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What Is Company Culture?

Gabby VanAlstine
Gabby VanAlstine

One of the most common questions I’m asked by candidates is, “how would you define Emplify’s company culture?” 

It’s a great question, and as a former HR professor, I know an organization’s culture can be a nebulous concept that’s difficult to describe until you’ve experienced it. That’s why I would take my classes to companies with vibrant, positive, and quirky cultures. To me, there’s no better way to understand the power and criticality of an organization’s culture than experiencing a strong one in effect. The complexities of what goes into a culture have fascinated me throughout my career. This led me to really figure out how different companies have created their own cultures.

This research provided me incredible opportunities like touring the Google Cloud complex where I had coffee in a campus cafe brimming with Googlers sharing their perspectives with each other. I’ve observed the stoic concentration of employees at the Fremont Tesla facility as they worked tirelessly to address our transportation needs through renewable energy. I’ve rested in a nap pod at Zappos surrounded by peaceful, bubbling aquariums and their team members relaxing from busy days of delivering happiness. 

Through these experiences and my own study of corporate culture, I believe that company culture is a vast collection of behaviors, practices, and beliefs that are experienced by every stakeholder within an organization.  A culture is present whether leadership has invested in it or not. So what executives should really focus on is intentional culture. Intentional culture is the art of recognizing and rewarding the behaviors and practices that directly contribute to the purpose of the organization.

The reason an organization’s culture can be so difficult to describe is because it is a living organism. It is the culmination of contributions from every individual who is and once was a participant within the organization. This is why intentional culture becomes so important. Your culture is being defined and revised every day, with every hire and departure. You must take great care in recognizing, and sharing the elements of your culture that fulfill your purpose and rewarding the people within your organization that embody the positive aspects of your culture. 

Below, are a few of my favorite initiatives from companies creating intentional, purpose-driven cultures:

  • Google, intent on making all information transparent, wants new hires to feel comfortable asking questions. All new hires (“Nooglers”) receive branded swag so they can easily be recognized throughout campus. This makes it easier for seasoned googlers to welcome them, offer helpful advice, and answer any questions they might have. . 
  • Zappos is dedicated to delivering happiness to their audience, employees included. As a benefit, Zappos provides their employees access to a life coach who helps them set and achieve their personal goals.These can be anything from running a marathon to getting more organized at home. 
  • Southwest Airlines recognizes their customers want more than a flight—they want an experience. Southwest encourages employees to have fun in their daily work because they believe customers will have fun, too. Many Southwest flights are filled with genuine surprises, anything from attendants rapping flight announcements to occasional free drinks for the cabin. 
  • At Emplify, we love data, so we collect and share data points about our newest Emplifiers by hosting a “New Hire Hot Seat.” Our newbies share fun facts about themselves like senior superlatives and hidden talents as well as why they joined Emplify. 

While capturing the essence of a strong culture in the written word may prove difficult, there’s no doubt each of the above experiences result in employees feeling the culture and being empowered to actively contribute to it. And what could be more powerful or simpler than that?

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