The Real Reason Companies Succeed

Find out how to start building an unshakable company culture today.

What if there was a way to supercharge your organization’s strengths? A secret sauce to transform your team from OK to CRUSHING IT. A way to inspire the best in your people, to attract top talent, and to keep them loyal, happy and constantly innovating.

The answer: Build a winning company culture. We know. Culture is a buzzword that gets thrown around (and frankly misused) a lot—almost to the point of “cliche”.

But company culture matters. It’s the living expression of your organization’s values and it’s your playbook for how to thrive.

In this month’s blog, we’re going to explore company culture including what the world’s best workplaces are doing right.

What is company culture?

It’s not a ping-pong table and IPA on tap. Culture is your values and expectations and how you act on them.

HR Executive Melissa Daimler has led Global Learning & Organizational Development at Adobe, Twitter, and WeWork. In Harvard Business Review she explains that there are three elements to culture: behaviors, systems, and practices. “A great culture is what you get when all three of these are aligned, and line up with the organization’s espoused values,” she said.  

Here are some examples

  • BEHAVIORS: A company can’t espouse ‘work-life balance’ but not offer paid parental leave or expect people to stay late consistently every night.
  • SYSTEMS: If you say you are a learning organization that develops people, you must give people the time to actually take classes or learn on the job.
  • PRACTICES: Maybe your company tells people to be consensus-builders, but you can’t promote people who are solely authoritative decision makers.

When it comes to communicating values to your team, Daimler says there’s one common theme to every solid workplace culture. “Every employee I have managed would give up their so-called perks for one thing: clear expectations.”

In other words, given your organizational values, which behaviors consistently get rewarded? Which behaviors lead to promotion?

Daimler recommends taking the time to identify the behaviors and skills that express each of your organizational values. For example, if someone was exemplifying ‘teamwork,’ what would she be doing? What would she not be doing? One organization might identify teamwork behavior as “collaborates effectively through helping others.” Another might interpret a teamwork behavior as “collaborates effectively through encouraging productive disagreements.” Both can be done, Damlier says, but which behavior is expected and encouraged vs. another?

What great culture looks like

Salesforce | HQ: San Francisco | Employees: 32,164

Software maker Salesforce ranked No. 1 on Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. It got there by offering employees a culture that benefits their minds and bodies, not just personal and corporate earnings.


  • Average salary $159,505
  • Unlimited paid time off
  • Telecommuting option
  • On-site fitness/subsidized gym
  • College tuition reimbursement
  • 401(k) or 403b program & stock options
  • 56 hours paid time off to volunteer
  • $63m philanthropic donations in 2017
  • $10.1m employee-matching donations
  • Paid health insurance for staff and dependents
  • Paid health insurance and paid sick days for part-timers
  • Maternity and paternity leave
  • $10,000 adoption benefit
  • On-site or near-site backup child care center
  • Lactation room(s)
  • Paid sick leave to care for a child or relative
  • Mental health care
  • Alternative treatments (acupuncture, homeopathy, or chiropractic)
  • Fertility treatments

Salesforce unifies its cultural principles under the banner of Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. They place a very high value on training, well-being, and giving back, not to mention internal advancement and recruitment. Here’s a detailed rundown:

Training: Salesforce expects a staggering 3.3 million new jobs to utilize their software ecosystem by 2023. So they encourage all staffers to fully understand the product by using Trailhead, their online learning platform created within the company and built on internal technology. In the first half of 2018, employees earned more than 500,000 completion badges. Salesforce also aims to keep every employee close to the customer. Annual Corporate Pitch Certification requires every employee to study the most up-to-date sales presentation and deliver the deck alongside teammates. This exercise gives employees the context they need to represent Salesforce at customer meetings and events.

Recruiting and Advancement: Many companies pay bonuses to employees who refer new hires; Salesforce has paid out $5.5 million worth. The company also seeks out strong performers who have gone 18 months without a promotion to help them find new challenges. More than 1,400 people have found their next opportunity within the company, filing as many as 30% of open roles.

Giving Back: All Salesforce employees get seven days of paid time off (56 hours) and a generous matching policy (up to $5,000) every year to spend giving back to causes that are meaningful to them. Employees can choose how to give back, but teams frequently set up monthly volunteering activities with local community organizations—which becomes team-building and a philanthropy in one!

Visioning: Each November, Salesforce’s executive teams craft a company-wide visioning document called V2MOM. The vision and priorities then cascade down until every member of the leadership team, department leader, and individual employee has created a V2MOM. Every employee can instantly view the V2MOM of every other person in the company on desktop or mobile. This allows everyone at Salesforce to understand exactly how their individual work contributes to the overall company vision, and how they can help the business succeed.

Well-being: Based on four pillars (Nourish, Revive, Move, Thrive), Salesforce invests heavily in building awareness and inspiring employees to live better and healthier lives. For instance, they offer nutritious meals and snacks on-site and created a series of videos with Salesforce’s in-house executive chef on making easy, wholesome meals. And all full and part time employees have access to subsidized on-site or off-site fitness, not to mention available employee-paid onsite personal training, massages, and nutritionist consulting. They even have dedicated office space for employees to bring their dogs.

Beyond perks, how top companies inspire success

Forbes and the MIT Sloan School of Management sat down with a handful of CEOs whose companies made Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work: Employees’ Choice” list. Here’s the big takeaway:

A corporate culture of high expectations and conditions that encourage employee innovation drives improvement and customer satisfaction — and it makes employees happy and eager to work hard.

HEB spent decades finding the right way to inspire employees. When individual incentives created unhelpful peer-to-peer competition, HEB emphasized team and store success. For example, it provides regional sales data to spur store-to-store competition while offering staff (which it calls partners) annual raises that come with expectations to identify ways to innovate within their department.

Costco CEO Jim Sinegal noted two pillars of Costco’s culture: First, it sets the highest standards for its employees. Second, it encourages employees to take ownership of their work.

QuikTrip managers create a Daily Activity Worksheet to allow every store employee to know what he or she needs to do and when. QT also provides plenty of data to help employees understand and improve performance, from 360-degree performance reviews to open employee access to performance data from all stores to a rigorous mystery shopper program.

Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington told Time Magazine’s CEO Initiative that burnout is not the price we must pay for success.  

“Living a sustainable life, and making sure employees do too, is the best way for a leader to sustain growth. The idea of growth as a purpose and end in itself becomes damaging when it eclipses other primary values—including empathy, collaboration, and professionalism.”

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