley office has a super-hero theme which is inlined with their mission to push humanity forward.

Mindvalley HQ at Menara UOA Bangsar

Mindvalley HQ at Menara UOA Bangsar

Within Mindvalley, there’s also a secret society called Society of Platonic Love, Appreciation, Smiles and Happiness (SPLASH). No one knows who is in the society but occasionally the team will be surprised or “splashed” with treats, lunches, massages or anything that brings a smile.

The take-away here is to find innovative and creative ways to make work less boring and more fun. Given a choice, everyone would want more fun at their workplace. And since you’re the boss, do the right thing. Inject some fun into your workplace.

Teamwork

Studies have shown colleagues and co-workers who are friends with each other produce better results. They are happier and are more engaged at work when they are working with people whom they trust and respect. 

To improve the bond between your team, you need to encourage them to do things together. At Says, breakfast is provided every morning and the team is encouraged to have their first meal of the day together at the pantry. 

Since there are more than 30 different nationalities in Mindvalley, they have Culture Days like Malaysia Day, India Day and Canada Day. The entire day is dedicated to experiencing and learning about that country’s tradition and culture. Co-workers from that country will introduce the company to their food, music and culture. Everyone is also encouraged to dress up in the country’s traditional outfits.

Malaysia Day (2014) at Mindvalley

Malaysia Day (2014) at Mindvalley

Annual Team Retreat is also a great way improve team dynamics and the bond between the team members. Mindvalley’s team retreats are legendary. Every year, they fly the entire team to a paradise island for a weekend of fun, growth and celebration. 

Mindvalley 2014 Team Retreat at Phuket, Thailand

Mindvalley 2014 Team Retreat at Phuket, Thailand

Some of these activities may require more resources than you can afford at the moment. You can always start with something simple like weekly team lunches or the occasional team outings. The point is to provide ample opportunities for your team to hang out with each other.

Celebrate Success

Everyone prefers to work in a positive environment and the easiest way to foster one is to celebrate successes. Make it a point to always celebrate victories and accomplishments no matter how small it is. These recognitions will help encourage future successes.

At Mindvalley, the entire team meets once a week for the Awesomeness Report to get updates on new records broken, epic moments and updates from each department. They also have a Bell of Awesomeness which will be rung whenever a new record is broken.

Mindvalley’s Weekly Awesomeness Report hosted by the Founder - Vishen Lakhiani 

Mindvalley’s Weekly Awesomeness Report hosted by the Founder - Vishen Lakhiani 

All these efforts will encourage everyone in your team to share their wins and motivate each other to do their best so they too can get their moment of awesomeness.

Transparency

There’s no doubt transparency within the company will improve communication and productivity. Sharing metrics, numbers and concerns with your entire team will improve the clarity and accuracy of the information.

Every week, each team in Mindvalley sends a status report to the entire company. Everyone knows exactly how much revenue the company generated last week, what’s been done and not done. This transparency improves accountability and reduces misinformation.

If you want to adopt a culture of transparency for your company, you as the founder will need to be an open-book and share as much information as you can with your team. Encourage everyone in your team to talk and share any concerns they may have with you through an open-door policy. Make yourself and the management team available and approachable.

Gratitude

On my first week at Says, I was invited to a Great-itude Friday meeting. Everyone in the office, including guests and clients took turns to share one thing they are grateful for that week. It was a unique experience that helps connect people at a more personal level.

Mindvalley took the idea further and built an app to help employees show gratitude and appreciation at work. They named it 1-up and everyday team members award each other badges for the awesome work they have done. 

They also built a public version named GratitudeLog. Check it out to have an idea how 1-up works but you can no longer sign-up since they have disabled it.

The easiest way to cultivate gratitude at work is to say thanks. Take the lead and thank your colleagues and co-worker for the hard work they have done. That little act of appreciation and recognition will go a long way.

Dreams & Goals

As the founder, it is quite common for you to talk about the dreams and visions you have for the company. Sharing them will help align your team to build towards the future together.

But don’t forget that each of your employees have their own dreams and aspirations too. You should encourage your employees to dream bigger and do everything you can to help them get closer to their goals. 

Vishen Lakhiani, the Founder and CEO of Mindvalley ask every new hire a set of questions designed to draw out their dreams and aspirations. He does this because he wants to know what each employee is passionate about. These dreams and goals are then added to the Dream Board for everyone to see. It helps keep everyone accountable to their goals and motivates each other to work towards their dream.

You can use the video above to conduct a session with your team. Go to this page to download The 3 Most Important Questions worksheet. This is my favourite culture hack from Mindvalley.

It’s time to cultivate your company’s culture

Building a company is tough. All this talk about culture and values may seem unnecessary and distracting, but nothing could be further from the truth. Having the right culture will go a long way in reducing the friction within the company. Good culture is like the lubricant. The better it is, the smoother the ride.

Start cultivating your company culture today. Figure out the values and principles your company stands for together as a team. Then get creative and come up with perks, policies and activities to nurture them. Your company and your team deserve a good culture.