Startup culture codes collection

Startup culture codes collection

Tl;dr: Startup guide to culture, values, and culture codes. This is a 20k word blog!

Hey buddy! Are you thinking about building a great culture at your startup? Would you like to make some tangible steps to documenting your culture? If that’s the case keep reading.

What the feck is a culture code?

If they weren’t invented by, they were popularised by Reed Hastings at Netflix. They made a 125-page document that most startups nerds have at least heard of in passing (yes, the doc is in here!).

Sheryl Sandberg called it “probably the most important document ever to come out of the valley”.

Good ideas get copied and applied. Hubspot, Hootsuite, Patreon, Asana, Spotify, Valve, have all made one. So the question here is why don’t you too?

If you’re a leader of a startup and you want to make culture a big thing then read this blog. It’s really f’n long. If you don’t care about culture, leave and come back when you do- I have a tonne of other stuff to read instead.

So still here? Let’s keep going.

What are you going to learn in this blog? I’ve tried to structure this up as much as possible starting at the high level, then getting (finally to the point) of culture codes.

The outline is:

  • (wtf is) Culture
  • (wtf are) Values
  • (wtf are) Culture codes
  • A huge collection of values and culture codes to learn from to make yours!

Btw, I wrote a blog on how I go about changing culture if you want to read it: When I do a turnaround, I start with culture

Jump to what you want to read

I’ve got anchor links to help you jump to where you want to be (or just read as I wrote it). Here they are:



Culture codes


What is company culture?

Have you ever turned up to work and thought “feck me, I just can’t stand being here surrounded by all these a-holes!” That’s a shite culture and you’ve probably worked in one at some point. Do the math on a good culture.

“Every company has a culture. The only question is whether or not you decide what it is.” — Jason Cohen

PandaDoc explains this well:

When people say that culture at their company sucks, one or both of these statements are true:

  • They dislike the people they work with
  • They dislike the way the work is done

When people say the culture at their company is amazing, one or both of these statements are true:

  • They like the people they work with
  • They like the way the work is done

Patreon explains their culture as:

“Culture is a group of people repeating behaviors, which is why our core behaviors are the most important aspect of our culture. When people say they like our culture, they’re saying they like the way we treat each other, our visitors, our creators, and our patrons.”

Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at HubSpot, summarizes culture as:

“Company culture is the promise you make to your candidates and employees about the environment they can expect to work in and the values upon which your business operates.”

It’s really easy for an external person to tell if you have a crappy or awesome culture if they walk around your office.

  • Are people smiling and helpful? Does it feel dynamic?
  • Does the office feel like a cemetery with the souls of the staff slowly leaving their bodies?

There’s just a vibe you can pick up on which is the tip of the iceberg.

Two components of culture

Now, here is theory vs reality. You as a CEO can live in la la land and think you value x, but in reality, it is y. Staff will shite grin you to your face on be on their best behavior unless they believe they are genuinely safe to speak their mind.

I guarantee you if you go out on smoke breaks and really chat with staff, they will tell you the true true. You will slowly realize you have no idea of the issues that are going on (particularly post 40 people). Bonus tip, go drinking with them on Friday night and play pool. They’ll eventually see you as a friend and open up. I do these things. Don’t worry about not being respected- you will be respected if you act like you’re worth their respect. Just go home before they go to karaoke! Not everyone can relax with the boss around.

Culture is a monster that evolves. It’s messy and can be too hard to handle if you haven’t been purpose in shaping it. Why, because:

  • Culture is learned (starting with the founders)
  • Culture is shared (new hires adapt to norms)
  • Culture is dynamic (it changes as your startup and priorities do)
  • Culture is systemic (it takes on a life of its own)
  • Culture is symbolic (you develop unspoken ways of doing things specifically to you)

The difficult thing about culture is that

  • You can’t pick a culture. You can’t say “Oh, let’s be just like Zappos now!” That will take a LOT of changes and time
  • You have to work on it constantly. You can’t do an off-site on being nice to each other and then come in the week after in a bad mood and be an asshole to everyone.
  • You may need to adjust as it evolves in a new way. There are a few examples of startups changing their values as they became larger
  • Each and every member in a startup influences it. This is reflected in things as small as what you wear to work and as large as how people treat each other. Management has a large role to play, but after a while, Jesus takes the wheel

Culture is so hard as so much can impact it. There are two parts as I see it (and have struggled to pin down if I’m honest!):

  1. Tangible
  2. Intangible


If you can see it, it impacts your culture.

Office layout

  • Do you have an open or closed office?
  • Where are different departments located?
  • Are there different floors, heck do you do remote work?
  • Where are the sales team (noisy feckers) put? Are they in earshot of other teams who work in quiet?

Steve Jobs when designing the layout of Pixar purposefully put the toilets in one place and a bit out of the way. This was to ensure that people from different parts of the company would bump into each other and have serendipitous conversations.

Management offices

  • Do managers have offices?
  • Open door policy? How accessible is management?
  • Is there an executive floor/area?

For growing startups, I always had an issue with managers who took an office rather than sitting on the floor with their teams. I’ve always been a ‘man of the people’ as opposed to my McKinsey-type peers that wanted to ivory tower. I’d only do discussions in an office for HR issues or to be respectful of people working.

I feel it makes staff uncomfortable when management is removed too much. “What are they planning??” That’s a real insecurity staff has you should not overlook, especially if you have fired people recently.

Holidays and hours

  • Do managers check out early every day, or never?
  • Are holidays frowned upon, or do you offer unlimited holidays (that no one takes?).
  • Is there a ‘be seen’ culture?

Not going to lie and neither am I going to apologize, but I personally push people to work late. I positively manipulate everyone to do so. But to be clear, I only hire people who want to work in a startup and learn. The expectation is set in interviews before they are hired so there are no surprises.

In this messed up COVID wasteland where people don’t want to work in offices, this topic is complicated and contentious. I don’t have an answer, I just have a semi-informed opinion.

My opinion is that developers, product management, CXOs, you can make everything work remote for a while as they know they need to get shite done. For junior staff or departments (like customer care) which are largely clocking hours, I want them in an office. I don’t give a shite. And I want everyone back in the office(s) with me asap. Things are just not the same on Zoom as you just don’t have random conversations and build empathy with one another. Yes, I can refer to academic research on this.

You’re welcome to disagree. Just explain in the comments how you have made things work differently. Blue-haired outrage can be shared on Twitter.

Customer care policies

I struggled a bit to come up with more tangible things. Maybe I just have a group think of one, lol. So this is an open category of how things are explicitly directed to be executed.

Do you give the customer care agents the latitude to take actions in the best interest of staff, or do you try to screw over customers?

This can be a really contentious area as there can be real financial consequences in how refunds are given. You need to have recurring income (or high repeat rate),  higher margins, and a degree of word of mouth to be liberal on refunds.

Honestly, the customer isn’t always right- especially in eCommerce. Most of them are morons, some take the piss and will try to scam you.

I tried building culture in the customer care team of around 30 people, but some customers just test you.

What would you do here:

  • The content team messed up. They uploaded the images for a kitchen appliance which was $500 more expensive than the title and description (the delux not the standard version). The customer insisted they wanted the one in the pictures and it was fairly clear they were trying to take the piss. Do you resend the item and take a huge loss, or do you tell them to feck off and they can have a refund when they return the item (like I did)?

This stuff really does get hard to make a call on and it’s hard to train staff on what the right thing to do is.


Intangible aspects of culture affect the vibe of the office and are how things are done.

Tangible things can seem easier to fix, such as moving the office structure, because they seem like quick(ish) fixes. Intangible things are daily habits you have to commit to which is a lot of effort (to me).

Southwest Airlines is probably the greatest success story in American airline history in terms of turning intangibles into success. Whilst they stripped the tangible commodity of its offering down to a “no-tangible-frills” minimum, it gave customers something valuable in return: a superior intangible experience.

Southwest gave its customers fun, entertainment, and some genuine human care.

The secret, though, is that for this experience to feel authentic, the company’s leader, Herb Kelleher, had to build an airline culture that had the properties of fun, entertainment, and genuine care at the very core of its soul. And that’s hard to do, especially when you consider you’re likely dealing with unions that hate you!

How hiring, firing, and promotions are made

  • Are you ok hiring assholes or do you have a no-asshole rule? What do you do with a 10x developer who is hard to work with?
  • Do you hire internally or externally? Are staff given a clear path to promotion?
  • Do you publicly recognize and reward the behaviors you state matter?
  • Do you have regular and honest performance reviews?

There’s so much in this box that really impacts how committed staff will be and whether or not they will kill themselves for you.

I typically over-communicate and am transparent (without being mean). When I was fairly early on with 6 salespeople in a sales team I was full-on involved. I spent 1/2 hours a day in the noisy sales room. I kicked off the morning and I reviewed progress every day.

I made it clear we needed a manager. I told everyone in a meeting I am either going to promote one of you, or I’m going to hire someone. The criteria was:

  • You have to show you are the best salesperson so everyone respects you
  • You have to go beyond and demonstrate you help other salespeople be better through training and the like
  • You take it upon yourself to make processes, documents, etc

Then I made a joke from Batman about tryouts and there is only one open position.

How meetings are run

  • Do you have endless meetings or do you have stand-up meetings to ensure they are shorter?
  • Are people encouraged to leave a meeting if they have nothing to offer?
  • Is anyone allowed to share an opinion?
  • Does the person with the best data win, or does a manager win due to their position?

Other than having random interactions, the real benefit is being able to have meetings.

Most people hate meetings because they are structured in a way that sucks balls.

Why do you let this be the case? You can change this.

How management behave

  • Do management smile? It makes a huge difference.
  • Do management do weird shizzle and think they are oh so important? I remember stories in banking of the CEOs having their own lift so they don’t have to talk to staff. That stuff isn’t cool.

It’s really important to understand that the founders (especially CEO) have a huge impact on culture. Whatever managers do sets the baseline of acceptable. Staff rationalize this as “well, if Akshay does this, so can I”.

I made a huge error when I was a junior banker. I noticed all the Directors checked their BlackBerries in meetings. Feck knows my rationalization, but I equated checking my stupid phone with looking important like they did, or something.

I was at a meeting with the CEO of a big asset manager and one of my Directors shouted at me “Wtf are you doing on your fecking BlackBerry? You’re embarrassing us by not paying attention to the CEO!”. I was just mirroring my bosses but I did know better. I didn’t act better though. Do you think your staff will?

Read this blog on smiling. It’s a reflection of me messing up (again) and my staff telling me to do better. It’s simple but important learning.

3 layers of company culture

According to Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at HubSpot, some of the ways that culture is lived out are influenced by three overlapping layers: global, location, and team.

If you are in a little ickle office, this is irrelevant. If you’re running an international startup, it’s worth bearing in mind.

1. Global culture

This is the overarching culture of a company. It’s the big-picture view, made up of the values, principles, and working environment you and all your employees will hold fast to. Global culture is typically identified and championed by leadership but ideally lived out by every individual employee.

One of my buddies was head of a continent for AirBnb. He shared a little with me about what we went through before he could do his job. He spent (I think) two weeks in the head office understanding culture and how things are done. Eh, I can’t remember all the details, but the point is that the founders of Airbnb take culture seriously. They want the same culture in all the offices. That’s baller and something you should think about if you are at that stage.

2. Location culture

If your company has more than one office, you have a location culture. Says Katie, “This has to do with many inputs: the physical location of the office (the city, state, and country it’s in), the local language is spoken, and the holidays, customs, and characteristics of that place.”

Especially for those developing cultures at the global level, it’s important not to try to fit the same exact culture into every single location but allow for the culture to adjust to the local customs.

If you have developed a great culture, you want to keep it globally. I can tell you that staff fricking love the idea of being part of a global organization. Why? They adore the possibility of being able to move offices. You have a senior buyer in Thailand, he would love to move to the UK or USA etc.

Do not expand too quickly. Win your home market first. Only expand when you are ready to and can dedicate real management headspace to it.

You want to assume that you are going to copy what you’re doing 1 to 1 in an expansion country, but let the country head remove what they need to locally. This is a huge ass blog I’m not going to start into here. But a few quick points:

  • Web pages can look so different. Korean/Chinese etc sites look like someone is having a fit. They’re so different to US ones
  • How people respond to hierarchies is very different. Getting staff to challenge their bosses in Thailand is really really hard
  • Send a white dude in a suit to sales meetings in Asia, lol. Doesn’t matter if it is an intern, nor if they don’t speak local. Expats still hold cache
  • Payment methods can be starkly different. Have you ever heard of cash on delivery? Ha!
  • Moskow doesn’t have postcodes, they have some sort of system of “it’s near the post office”. I can remember letting the Russian office take priority on product requests to get their address structure done!

3. Team culture

At the smallest and most personal level, you have the culture of the teams that make up your company. With their different members, stages of development, and functions, each team will have its unique rhythm and way of relating.

If you are at a point that you understand the culture of individual departments, this blog is might not be for you. It is true that you will have different cultures in different departments (or teams) for them to perform optimally.

You might end up with a dichotomy between:

  1. How people interact with one another generally
  2. How things are done in their team

I have two culture codes in this collection (Spotify and Nordstrom) which are just for their engineering departments. For some startups, engineering is so important that it makes sense that they have their own way of doing things.

I can tell you that how I deal with different departments is different:

  • Sales: I make them do push-ups if they don’t hit targets
  • Content: I make sure they are accurate and have clear KPIs, but with not much expectation to invent things
  • Customer care: I make sure they are treated well so they are nice to people
  • Finance: That they fricking talk to supply chain management and no blame game BS goes on!
  • Engineering: If I move someone probably called Andrej from Siberia to Berlin that he doesn’t network and leave me for a job that pays 2x more a few weeks later

These are all a bit tongue in cheek.

Culture changes

To make culture even more complicated, it doesn’t stay stagnant, it evolves organically over time. And god forbid you can raise enough money to start acquiring companies- you’ll have to deal with cultural integration (or rather organ rejection).

Whether or not you build a ‘resilient’ culture depends on how firm your core values are adhered to in everything from small to large decisions. Your culture can only last so long though.

There will be breaking points you need to watch out for and reality check that you need to make a change. What might have worked with 5, might not work at 4o, 200, and 1000. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s just better to take stock, smell the roses and make a call on what you should do now.

In this blog, we will see two companies evolve their values over time. One is a small company called Buffer, and another is a huge one called Uber.

  • Buffer: They saw they needed to make a change as things had become different. They are also small enough for this to not be a bigf deal
  • Uber: If you do business in San Francisco you have got to know you’re going to hire blue-haired people. You can’t have strong opinions for too long.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • If you sense things have changed, acknowledge it. Talk with some of your staff and see if they agree.
  • There is no simple formula for creating great company culture, I would focus on not having a crappy one
  • You can’t hope to replicate another company’s culture, values, and code. You have your own and you need to embrace it
  • You can learn from how other companies have created a meaningful (and effective culture deck) and apply what you can
  • You can’t fight your culture if it changes, just like you can’t command the waves coming to the shore. Your staff knows things have changed too and they know when your values don’t align
  • Every time you tripe your headcount, you probably need to check your culture

Why culture matters

Straws and marshmallows

Organize a competition on anything between kindergarteners and college students and who do you bet will win? The college students, right?

Each individual should be more capable than the entire team of snot-picking monsters, but are they? Here’s a real example of you being wrong (which I’ve oversimplified for brevity).

Some academic wonks set up a test. The goal was to build the highest tower with straws and marshmallows. Child’s play you think.

Spoiler alert – the kindergarteners won.

Why? Because they were entirely focused on the outcome, made changes, and took feedback from eachother rapidly.

The adults sat around drinking margaritas, discussing approaches, and were concerned about status management, rather than just getting things done and learning as they went.

I’m obviously attempting to make this an example of ‘bad culture’. Did I succeed? Eh, maybe a little. Sounds like what startup should be like vs what corporates are.

Culture has to be built, but it is worth it

We sense the presence of culture inside successful businesses, championship teams, and thriving families, and we can also sense when it’s absent or toxic. Yet how culture works is a little mysterious. We all want strong culture- we just don’t know quite how it works.

Well-established cultures like those of Google, Disney, and the Navy SEALs didn’t just stumble onto theirs – they worked on it purposefully. It’s something that starts the moment you start whether you like it or not. You can not give a shite about culture, and you’ll still have a culture. Maybe a shite one, but you always have a culture.

As a leader, you have an incredible opportunity to create and build a workplace that is an amazing environment – your people will have a fulfilling place to come each day that excites them and offers them growth.

If you can build an awesome culture, you’ll see real benefits:

  • Higher productivity: With reduced workplace stress and better employee engagement, research links a strong company culture to increased productivity40% of workers say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.
  • Improved company performance: One survey found that companies with strong cultures experienced a four times increase in revenue growth.
  • Better employee recruitment and retention: Culture matters for both attracting talent and keeping your current employees around. 47% of active job seekers cite company culture as their driving reason for looking for work, and toxic workplace cultures have reportedly driven 20% of U.S. employees out of their jobs in the past five years. According to research done by Deloitte, 94% of executives say a distinct workplace culture is crucial for business success. And employees say they are 24% more likely to quit a company whose culture they don’t like.

In Gallup’s study, business units that ranked in the top 25% of their organizations for employee engagement showed:

  • 22% higher profitability
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 10% higher customer satisfaction
  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)

Given the numbers, why wouldn’t you focus on culture?

And if you aren’t convinced, noodle on this. Do you want to turn up to an office that feels like a morgue, or one that you feel energised by? If not for your staff and your company’s success, do it for selfish reasons. Life is too short to be in a shite environment.

Bad culture gets you fired

Bad culture has consequences. It may help you profit in the short term, but it will bite you in the ass eventually. Some person is going to do some shady shite, and you’ll take the consequences.

In December of 2001, Enron made history by filing the largest bankruptcy claim of all time.

In the months and years that would unfold after this claim, the scandal of Enron’s business operations became a national conversation that revealed accounting blunders, lies, and obstructions of justice that landed several top leaders in jail.

Since then, Enron has become a case study in what-not-to-do in many areas, including company culture. Many blame the company’s ruthless and aggressive culture for their inability to course correct when things started to go awry.

Enron isn’t the only example. Sanjay Aggarwal of Kingfisher Airlines, Thorsten Heins of BlackBerry, Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank, and Tony Hayward of oil firm BP are just a few of the high-profile bosses who have been shite-canned after things went a little pear-shaped.

  • Aggarwal had little choice but to resign after it became clear that there would be no bailout for the airline.
  • Heins paid the price for BlackBerry’s failure to respond to the dominance of Apple and Samsung.
  • Diamond was held responsible for Barclays’s involvement in the Libor rigging scandal
  • Hayward’s response to the Deepwater Horizon fatal fire and oil spill was considered by the press and public opinion—and BP’s shareholders—to have been weak and failing to address public concerns.

On the startup front:

  • Travis got hammered at Uber.
  • Ron Gutman, CEO of HealthTap, was fired for ‘toxicity’ in the workplace.
  • Holmes at Theranos is just next level wtf.
  • Conrad Parker was fired from Zenefits for breaking laws.
  • Steph Korey co-founder of luggage maker Away was fired for creating a culture of fear

Research shows that bad managers are one of the main reasons that employees quit. That means leaders need to act in alignment with the company’s cultural values. After all, if an organization says that it prioritizes work-life balance but bosses are sending emails at 2 a.m, that value will be nothing more than lip service. You can forget trying to get staff to fall into line with the other values.

In short, good culture is good, bad culture is bad.

How to build a culture

How to build culture is a few books of content, but it really just comes down to treating people kindly. Here are some tips from one such book to get you started though.

The book The Culture Code spells out three sets of skills for building strong teams and culture in your startup.

  1. First, you have to “Build Safety” — create environments where it is ok to provide feedback regardless of status or role.
  2. Second, “Share Vulnerability” — describes how “habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.”
  3. Third, “Establish Purpose” — by creating a shared culture that clearly defines the group’s purpose, goals, and how they do things.

Build safety

  1. Over-communicate Your Listening (and avoid interruptions)
  2. Spotlight your Fallibility Early On — Especially if you are a leader
  3. Embrace the Messenger
  4. Preview Future Connection — connecting the dots between where we are now and where we plan to be
  5. Overdo Thank-Yous — that includes “thanks for letting me coach you” — as a way of affirming the relationship and “igniting cooperative behavior.”
  6. Be Painstaking in the Hiring Process
  7. Eliminate Bad Apples
  8. Create Safe, Collision-Rich Spaces
  9. Make Sure Everyone Has a Voice
  10. Pick up the trash — make sure leaders are helping with tasks that are “menial” — rolling up their sleeves goes a long way to creating that safety
  11. Capitalize on Threshold Moments
  12. Avoid Giving Sandwich Feedback — handle negative and positive feedback as two different processes
  13. Embrace Fun — “it’s the most fundamental sign of safety and connection.

Share vulnerability

  1. The Leader Should be Vulnerable First and Most Often
  2. Deliver the Negative Stuff in Person
  3. Focus on Two Critical Moments When Forming Groups
  4. Listen Like a Trampoline
  5. In Conversation, Resist the Temptation to Reflexively Make Suggestions
  6. Use Candor-Surfacing Practices like AARs and BrainTrusts
  7. Aim for Candor but Avoid Brutal Honesty
  8. Align Language with Action
  9. Build a Wall Between Performance Review and Professional Development
  10. Use Flash Mentoring

Establish purpose

  1. Name and Rank Your Priorities
  2. Be Ten Times as Clear About Your Priorities as You Think You Should Be
  3. Figure Out Where Your Group Aims for Proficiency and Where it Aims for Creativity
  4. Embrace the Use of Catchphrases
  5. Measure What Really Matters
  6. Use Artifacts

Ok, that’s a little crash course on building culture. I just wanted to write enough to give some context for the next sections.

What are company values?

Firstly, company values can also be called corporate values or core values. Secondly, they’re most associated with bullshit platitudes that no one cares about. But do they have to be?

What does it say on my blog?

“Startup sucks and fundraising is a bitch. I want to help make this a little easier.”

I think that’s better than “I provide a holistic set of solutions to enable startups to raise money and build their startup”.

They may mean the same thing, but I feel the former means something. They aren’t values per se, but it’s what I believe.

Company values are the core values or standards that guide the way you do business, and the fundamental beliefs your team holds. They sum up what your business stands for, influence the organizational culture, and drives how and why you do things. While business plans and strategies may change, the core values of your business will hopefully remain the same for some time. Company values help businesses grow and evolve without losing focus on what is important to them.

When a startup is just getting started, core values might not seem all that important. But as time passes, employees need a reason to believe in a company and be inspired by its journey, so they don’t start responding to headhunters on LinkedIn and asking to be paid market rate too early.

If employees strongly identify with a company’s core values, they’ll be more likely to stick around long-term. Powerful value systems will also motivate top talent to join your company, which these days are super important. The balance is in the favor of staff and they care about healing the world and shite.

Finally, core values must align with culture. They’re a way to realign culture and then to keep it on track. Best-selling business writers like Jim Collins and Tom Peters frequently espouse the importance of core values and highlight companies that leverage their core values to outperform the market.

Values vs. behaviors

Values can seem like something that is written on a wall you never look at. So what’s the point of having values? Values need to be applied to have any value.

Patreon wrote something really interesting about the difference between behaviors and values in their culture code:

Because behaviors are actions you can take and things you can do. Behaviors are lower in the stack than values, and thus, more actionable. Most companies have core values, but few companies have cultures that reflect them. Why is that? It’s because most companies write down values and then hope people adhere to them. At Patreon, our culture reflects our behaviors because we’ve built all of our systems (hiring, promoting, recognition, feedback) around them, and we ground decision-making in them.

This is so spot on. In fact, if your values are not treated as daily behaviors, what the feck is the point of them at all?

Core values aren’t just helpful for boosting employee recruitment and retention. They should be at the heart of your decision-making around performance management. When setting goals, long-term or short-term, company-wide or for individual employees, you should ask: do these targets align with our company values? Then, when assessing performance: does this employee or team embody our core values?

A Harvard Business Review article by Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, explores why culture needs to align with company values. She cites a LinkedIn survey that suggests 26 percent of employees would forego a fancy title and 65 percent would accept lower pay before dealing with a poor workplace environment.

When I’ve written core values I’ve used them as a basis to make important decisions when the path to go wasn’t clear. I’d ask the question “what answer aligns with our core values” and we would go that way. It can help make hard decisions and for staff to support them.

The Problem with Core Values

Most companies have values that are meaningless company jargon. Tone-deaf management from “The Office” double down on the BS and stick values on a poster, on a wall, or in some marketing materials (which everyone uses as a coaster, or throws in the bin).

values on a wall

Unfortunately, 99% of the companies lack the ability to add any value:

  1. They are not memorable.
  2. No one in your company can repeat them consistently.
  3. They are too long.
  4. There are too many of them.
  5. They are not actionable.
  6. Your team cannot describe how your values guide their actions.
  7. They are platitudes and not unique to your company beliefs.
  8. The founders and leadership team are not passionate about them.
  9. They are not a part of your daily culture.
  10. They are not a tool that is used to attract the best talent.
  11. They are not used to set employee goals or measure their performance.
  12. They are not part of your sales or marketing goals.
  13. They are not connected to your mission and/or vision.
  14. Your values are not visibly integrated into the way you do business.
  15. Your customers’ experiences do not align with your values.

When you write your values, just pause and think. Pretend you are young, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed and applying to your company. You are given the company values. Do you:

  • A: Think wow this is boring and don’t even get past reading value 2
  • B: Think wow, this is the kind of place I want to work at (if these are actually true)

When I studied strategy at Uni I had to write a paper on mission and company values. I had to read some examples from big corporates. I just thought why am I studying this stuff? These value and mission statements are so boring they can’t be for real.

If you are going to write values, make sure they don’t suck. It’s a low bar that so many seem to be unable to beat.

How to set values

Ok, so you don’t want sucky values, how do you not suck? Here are some pointers.

  • Be real and reflect your truth. The terms “red pill” and “blue pill” (from the Matrix) refer to a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially unsettling or life-changing truth by taking the red pill or remaining in contented ignorance with the blue pill. You have to red pill this shizzle. Your values have to reflect your startup and how staff feels.
  • Minimize your influence in their creation. Yes, it’s your baby, but as every parent knows, each child has its own personality and you sure as crap can’t control teenagers as they grow up. Your startup is similar in that every startup is different. Your values need to come from your team.
  • Keep them short so they can be remembered. Your values should be easy for your employees to memorize and epitomize.
  • Instant comprehension. Rather than writing an essay, think about the real meaning of your values. Distill them down to words that the average person understands with just a look.
  • Have fewer values. The point of “core values” is that they are the key ones. You may have others, but these are the really important ones. It seems that most startups write around 10 when they first do them (maybe because that’s what Zappos did), then when they update them, they cut them down by around half. Buffer said “The number of them – 10! – was also a bit unwieldy. Our initial research showed that teammates could not easily recall all ten — rather, 5–6 at the most.”
  • Stay specific. Writing in vague corporate jargon is confusing and dilutes the meaning behind your words. Values need to tie specifically to your company’s goals and mission. They should be relevant to the products or services your company offers as well as your company culture.
  • Be a little weird. It’s likely just my personality, but I like to be different. Life is so mundane, make it magical. The amazing thing about a startup is that you aren’t a fecking corporate! Don’t be corporate! You can do things how you wish they were done at that boring ass place you worked at.
  • Make them unique. Using the same values as a different company (or worse, a competitor) leaves you undifferentiated. Think of what sets you apart and concentrate on bringing those aspects to light. A famous example of a unique value is Google’s “Don’t Be Evil
  • Make sure they can be behaviors to live. You will need to document and talk about your company values with your team all the time. If your values can’t be used to make tough decisions, what’s the point of them?
  • Can they be used to hire and fire? Determine a set of tough “trade-off” questions that you can ask during the interview process they will help you determine if a candidate’s values align.
  • Stand up to criticism. Good values require tough decisions to be made in order for the values to be upheld. If you establish values that are never challenged, these values aren’t serving any real purpose.
  • Will they stand the test of time? Will these values still be important in 5 years’ time?
  • Ubiquity. Will your values apply to all staff in all departments?

Explain your values

What you will typically see is that companies list their values and explain them in detail separately.

Huh?  Yeah, let me explain.

Zappos’ values are 57 words.

Guess how long their detailed values are?

2,420 words.

Well, to be really specific, I’ve seen it with a halfway point too. They have the list of values and a one-sentence explanation, then they have the long version in addition. You can use them for different purposes then.

It should be fairly obvious why, but I’ll explain.

If you have great values that matter, you should actually use them. I believe all the staff at Zappos have the values on their desk and don’t mind that fact (it would annoy me, just saying). People hate reading, but you want to refer to values if you can’t remember them, so a short version is needed.

Way up I have some notes on building culture I ripped out of a book. There’s a list of points which I’m sure are interesting, but I can only understand 85% of them because I didn’t read it. That’s not to say they aren’t valuable, I just wasn’t educated. Same thing with values.

You want to explain all your values in detail so that new staff (and existing ones) can actually understand what the values really mean to you. No shite Sherlock?

Zappos does a great job at explaining their values. If you don’t want to read them all, then just read the first one about WOW. They start with “WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things.” This is true. What does WOW actually mean?

If you actually want your team to not only understand your values but live them, they actually need to understand them.

It’s so funny how people pretend to understand things, especially basic ones. I do a lot of zero BS mentoring/consulting and I do call people on understanding things. I have clients that have raised before and I’ll ask them “do you actually understand how fundraising works?” and pretty much everyone will admit they don’t when they are called on it in a safe space where they will not be judged.

You can’t expect your team to live your values if they don’t understand them in detail, and practically.

Example of Zappos values

So if you haven’t read Delivering Happiness, you need to get the book and listen/read to it. Trust me, it’s awesome. In fact, I believe it is the inspiration for most startups that set values and go further to write a culture code. This is the reason I’m putting their values (and all the details) up here in the guide. I want you to read them to know what the heck we are talking about in this blog.

“We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”– Tony Hsieh

So here is their list of values:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

I pretty much always include “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” in my values, or some variation of it. It is critical to have fun when I work. Even nowadays when I’m mainly doing consulting, I really try to have fun with the “clients” that are paying me. Though I don’t call them clients. I call everyone my friend.

Whilst I like “do more with less”, I prefer “It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission”. That can be a dangerous one though, and it fits in the values list that got Travis in trouble at Uber. If you make values like that, you need to hire the right people too. That’s why your values are important when hiring. It doesn’t really click till you make your values edgy and consider the consequences.

Let’s see how Zappos explain these values now.

01 / Delivering Happiness

At Zappos, anything worth doing is worth doing with WOW.

WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.

Whether internally with co-workers or externally with our customers and partners, delivering WOW results in word of mouth. Our philosophy at Zappos is to WOW with service and experience, not with anything that relates directly to monetary compensation (for example, we don’t offer blanket discounts or promotions to customers).

We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.

02 / Embrace and Drive Change

Part of being in a growing company is that change is constant.

We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to also embrace it enthusiastically, and perhaps even more importantly, to encourage and drive it. We must always plan for and be prepared for constant change.

Although change can and will come from all directions, it’s important that most of the changes in the company are driven from the bottom up — from the people who are on the front lines and closest to the customers and/or issues.

Never accept or be too comfortable with the status quo because, historically, the companies that get into trouble are the ones that aren’t able to respond quickly enough and adapt to change.

We are ever evolving. If we want to continue to stay ahead of our competition, we must continually change and keep them guessing. They can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our web site, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service. As long as embracing constant change is a part of our culture, they will not be able to evolve as fast as we can.

We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.

03 / Create Fun And A Little Weirdness

At Zappos, we’re always creating fun and a little weirdness!

One of the things that makes Zappos different from a lot of other companies is that we value being fun and being a little weird. We don’t want to become one of those big companies that feels corporate and boring. We want to be able to laugh at ourselves. We look for both fun and humor in our daily work.

This means that many things we do might be a little unconventional — or else it wouldn’t be a little weird. We’re not looking for crazy or extreme weirdness though. We want just a touch of weirdness to make life more interesting and fun for everyone. We want the company to have a unique and memorable personality.

Our company culture is what makes us successful, and in our culture, we celebrate and embrace our diversity and each person’s individuality. We want people to express their personality in their work. To outsiders, that might come across as inconsistent or weird. But the consistency is in our belief that we function best when we can be ourselves. We want the weirdness in each of us to be expressed in our interactions with each other and in our work.

One of the side effects of encouraging weirdness is that it encourages people to think outside the box and be more innovative. When you combine a little weirdness with making sure everyone is also having fun at work, it ends up being a win-win for everyone: Employees are more engaged in the work that they do, and the company as a whole becomes more innovative.

04 / Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

At Zappos, we think it’s important for people and the company as a whole to be bold and daring (but not reckless).

We do not want people to be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. We believe if people aren’t making mistakes, then that means they’re not taking enough risks. Over time, we want everyone to develop his/her gut about business decisions. We want people to develop and improve their decision-making skills. We encourage people to make mistakes as long as they learn from them.

We never want to become complacent and accept the status quo just because that’s the way things have always been done. We should always be seeking adventure and having fun exploring new possibilities. By having the freedom to be creative in our solutions, we end up making our own luck. We approach situations and challenges with an open mind.

Sometimes our sense of adventure and creativity causes us to be unconventional in our solutions (because we have the freedom to think outside the box), but that’s what allows us to rise above and stay ahead of the competition.

05 / Pursue Growth and Learning

At Zappos, we think it’s important for employees to grow both personally and professionally.

It’s important to constantly challenge and stretch yourself and not be stuck in a job where you don’t feel like you are growing or learning.

We believe that inside every employee is more potential than even the employee himself/herself realizes. Our goal is to help employees unlock that potential. But it has to be a joint effort: you have to want to challenge and stretch yourself in order for it to happen.

If you’ve been at Zappos for more than a few months, then one thing is clear: Zappos is growing. We grow because we take on new challenges, and we face even more new challenges because we’re growing. It’s an endless cycle, and it’s a good thing: it’s the only way for a company to survive. But it can also feel risky, stressful, and confusing at times.

Sometimes, it may seem that new problems crop up as fast as we solve the old ones (sometimes faster!), but that just means that we’re moving — that we’re getting better and stronger. Anyone who wants to compete with us has to learn the same things, so problems are just mile markers. Each one we pass means we’ve gotten better.

Yet no matter how much better we get, we’ll always have hard work to do, we’ll never be done, and we’ll never “get it right.”

That may seem negative, but it’s not: we’ll do our best to “get it right,” and then do it again when we find out that things have changed. That is the cycle of growth, and like it or not, that cycle won’t stop.

It’s hard… but if we weren’t doing something hard, then we’d have no business. The only reason we aren’t swamped by our competition is because what we do is hard, and we do it better than anyone else. If it ever gets too easy, then start looking for a tidal wave of competition to wash us away.

It may seem sometimes like we don’t know what we’re doing. And it’s true: we don’t. That’s a bit scary, but you can take comfort in knowing that nobody else knows how to do what we’re doing either. If they did, then they’d be the web’s most popular shoe store. Sure, people have done parts of what we do before, but what we’ve learned over the years at Zappos is that the devil is in the details. And that’s where we’re breaking new ground.

So there are no experts in what we’re doing. Except for us: we are becoming experts as we do this. And for anyone we bring on board, the best expertise they can bring is expertise at learning and adapting and figuring new things out — helping the company grow, and in the process, they will also be growing themselves.

06 / Build Open And Honest Relationships With Communication

Fundamentally, we believe that openness and honesty make for the best relationships because that leads to trust and faith.

We value strong relationships in all areas: with managers, direct reports, customers (internal and external), vendors, business partners, team members, and co-workers.

Strong, positive relationships that are open and honest are a big part of what differentiates Zappos from most other companies. Strong relationships allow us to accomplish much more than we would be able to otherwise.

A key ingredient in strong relationships is to develop emotional connections. It’s important to always act with integrity in your relationships, to be compassionate, friendly, loyal, and to make sure that you do the right thing and treat your relationships well. The hardest thing to do is to build trust, but if the trust exists, you can accomplish so much more.

In any relationship, it’s important to be a good listener as well as a good communicator. Open, honest communication is the best foundation for any relationship, but remember that at the end of the day it’s not what you say or what you do, but how you make people feel that matters the most. In order for someone to feel good about a relationship, he/she must know that the other person truly cares about them, both personally and professionally.

At Zappos, we embrace diversity in thoughts, opinions, and backgrounds. The more widespread and diverse your relationships are, the bigger the positive impact you can make on the company, and the more valuable you will be to the company. It is critical for relationship-building to have effective, open, and honest communication.

As the company grows, communication becomes more and more important because everyone needs to understand how his/her team connects to the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Communication is always one of the weakest spots in any organization, no matter how good the communication is. We want everyone to always try to go the extra mile in encouraging thorough, complete, and effective communication.

07 / Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

At Zappos, we place a lot of emphasis on our culture because we are both a team and a family.

We want to create an environment that is friendly, warm, and exciting. We encourage diversity in ideas, opinions, and points of view.

The best leaders are those who lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. We believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those who are on the front lines and closest to the issues and/or the customers. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead.

The best team members take initiative when they notice issues so that the team and the company can succeed. The best team members take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members whenever challenges arise.

The best team members have a positive influence on one another and everyone they encounter. They strive to eliminate any kind of cynicism and negative interactions. They strive to create harmony with each other and with everyone else they come in contact with.

We believe that the best teams are those that not only work with each other but also interact with each other outside the office environment. Many of the company’s best ideas have been the direct result of informal interactions outside of the office. For example, the idea for our culture book came about from a casual discussion outside the office.

We are more than just a team though — we are a family. We watch out for each other, care for each other, and go above and beyond for each other because we believe in each other and we trust each other. We work together, but we also play together. Our bonds go far beyond the typical “co-worker” relationships found at most other companies.

08 / Do More With Less

Zappos has always been about being able to do more with less.

While we may be casual in our interactions with each other, we are focused and serious about the operations of our business. We believe in working hard and putting in the extra effort to get things done.

We believe in operational excellence and realize that there is always room for improvement in everything we do. This means that our work is never done. In order to stay ahead of the competition (or would-be competition), we need to continuously innovate as well as make incremental improvements to our operations, always striving to make ourselves more efficient, always trying to figure out how to do something better. We use mistakes as learning opportunities.

We must never lose our sense of urgency in making improvements. We must never settle for “good enough” because good is the enemy of great. While our goal is to become a great company, we also want to become the greatest service company in the world. We set and exceed our own high standards, constantly raising the bar for competitors and for ourselves.

09 / Be Passionate And Determined

Passion is the fuel that drives us and our company forward.

We value passion, determination, perseverance, and the sense of urgency.

We are inspired because we believe in what we are doing and where we are going. We don’t take “no” or “that’ll never work” for an answer because if we had, then Zappos would have never started in the first place.

Passion and determination are contagious. We believe in having a positive and optimistic (but realistic) attitude about everything we do because we realize that this inspires others to have the same attitude.

There is excitement in knowing that everyone you work with has a tremendous impact on a larger dream and vision, and you can see that impact day in and day out.

10 / Be Humble

While we have grown quickly in the past, we recognize that there are always challenges ahead to tackle.

We believe that no matter what happens we should always be respectful of everyone.

While we celebrate our individual and team successes, we are not arrogant nor do we treat others differently from how we would want to be treated. Instead, we carry ourselves with a quiet confidence because we believe that, in the long run, our character will speak for itself.

There you go. Hopefully, you learned something or got a little inspired to do yours well now.

What is a culture code?

“First find people who want to go in the same direction on the bus, then find the seats… And ensure they’re off the bus, because you’re stealing a portion of their lives if they’re going in the wrong direction”- Jim Collins

Now we are into the actual culture codes which is the whole fricking point of this blog!

Why did it take so long? Because if you don’t understand culture and values, culture codes won’t mean squat.

The term culture code doesn’t really mean anything to me. To me, they are just values explained in a PowerPoint with some pretty pictures.

  • If your values suck, who cares?
  • If you don’t explain your values, who cares?

Exactly the same thing applies to your pitch deck when you are raising. If you have a crappy startup and can’t explain why you are awesome, your deck will suck, but look pretty (with the help of a designer).

A company culture code is the guiding set of values and principles that breathe life and meaning to an organization. If this sounds similar to company values, it is.

Culture codes just go a step further by making it something you can share in a narrative-like format.

You can:

  • Post them online on your blog and get dip-shites like me to do free branding for you
  • You can share them with people for various reasons (headhunters etc)
  • You can use them on GlassDoor

This stuff works. For example:

  • By investing in employer brand and company culture initiatives, Expedia, Inc. lowered its cost-per-hire to $1,700.
  • TRW Automotive decreased its time-to-hire by 50 percent, attracting quality candidates in half the time.
  • VMware sourced 23 quality hires through Glassdoor, including hard-to-fill positions like engineers.

I’ve explained this shite in values and bla bla already, so I’m not going to keep driving the point home with academic references.

Why culture codes?

These are basically the same as values, but whatever, let me explain.

They look pretty / They make you look like you give a toss

Who doesn’t love a good presentation? Who doesn’t want to look like they care?

Stuff like this makes you look like you care even if you don’t. I don’t judge.

They force you to take culture seriously

Writing a good culture code is a lot of fecking work. I’m serious.

You can churn out some crap with a lot of platitudes, but you’ll know deep down the dog should have eaten it and you won’t use it, let alone share it. The goal should be a culture code worth posting on this blog.

If you really care about your startup culture, you’ll take the time to do it well. Because of this, you’ll actually take actionable steps to ensure you really build a strong culture. Building culture is a constant, daily effort. You need to have this cloud over your head with everything you do about are you building culture, at least till it feels natural.

They might actually be read

I’ve never written a culture code. I’ve done the halfway bit of doing all the work but not turning it into a PowerPoint and it was a lot of f’n work just to get there! This is ironic as I’m epic with PowerPoint. It just never occurred to me to do so.

The difference between eh and awesome is a step further.

It can increase employee engagement

Employee engagement and company culture are directly correlated. So, a strong company culture equals high employee engagement. A culture code gives your company a roadmap to the culture you want. The result of following this roadmap? Happier employees who feel more connected to your company’s mission and values and who are inspired to reach their goals.

Today, 80% of the Fortune 100 tout their values publicly, and companies with a high sense of purpose outperform others by 400%. Yay, more data points to back up my points.

Feeling aligned with a company’s values, mission and philosophy is one of the top reasons employees love where they work, and the primary reason that consumers feel they have a relationship with brands.

It’s a helpful recruiting tool

A good company culture is a top priority for job candidates. Therefore, a strong culture code that helps you create a valuable company culture can help your organization attract the right people. A written culture code on your website will show prospective employees what your business is about and what it values. Now more than ever people want to work at companies that align with their values.

How to write a culture code

I hummed and hawed over whether to detail how to go about writing a culture code for about 30 seconds. I decided not to go too deep. What I’ve done is shared some thoughts about what I would consider for different stages of company.

I’ve done this at large startups twice and both times the experience was completely different. You will also face very different levels of engagement from management and staff depending, ironically, on the culture you have.

I found the later and the larger the startup, which focused less on culture, the harder it was to accomplish.

If you want to see how a startup went about changing their values, I recommend reading this guide from Buffer. We Updated Our Core Values For The First Time in 5 Years, Here’s How We Did It. I think you will learn a lot- not like “wow that’s amazing!” knowledge bombs, but that the process is just doing boring and basic things really well.

Here is how Zappos set out how they did theirs:

10 steps culture code infograph

For a tiny startup

Things are easy when it’s basically just founders and maybe a few staff.

hand written note

Real letter I sent out

Get in a room and communicate very honestly about what genuinely matters to you. If you are all open, you’ll organically create a list. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.

What you will do of course is look at examples you like, which invariably is Zappos… after reading Delivering Happiness by the late Tony Hseih. I really really recommend everyone read or download the audiobook and read this first. It will inspire you for a week or two. I can remember the first time I read the book – it set me out to think more about our customer experience and had me getting the whole team (including myself) sending out handwritten notes to our first 1000 customers.

I do recommend getting the staff you have hired to review what you draft. It is always important to get staff involved in anything that is core to your startup. They really value having their voice heard. If you expect your staff to help you hire, they should be on the same page so when they interview they live your truth.

Once you have set your values, explain them. Then make up a quick PowerPoint to explain them. Early-stage startups don’t have the time to do fancy stuff, so the expectation from you will not be high.

hand written note back

The back had instructions to make a plane

You can have a deck with a few slides of intro, then a header with your value, and the body to explain how this value plays out as behaviors. If you have some other points you would like to explain, you can add that here too.

For an office sized startup

When you have a dozen or so people, you still have the opportunity to set your narrative. It might take some effort, but you can right the ship if you feel you need to change course.

You just need to get a shock to the system and seize the opportunity to make a change. It’s a mini come to Jesus moment.

This is an opportunity to take a ‘Mission to Mars’. When some core values are beginning to emerge, it might be time to go to Mars.

The “Mission to Mars” exercise by Jim Collins asks that you imagine you’ve been asked to recreate the best version of your organization on another planet, but you only have room to take 5 to 7 people.

“Who would you send? They are the people who are likely to be exemplars of the organization’s core values and purpose, have the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest levels of competence.”

Have all the people involved in the values process nominate a Mars group of five to seven individuals. The most nominated become the “Mars Group,” who are chosen to work together to create a final articulation of the vision.

If you are growing, it is time to put in a little more effort into your culture code than before. You should be thinking about using this to differentiate yourself in hiring to attract talent.

You might think about doing a solid job on a draft deck then handing it over to someone on your team to add to. Maybe you then have your designer make it look pretty.

For a larger startup

If you are a larger startup, everything is a little harder. And yeah, it’s going to take a lot more effort. It might feel a little like moving the Titanic.

Travis from Uber said he spent hundreds of hours writing their values. That sounds like a joke, but if the company has enough bureaucracy going on, I can believe it. Smart people love to have opinions and to share them on things such as this.

Learn about this yourself

If you’re the CEO, I would draft a list of the values that matter to you as a starting off point. Do it alone. You’ll get confused and you’ll end up on this blog to see what others wrote. The point here is to learn and know enough to then facilitate a process.

At the end of the day you’re going to sign off on the values. You know you will…

Let go

You need a WeWork size ego to think you can write a culture code yourself when you are 50+ staff. It’s closing the barn door after the horse has left and sired mares.

The only way you will ever get real buy-in to this culture and values BS is if staff is involved in writing them. I’m serious.

You had your chance to create a culture and now you have one. Just because you want a different culture doesn’t make it so.

“One thing people taught us is that values are implicitly already present. They’re not something you pick, they’re something you already are.” Leo, Buffer

You need to solicit staff, let them make their say and the majority of opinions need to feel like they are reflected. You can wordsmith, but you can’t change the spirit.

Get management “involved”

All your execs need to know that you are going to do the culture code and values thing. It’s going to sound strategic so their ego will get bruised if they’re not consulted. They don’t really give a shite and they most likely don’t really want to be involved, but they want to feel like they are.

Get one or more mid-level managers to lead

You ideally want someone mid-manager level to lead this because frankly, you have other things to do, and there is a lot of monkey work to manage the process. Someone in HR or marketing is a good place to look. Probably an extrovert woman that everyone likes and enjoys doing a lot of reading.

Personally, if there is someone junior that is perfect for this task, I would let them roll with it. No one has a lot of experience in this (other than a consultant) so I would delegate for passion and potential.

Get them to propose a process

You’re going to do a town hall and send out emails about the initiative. This is going to take up time. If done poorly, staff will roll their eyes and just ignore you. That’s embarrassing and the latest sad attempt from disconnected leadership to connect.

Ensure whoever is leading this does some leg work about how they are going to get staff to share their views.

  • Are you going to ask for a random list of the values that matter?
  • Are you going to draft a list of values from a workgroup from a diverse group of staff and propose the ones to be voted on?
  • Are you going to set a list of values to be voted on? How is this going to play out?

Zappos formed their values in the early days by first asking teammates to share their own personal values, which they then combined and tested against existing employees. Here’s the email that went out in 2005.

Zappos-email culture

One exercise Zappos used was Dave Logan’s “Mountains and Valleys” exercise, which helps you define your personal core values by reviewing significant milestones in your life. This is what Tony Hsieh’s looked like:


The sausage can be made in different manners. However you do it, make sure it makes sense.

You are only ever going to do this once, or when a change happens (such as you are being fired for having a bad culture), so it is a big deal.

Be prepared to get involved

When you’re ready to pull the trigger, do it in a quiet sales period. Assume it will take a month.

You will need to be involved in writing any longer document. This is the kind of thing you will share with your board and investors.


Once you have set the values or behaviors, and/or a longer culture code, you need to communicate this to all staff.

  • You do a town hall. – all
  • You want to share it on your website. – marketing team
  • You want to make it a part of your recruitment process. – HR/recruitment
  • Management needs to learn this shite off by heart and live it. – management
  • Etc

Live it

This whole thing may take 2 months. Once it’s done you need to live and champion it.

  • You want to refer to it in all hiring and firing decisions.
  • You want to make your values part of every commercial decision that is hard.
  • You refer to in mentoring sessions

I can tell you staff won’t take any new management initiatives if you don’t take them seriously.

Here’s Tony Hsieh on how to make them actionable:

Deal with the shite that will result

One thing that’s important to know up front is that defining your company’s values likely won’t be a fast fix to any challenges your organization is facing.

In fact, creating true values and sticking by them might hurt quite a bit. Here’s how HBR describes it:

At Buffer, Leo remembers that the team went from 12 people to 8 after their values were solidified.

“For the first time, we learned about letting someone go,” he said. “It was really tough and unfair, but that’s what startups are—constantly changing, constantly adapting.”

“That’s what culture does. It’s a disinfectant—it hurts a lot, but you end up being a lot stronger.”

If your values matter, you should hire and fire based on them.

For this reason, hiring with values in mind can be a bit unique. Zappos has a four-week course for new hires in which they learn about the company philosophy. At the end, they’re offered $2,000 to quit, in order to make sure there’s true alignment. That’s bonkers!

For rich startups

I would probably hire a consultant. Not because they are so great, but because you can save time and can do it more smoothly without distracting management and wasting staff’s time.

Founder experience

I’ve found two examples of founders writing about how they made their values. Buffer wrote a blog about this in detail (which I shared above) which I’m not going to rip off as it’s too long and it’s just as easy to click through and read it.


Buffer has 10 core values that guide us:

Buffer Values

These emerged early in the Buffer journey when we were a small team of around 10 or so. As the group stretched and evolved, organization tensions began to grow.

“Early in the company, we were first time founders learning a lot,” says Buffer co-founder Leo. “We thought, ‘What the hell are we doing? Are we qualified to do anything? We have no idea what we’re doing.’ ”

One thing that unified the team was reading Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh of Zappos. As the founders dove deeper into the Zappos philosophy, they discovered a video of Hsieh discussing the one thing he would do differently: formalize the company’s values sooner.

“Zappos was already a forerunner, and they started doing it when they were 50 people,” Leo said. “It hit us that we wanted to do that.”

But how?

Sensing that Buffer’s culture was already at least partially in place, Joel and Leo set out to formalize what was already there, by asking the team. Here’s they survey that went out to the team:

values survey

“We wrote down what we were excited about, asked people what they thought, and then we put the first set of values together,” Leo said.

7 of Buffer’s now-10 values came out of this early exercise.

“It really gave us this focus, that this is what we want to align ourselves around,” Leo said. “Everything became so much more pronounced.”

Our values are constantly evolving and have changed a lot since this early exercise


Live-Person CEO Robert LoCascio noticed that, although his company continued to grow in revenue and employees, he wasn’t happy with the direction the culture was going. After flying to Las Vegas to study the company culture of Zappos, he decided it was time to talk values. “I realized how far we were from the high watermark of what a company could be. And I made a commitment to go for it—you have to make a commitment and go all the way with it,” he reflected.

So, he took the a step: He spent around $300,000 to fly his entire team—then around 300 members—to Israel for a three-day discussion about what the company should stand for.

“The first day was horrible—oh my god we almost had a mutiny,” recalls LoCascio. But despite resistance and skepticism from some employees at the beginning, over three days of break-out sessions and company-wide discussions, they were able to narrow from 40 values down to the final two most important values, that would guide the company moving forward: “Be an Owner” and “Help Others.”

These two core values were supported by 91% of those in attendance. “People still talk about that meeting,” said LoCascio.

Examples of culture codes and values

Originally this blog was just going to be a dump of culture codes… you probably know I can’t help myself and end up writing long-ass blogs. So “whoops I did it again”.

As I got into writing, I decided to add in all the values I could find too. Frankly, a culture code is just a longer prettier version of values. Since the values are the basis for a culture code, I thought it would be useful for you to have these to hand just in case you want to nerd out and have these all to hand so you don’t have to research.

Acceleration Partners

In 2015 they wrote in a press release style on their blog the following:

We are excited to unveil the Acceleration Partners culture deck!

Created by our leadership team with input from people at every level of our organization, our culture deck tells the world who we are, what we’re about, and what we value.

In creating this deck and putting an emphasis on culture we follow in the footsteps of great companies like Netflix and Hubspot, who have built tremendously successful companies on the strength of a great culture that people love being a part of.

Increasingly, people are choosing to work with companies not just because of the work that they do, but because of the company’s culture and leadership.

We believe our company culture is unique and is a major part of Acceleration Partners’ success to date. We also believe that bringing people onto our team who align with our culture is what will allow us to continue our success well into the future.

Here’s what you’ll find in our culture deck:

  • Our core values
  • The performance and conduct that we seek from our team members
  • What we believe in
  • Insight into our flexible work environment
  • How we support our team members
  • How we strive to deliver best-in-class results
Acceleration Partners Culture Code


Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

We hold ourselves and each other accountable for demonstrating the Leadership Principles through our actions every day. Our Leadership Principles describe how Amazon does business, how leaders lead, and how we keep the customer at the center of our decisions. Our unique Amazon culture, described by our Leadership Principles, helps us relentlessly pursue our mission of being Earth’s most customer-centric company, best employer, and safest place to work.

  • Customer Obsession. Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
  • Ownership. Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”
  • Invent and Simplify. Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
  • Are Right, A Lot. Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
  • Learn and Be Curious. Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
  • Hire and Develop the Best. Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
  • Insist on the Highest Standards. Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
  • Think Big. Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
  • Bias for Action. Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
  • Frugality. Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
  • Earn Trust. Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
  • Dive Deep. Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
  • Deliver Results. Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
  • Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer. Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.
  • Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility. We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.


Apple lists its company values on the footer of every page on its website. They’re a great example of values no one will ever remember or care about.

  • Accessibility
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Inclusion and Diversity
  • Privacy
  • Supplier Responsibility

For a laugh, look at Microsoft:

  • Innovation
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Philanthropies
  • Environment
  • Trustworthy Computing

These are clearly written by a committee.


The biggest investment a company can make is in its culture. Culture is what connects business goals, values, and people.

Since our founding, Asana has been committed to cultivating our culture in many ways, from hiring great people who embody our values to supporting those people in the best ways we can.

The Asana culture not only exists within our walls and amongst our team members, but also in our industry and community. A few years ago, we were asked by SlideShare to join a new online-presentation campaign they were launching with companies like Asana, Netflix, and HubSpot, called #CultureCode.

It’s been a great way to share our take on culture with everyone from candidates to customers, and we encourage all companies to share their own #CultureCode decks. Today, we’re publishing a new deck that reflects the changes and growth here at Asana over the past two years.

Asana culture code


These are the values that guide our business, our product development, and our brand. As our company continues to evolve and grow, these five values remain constant.

  • Open company, no bullshit. Openness is root level for us. Information is open internally by default and sharing is a first principle. And we understand that speaking your mind requires equal parts brains (what to say), thoughtfulness (when to say it), and caring (how it’s said).
  • Build with heart and balance. “Measure twice, cut once.” Whether you’re building a birdhouse or a business, this is good advice. Passion and urgency infuse everything we do, alongside the wisdom to consider options fully and with care. Then we make the cut, and we get to work.
  • Don’t #@!% the customer. Customers are our lifeblood. Without happy customers, we’re doomed. So considering the customer perspective – collectively, not just a handful – comes first.
  • Play, as a team. We spend a huge amount of our time at work. So the more that time doesn’t feel like “work,” the better. We can be serious, without taking ourselves too seriously. We strive to put what’s right for the team first – whether in a meeting room or on a football pitch.
  • Be the change you seek. All Atlassians should have the courage and resourcefulness to spark change – to make better our products, our people, our place. Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility. Action is an independent one.


Automattic’s values are based on what they call “The Automattic Creed”:

  • I will never stop learning.
  • I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me.
  • I know there’s no such thing as a status quo.
  • I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers.
  • I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.
  • I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.
  • I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.
  • I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.
  • Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.


This is very eh. It’s not a culture code, it’s their values. They have 5 of them.

baremetrics culture code

Big Spaceship

During a hack day, a few folks wrote and illustrated a book explaining the way we work in detail. It doesn’t give details about 401k’s or instructions for email setup. Rather it shares how we make decisions as a team and as a company.

Big Spaceship Culture Code


The Untold Story of Buffer’s Values: Why We Created Them, and Why It Hurt

We Updated Our Core Values For The First Time in 5 Years, Here’s How We Did It

We Changed Buffer’s Value of Happiness & Positivity by 1 Word: Here is Why

They have changed their values over time.

Buffer culture code


Our work used to mean just keeping files in sync, but we’re now focused on designing an enlightened way of working. We’re building the world’s first smart workspace that helps people and teams focus on the work that matters. We value people over places, which is why we are now a virtual-first company that collaborates from home offices, coworking spaces, coffee shops, and Dropbox studios from around the world.

  1. Be Worthy of Trust. Millions of teams trust us with their most important information. But this trust can vanish in an instant. That’s why integrity is the foundation of our culture. We do the right thing, even when nobody’s looking. And we’re honest—even when it’s uncomfortable.
  2. They Win, We Win. Our customers come first. So we put in the work to deeply understand them. We ask, “Who’s the customer?” and “What do they really need?” When they succeed, our business (and everything else) falls into place.
  3. Make Work Human. Our mission is to design a more enlightened way of working, for Dropboxers and the world. So we make products that prioritize our needs as humans. And we build a compassionate culture where you can do your best work—no matter who you are or where you’re from.
  4. Keep It Simple. Simple things work better—and make more sense. So we build products that do a few things really well. And we don’t overcomplicate life at Dropbox, whether it’s a plan or a process. Getting to simple isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort.
  5. Own it. We take responsibility for our work, from start to finish. When we get stuck, we unblock ourselves. When something goes wrong, we don’t ask, “What did they screw up?” but “What could I do better?” We learn from our mistakes and keep going—until we have real impact.

Character Lab

Culture is like a garden: It’ll grow whether you tend it or not. We want a good garden, intentionally cultivated. This Culture Book explains what we do every day. It describes how we do it. Most importantly, it articulates why we do it. In short, these pages describe the Character Lab way.

Characterlab culture code


Our Culture Code unites us and makes us a great family of companies and a great place to work. It’s how we run the business, go to market, work together and provide inspirational leadership.

Dell culture code


Disqus spends the first part of its Culture Book explaining its history, the product, and the company’s business model. The rest is dedicated to the work itself: how employees work, how to operate within the workspace, and “life,” including time off and work-life balance.

Disqus culture code

Double Dutch

The 7 values the team at DoubleDutch lives and hires by.

Double Dutch culture code


Why not chuck in a boring older company?

Electrolux Culture Code


My favorite word in Peter’s presentation is “durable.” That is how I describe us. We never worry about growth rate. Instead, we worry whether our business, product, and culture will exist 30 years from now. It seems ridiculous for a VC backed company to say we don’t worry about growth rate, but it is true. We are confident that if we build something durable, defensible, and important, our company will be valuable in the long run. We don’t care about being the fastest growing financial infrastructure company. We care about being the last one.

eShares culture code


As we grow, commitment to our mission remains at the core of our identity. It is woven into the decisions we make for the long-term health of our ecosystem, from the sourcing of our office supplies to our employee benefits to the items sold in our marketplace.

Etsy culture code


Ten things we know to be true

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow. Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting. And when we build new tools and applications, we believe they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.
  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well. We do search. With one of the world’s largest research groups focused exclusively on solving search problems, we know what we do well, and how we could do it better. Through continued iteration on difficult problems, we’ve been able to solve complex issues and provide continuous improvements to a service that already makes finding information a fast and seamless experience for millions of people. Our dedication to improving search helps us apply what we’ve learned to new products, like Gmail and Google Maps. Our hope is to bring the power of search to previously unexplored areas, and to help people access and use even more of the ever-expanding information in their lives.
  • Fast is better than slow. We know your time is valuable, so when you’re seeking an answer on the web you want it right away–and we aim to please. We may be the only people in the world who can say our goal is to have people leave our website as quickly as possible. By shaving excess bits and bytes from our pages and increasing the efficiency of our serving environment, we’ve broken our own speed records many times over, so that the average response time on a search result is a fraction of a second. We keep speed in mind with each new product we release, whether it’s a mobile application or Google Chrome, a browser designed to be fast enough for the modern web. And we continue to work on making it all go even faster.
  • Democracy on the web works. Google search works because it relies on the millions of individuals posting links on websites to help determine which other sites offer content of value. We assess the importance of every web page using more than 200 signals and a variety of techniques, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, which analyzes which sites have been “voted” to be the best sources of information by other pages across the web. As the web gets bigger, this approach actually improves, as each new site is another point of information and another vote to be counted. In the same vein, we are active in open source software development, where innovation takes place through the collective effort of many programmers.
  • You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer. The world is increasingly mobile: people want access to information wherever they are, whenever they need it. We’re pioneering new technologies and offering new solutions for mobile services that help people all over the globe to do any number of tasks on their phone, from checking email and calendar events to watching videos, not to mention the several different ways to access Google search on a phone. In addition, we’re hoping to fuel greater innovation for mobile users everywhere with Android, a free, open source mobile platform. Android brings the openness that shaped the Internet to the mobile world. Not only does Android benefit consumers, who have more choice and innovative new mobile experiences, but it opens up revenue opportunities for carriers, manufacturers and developers.
  • You can make money without doing evil. Google is a business. The revenue we generate is derived from offering search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on our site and on other sites across the web. Hundreds of thousands of advertisers worldwide use AdWords to promote their products; hundreds of thousands of publishers take advantage of our AdSense program to deliver ads relevant to their site content. To ensure that we’re ultimately serving all our users (whether they are advertisers or not), we have a set of guiding principles for our advertising programs and practices:
    • We don’t allow ads to be displayed on our results pages unless they are relevant where they are shown. And we firmly believe that ads can provide useful information if, and only if, they are relevant to what you wish to find–so it’s possible that certain searches won’t lead to any ads at all.
    • We believe that advertising can be effective without being flashy. We don’t accept pop–up advertising, which interferes with your ability to see the content you’ve requested. We’ve found that text ads that are relevant to the person reading them draw much higher clickthrough rates than ads appearing randomly. Any advertiser, whether small or large, can take advantage of this highly targeted medium.
    • Advertising on Google is always clearly identified as a “Sponsored Link,” so it does not compromise the integrity of our search results. We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results and no one can buy better PageRank. Our users trust our objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust.
  • There’s always more information out there. Once we’d indexed more of the HTML pages on the Internet than any other search service, our engineers turned their attention to information that was not as readily accessible. Sometimes it was just a matter of integrating new databases into search, such as adding a phone number and address lookup and a business directory. Other efforts required a bit more creativity, like adding the ability to search news archives, patents, academic journals, billions of images and millions of books. And our researchers continue looking into ways to bring all the world’s information to people seeking answers.
  • The need for information crosses all borders. Our company was founded in California, but our mission is to facilitate access to information for the entire world, and in every language. To that end, we have offices in more than 60 countries, maintain more than 180 Internet domains, and serve more than half of our results to people living outside the United States. We offer Google’s search interface in more than 130 languages, offer people the ability to restrict results to content written in their own language, and aim to provide the rest of our applications and products in as many languages and accessible formats as possible. Using our translation tools, people can discover content written on the other side of the world in languages they don’t speak. With these tools and the help of volunteer translators, we have been able to greatly improve both the variety and quality of services we can offer in even the most far–flung corners of the globe.
  • You can be serious without a suit. Our founders built Google around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun. We believe that great, creative things are more likely to happen with the right company culture–and that doesn’t just mean lava lamps and rubber balls. There is an emphasis on team achievements and pride in individual accomplishments that contribute to our overall success. We put great stock in our employees–energetic, passionate people from diverse backgrounds with creative approaches to work, play and life. Our atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge in a café line, at a team meeting or at the gym, they are traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed–and they may be the launch pad for a new project destined for worldwide use.
  • Great just isn’t good enough. We see being great at something as a starting point, not an endpoint. We set ourselves goals we know we can’t reach yet, because we know that by stretching to meet them we can get further than we expected. Through innovation and iteration, we aim to take things that work well and improve upon them in unexpected ways. For example, when one of our engineers saw that search worked well for properly spelled words, he wondered about how it handled typos. That led him to create an intuitive and more helpful spell checker.
    Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, finding an answer on the web is our problem, not yours. We try to anticipate needs not yet articulated by our global audience, and meet them with products and services that set new standards. When we launched Gmail, it had more storage space than any email service available. In retrospect offering that seems obvious–but that’s because now we have new standards for email storage. Those are the kinds of changes we seek to make, and we’re always looking for new places where we can make a difference. Ultimately, our constant dissatisfaction with the way things are becomes the driving force behind everything we do.
Google culture code


This is pretty lame. It’s just 5 values in a PowerPoint.

Grammerly culture code


The Handy Culture Deck provides an inside look at the uniquely Handy company and culture we are building to achieve our mission. It outlines the things we believe at Handy and the ways we try to live up to them.

Handy culture code


Hootsuite use this to onboard each new member of staff.

  • Our vision is to revolutionize the customer journey via social
  • Our mission is to empower organizations to turn messages into meaningful relationships
  • Our culture: a passionate, egoless team having fun building something bigger than itself

Our team is:

  • Hardworking
  • Collaborative
  • Resourceful
  • Egoless
  • Innovative


Hot jar explain how they revised their values, but it’s embedded in an examples of core values blog. You can find the interesting part here: How to define and implement company values: how we did it at Hotjar

  • Always be HONEST
  • Always be LEARNING
  • SPEED wins
  • We aim for GOOD
  • Eliminate ‘IN PROGRESS’ work
  • Get FEEDBACK early
  • Create WOW!
  • Show RESPECT

Hotjar explains on their blog:

“Here is an example of how this helped: we’d get candidates to do a task as part of their interview process, and look at their work and deliverables in light of those principles. Could they develop things speedily? How receptive were they to feedback?

Once hired, we would also run quarterly reviews where each person would get a 1-5 rating on how well they were performing for each value. The values were written and shared with everybody as part of our team manual:”

hotjar values


Several years ago, we published a public beta of the HubSpot Culture Code slide deck. This deck started out as an internal document, and as a company who values transparency, we decided to share it with the world.

Like HubSpot, the Culture Code is a perpetual “work in progress,” so we’ll update it periodically. To date, we’ve updated it more than 25 times, and what you see below is our latest version.

HubSpot Culture Code Highlights

  • Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.
  • Whether you like it or not, you’re going to have a culture. Why not make it one you love?
  • Solve For The Customer — not just their happiness, but also their success.
  • Power is now gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.
  • “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” -Louis Brandeis
  • HubSpot has a no-door policy, where everyone has access to anyone in the company.
  • You shouldn’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.
  • Results should matter more than when or where they are produced.
  • Influence should be independent of hierarchy.
  • Great people want direction on where they’re going — not directions on how to get there.
  • “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
  • We’d rather be failing frequently than never trying.
Hubspot culture code


We wrote this to give you a sense of IDEO’s culture—the ties that bind us together as coworkers and as people.

Ideo culture code


Culture is something we take pride in at LinkedIn. As the collective personality of our organization, it sets us apart, defines who we are and shapes what we aspire to be.

We know that a company’s culture is more than a set of guiding principles; it is brought to life by the employees who exemplify it on a daily basis. At LinkedIn, talent is our number one operating priority. Each LinkedIn employee knows that while they are at Linkedin, they have the opportunity to transform themselves, the company, and the world. And that is why we place such an important emphasis on our employees, the real culture owners.

Linkedin culture code


When Lyft filed their S-1, their espoused values were:

  1. Be yourself. Live authentically and trust your voice. You belong here.
  2. Uplift others. Take care of each other — no matter which seat you’re sitting in
  3. Make it happen. Own the work. Focus on impact. Reimagine what’s possible.

One blogger wrote a blog entitled “Lyft’s core values mean absolutely diddly squat”. Lol.

They seem to have been updated on their site:

  1. Wow our customers. We’re all on the front lines of customer service, no matter what role we’re in. We go above and beyond to serve others with high-quality products and hospitality they can rely on. We work hard to leave our customers with a smile.
  2. All-in ownership. We have grit. There is no job too small nor challenge too big. We are all-in. We think long term and always optimize for Lyft as a whole. We never say, “that’s not my job.”Take care of each other. We create an inclusive environment where everyone is safe to be themselves. We build trust by listening attentively, speaking candidly, and treating others respectfully. We have each other’s backs.
  3. Create fearlessly. We have a bias for action and we value taking bold, calculated risks. We move fast and don’t make customers wait. When we fail, we learn from it, adjust, and try again.
  4. Take pride, be humble. We take pride in our work and whatever we do, we do it well. We assess our own work critically and we’re the first to call out our shortcomings. We continuously push ourselves and others to improve and set a higher bar.
  5. Build great teams. We recruit, and develop exceptional talent. We collaborate and combine our powers to accomplish more than we could do alone.
  6. Disagree & commit. We engage in thoughtful, direct, and respectful debate, even when it’s uncomfortable. Once we land a decision, we commit fully and move forward.
  7. Dive deep. We stay connected to all the details, audit frequently, and continually seek deeper insights. We don’t take anything at face value and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ.
  8. Inspire. We start with a big compelling vision, and work backwards to create and communicate a clear plan. We rally those around us and accomplish what others see as impossible.
  9. Deliver impact. While all the ingredients matter, we know that it’s the end result that counts. We carefully prioritize our time and resources to get the greatest impact for the customer and our mission. Despite setbacks, we rise to the occasion, and can be counted on to deliver results on time.


No super interesting. It’s basically a poster.

lululemon culture code


I added for fun. Unsurprisingly it’s a fecking nerd white paper.

NASA culture code


The original culture deck daddy…

  • Judgment
    • You make wise decisions (people, technical, business, and creative) despite ambiguity
    • You identify root causes and get beyond treating symptoms
    • You think strategically, and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do
    • You smartly separate what must be done well now, and what can be improved later
  • Communication
    • You listen well, instead of reacting fast, so you can better understand
    • You are concise and articulate in speech and writing
    • You treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you
    • You maintain calm poise in stressful situations
  • Impact
    • You accomplish amazing amounts of important work
    • You demonstrate consistently strong performance so colleagues can rely upon you
    • You focus on great results rather than on process
    • You exhibit bias-to-action and avoid analysis-paralysis
  • Curiosity
    • You learn rapidly and eagerly
    • You seek to understand our strategy, market, customers, and suppliers
    • You are broadly knowledgeable about business, technology, and entertainment
    • You contribute effectively outside of your specialty
  • Innovation
    • You re-conceptualize issues to discover practical solutions to hard problems
    • You challenge prevailing assumptions when warranted, and suggest better approaches
    • You create new ideas that prove useful
    • You keep us nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify
  • Courage
    • You say what you think even if it is controversial
    • You make tough decisions without agonizing
    • You take smart risks
    • You question actions inconsistent with our values
  • Passion
    • You inspire others with your thirst for excellence
    • You care intensely about Netflix’s success
    • You celebrate wins
    • You are tenacious
  • Honesty
    • You are known for candor and directness
    • You are non-political when you disagree with others
    • You only say things about fellow employees you will say to their face
    • You are quick to admit mistakes
Netflix culture code


Boring old company playing new. It’s about being tech forward.

Nordstrom Technology NorDNA Culture Code


This is an example of a SHITTY culture code deck.

Who the feck thought writing a 193 slide deck with a few words per slide was a good idea?

Honestly, one slide (110) says “We never swear”. They go on to explain and explain “bollox” but I was triggered so you lost me.

Fuck that.

Ometria Culture Code


Check this out- it’s a nice, honest read: PandaDoc Mission Statement & Culture Code

Mission statement: We build software to help sales teams look great, save time and close more deals. PandaDoc establishes a clear process for sales documents from the very first customer pitch, quote, or proposal to a signed contract and money in the bank.

Our goals:

  1. Accelerate the way organizations transact
  2. Have 50,000 companies actively using our product
  3. Learn as much as possible and have fun while we’re getting there

I like how they describe their culture deck.

Our culture

Merriam-Webster defines “culture” as a way of thinking, behaving, and working that exists in organization.

When people say that culture at their company sucks, one or both of these statements are true:

  • They dislike the people they work with
  • They dislike the way the work is done

When people say the culture at their company is amazing, one or both of these statements are true:

  • They like the people they work with
  • They like the way the work is done

So, we thought… why wouldn’t our team have a short document on what we value and how we love to work.

That is our culture code. When recruiting, we’re only hiring folks that fit “The people we love to work with” profile. When setting up a new process, we’ll make sure it follows “The ways we love to work”.


What kinds of people do we love to work with? They are:

  • Independent
  • Organized and geeky
  • Data-driven
  • Scrappy
  • Creative
  • Humble team players
  • Direct and straightforward
  • Resilient

How do we love to work?

  • Ask smart questions
  • Focus and measure our work
  • Have a bias towards action
  • Try new things
  • Be hands-on, player-coach
  • Optimize for customer success


They have two missions:

  1. Fund the creative class
  2. Create a company where teammates build fulfilling lives

Both missions are important because:

  1. Because we don’t want to accomplish our mission at the expense of our teammates.
  2. And we don’t want to create a happy, fulfilled team if we aren’t getting creators paid.

Our Core Behaviors

  • Put Creators First. Patreon is nothing without our creators.
  • Achieve Ambitious Outcomes. Set, measure, and accomplish goals that deliver massive value to our creators and patrons.
  • Cultivate Inclusion. We want an environment that retains and engages the diverse teams we build.
  • Bias Towards Action. When in doubt, we take the next best step, then course correct when needed. We go out of our way to fix problems when we see them. We take ownership seriously.
  • Be Candid and Kind. Be extremely caring and extremely direct in all you do at Patreon, especially when it comes to giving positive and constructive feedback.
  • Be Curious. You don’t know it all, and that’s the fun part. Everything gets better when you’re curious. Things get more interesting, more clear, and more approachable. When you bring curiosity into the workplace, you’re growing yourself, your teammates, and Patreon as a whole.
Patreon culture code


This is a 44 slide snooze fest. Who comes up with this shite?

Percolate culture code


73 slides of fun…

Possible Culture Code


These are the cultural values that RedMartians live every day in order to become the most customer-centric company in the world and the best place to work.

Roger is a nice guy, but blew up for reasons I can explain.

Redmart culture code


They were a darling for a while but it didn’t work out.

  • Sparkle
  • Kick Ass
  • Inventive
  • Master of our domain
  • Likeable
  • Open minded
  • Vocal
  • Entrepreneurial
Skimlinks Culture Code


Not particularly interesting.

Slack’s Company Purpose: “Making work-life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive – for everyone.”

Slack cultural values:

  • ❤ Empathy
  • 💁 Courtesy
  • 🌻 Thriving
  • 🔨 Craftsmanship
  • 🙆 Playfulness
  • 🙌 Solidarity

Slack’s Cultural Priorities

  1. Life balance even over hard work
  2. Selling organizational transformation even over selling a product
  3. Doing a better job at understanding what people want even over product-market fit.

slack priorities


This deck cracks me up. They start up calling BS on values and go so far as to reference Enron’s values. Love the honesty! It’s sort of the kind of thing I would write.

Soundstripe culture deck



Our Purpose: Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.

Our Vision: To be the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline.



How I Show Up


  • Have a strong work ethic
  • Take initiative
  • Be accountable


  • Act like an owner
  • Choose to do right
  • Be courageous


  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Keep perspective
  • Don’t be a jerk


How We Treat Each Other


  • Practice civility
  • Embrace Team over self
  • Be inclusive


  • Speak up
  • Be transparent
  • Tell the truth

Service with LUV

  • Practice Hospitality
  • Live by The Golden Rule
  • Don’t be rude


How Southwest Succeeds


  • Don’t make the easy hard
  • Keep costs low
  • Stay agile


  • Be safe
  • Be focused
  • Be reliable


  • Get results
  • Win the right way
  • Kick tail


I liked the old version’s titles more.



This isn’t the company culture, its about the engineering team.

  • Culture is the stuff people do without noticing
  • If vision is where you are going, culture is what makes sure you can get there
  • A good culture isn’t the same thing as a good business though
  • Culture enables success but it does not cause success

What makes a good engineering culture

  • Stuff gets done
  • It gets done well
  • People are happy
  • Leaders provide direction and guidance and GET OUT OF THE WAY
  • Success is celebrated
  • Failure is used a s a way to learn


Stripe provide a quick guide to their culture. It’s not in a PowerPoint. You can read the full version below.

A quick guide to Stripe’s culture

A great deal of your fulfilment at any company is determined by the extent to which the values of the people and the organisation align with your own.

It’s hard to assess culture from the outside and most companies are not good at describing their own nature. (How do fish describe water?) They also have incentives to say things that sound attractive rather than things that are true.

We’ve tried to assemble this guide to Stripe with both challenges in mind. This is our best attempt to share an honest description of our culture today. We hope you find it useful in deciding whether Stripe is the kind of place in which you’d like to spend your time.

  • WE HAVEN’T WON YET. People often worry that they’re joining Stripe, or any nascently successful startup, too late. Have all the large problems been solved? Are there still important decisions left to be made and things to be built?
  • MOVE WITH URGENCY AND FOCUS. Our users entrust us with their money, their businesses, and their livelihoods. Millions of businesses around the world (individuals, startups, and large enterprises) are open for business only if we are. When we mess up, miss a deadline, or slow down, it matters. We take that responsibility seriously.
  • THINK RIGOROUSLY. We care about being right and it often takes reasoning from first principles to get there.
  • TRUST AND AMPLIFY. By the standards of the rest of the world, we overtrust. We’re okay with that.
  • GLOBAL OPTIMIZATION. Stripes do what’s best for the organization overall.
  • THE STRIPE SERVICE. Through the tools that we build, we want to push the world to create better products and services.
  • OPTIMISM. We are micro pessimists but macro optimists.


  • Move Fast. Speed affects Tesla Inc.’s competitive advantage. This characteristic of the organizational culture highlights the importance of employees’ capability to rapidly respond to trends and changes in the international market. For example, the corporation’s human resources provide the capability to develop cutting-edge products that match or exceed those from competing automotive firms. In this way, Tesla’s corporate culture facilitates business resilience through speedy responses to current issues and challenges in the global automotive industry
  • Do the Impossible. In developing cutting-edge products, Tesla must ensure that its corporate culture encourages employees to think outside the box. This cultural characteristic recognizes the importance of new ideas and solutions, but it also emphasizes the benefits of considering unconventional ways. For example, human resource managers train employees to go beyond conventional limits of productivity and creativity in automotive design, leading to the development of new solutions to energy and transportation needs. This condition opens new opportunities for Tesla Inc. to strategically improve its business performance. This cultural condition also makes the company an influential entity in prompting radical ideas in the international automotive and energy solutions market.
  • Constantly Innovate. Innovation is at the heart of Tesla, Inc. This feature of the organizational culture focuses on the continuous nature of innovation at the company. For example, the corporation continuously researches and develops solutions that improve current energy storage product designs. In this context of the business analysis, constant innovation helps develop cutting-edge electric cars and related products. Continuous innovation maintains the competitive advantage necessary to address the strong force of industry competition determined in the  Porter’s Five Forces analysis of Tesla Inc . The company addresses this need through a corporate culture that rewards constant innovation. Managers motivate employees to contribute to constant innovation in business processes and output.
  • Reason from “First Principles. CEO Elon Musk promotes reasoning from first principles. These principles revolve around identifying root factors to understand and solve problems in the real world. For example, Tesla Inc.’s energy storage products are one of the solutions to challenges in using renewable energy, and challenges in improving the efficiency of energy utilization. Through the company’s corporate culture, employees use first principles in fulfilling their jobs. Tesla’s human resource management involves training programs to orient employees to this feature of its organizational culture.
  • Think Like Owners. Tesla employs its organizational culture as a tool to maintain a mindset that supports business development. For example, the company motivates its workers to think like they own the organization. This ownership mindset supports  Tesla’s corporate vision and mission statements  by encouraging employees to take responsibility and accountability in their jobs and in the overall performance of the multinational business. The ownership mindset is a powerful behavioral factor that helps grow and strengthen the integrity of businesses in various industries. This corporate cultural trait aligns workers with the company’s strategic objectives, thereby improving strategic effectiveness.
  • We are ALL IN. Tesla, Inc.’s organizational culture unifies employees into a team that works to improve the business. For example, this cultural characteristic helps minimize conflicts through teamwork. Such teamwork also develops synergy in the company’s human resources. As a result, the corporate culture maximizes the benefits from employees’ talents and skills. Synergistic teamwork contributes to Tesla’s competitiveness in the international automotive market. This unifying cultural approach also facilitates corporate management and strategy implementation throughout the organization.


9 slides of eh, which is ironic since they wrote a blog on culture codes.

Tettra Culture Code

The Motley Fool

This is an old G culture book from 2014 and it looks like it. I do like the attempt at authenticity with the pictures of staff laughing and shite.

The motley fool culture code


As part of his overhaul of the culture at Uber, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced the ride-sharing company has adopted eight new “cultural norms,” in essence replacing the 14 values first introduced by his predecessor, Travis Kalanick, in 2015.

Khosrowshahi, who posted the new norms on LinkedIn, says they’re intended to be updated as the company evolves. “The culture and approach that got Uber where it is today is not what will get us to the next level,” he wrote “As we move from an era of growth at all costs to one of responsible growth, our culture needs to evolve.”

Original values

Kalanick spent hundreds of hours huddled with senior executives drafting his values, before they were unveiled to employees from a stage at a 2015 employee retreat at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

  1. Customer obsession (Start with what is best for the customer.)
  2. Make magic (Seek breakthroughs that will stand the test of time.)
  3. Big bold bets (Take risks and plant seeds that are five to ten years out.)
  4. Inside out (Find the gap between popular perception and reality.)
  5. Champion’s mind-set (Put everything you have on the field to overcome adversity and get Uber over the finish line.)
  6. Optimistic leadership (Be inspiring.)
  7. Superpumped (Ryan Graves’s original Twitter proclamation after Kalanick  replaced him as CEO; the world is a puzzle to be solved with enthusiasm.)
  8. Be an owner, not a renter (Revolutions are won by true believers.)
  9. Meritocracy and toe-stepping (The best idea always wins. Don’t sacrifice truth for social cohesion and don’t hesitate to challenge the boss.)
  10. Let builders build (People must be empowered to build things.)
  11. Always be hustlin’ (Get more done with less, working longer, harder, and smarter, not   just two out of three.)
  12. Celebrate cities (Everything  we do is to make cities better.)
  13. Be yourself (Each of us should be authentic.)
  14. Principled confrontation (Sometimes the world and institutions need to change in order for the future to be ushered in.)

New values

If these read as though they were drafted by a committee, it’s because they were. Khosrowshahi said he wanted the norms to reflect the goals and ambitions of Uber’s employees, and so he asked for submissions, and then convened 20 working groups to hash them out.

Khosrowshahi preserved some of Kalanick’s values, like big bold bets and being an owner, but removed others.  “For instance, ‘toe-stepping’ was meant to encourage employees to share their ideas regardless of their seniority or position in the company,” Khosrowshahi noted in his post on LinkedIn, “but too often it was used as an excuse for being an asshole.”

  1. We build globally, we live locally. We harness the power and scale of our global operations to deeply connect with the cities, communities, drivers and riders that we serve, every day.
  2. We are customer obsessed. We work tirelessly to earn our customers’ trust and business by solving their problems, maximizing their earnings or lowering their costs. We surprise and delight them. We make short-term sacrifices for a lifetime of loyalty.
  3. We celebrate differences. We stand apart from the average. We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome. We encourage different opinions and approaches to be heard, and then we come together and build.
  4. We do the right thing. Period.
  5. We act like owners. We seek out problems and we solve them. We help each other and those who matter to us. We have a bias for action and accountability. We finish what we start and we build Uber to last. And when we make mistakes, we’ll own up to them.
  6. We persevere. We believe in the power of grit. We don’t seek the easy path. We look for the toughest challenges and we push. Our collective resilience is our secret weapon.
  7. We value ideas over hierarchy. We believe that the best ideas can come from anywhere, both inside and outside our company. Our job is to seek out those ideas, to shape and improve them through candid debate, and to take them from concept to action.
  8. We make big bold bets. Sometimes we fail, but failure makes us smarter. We get back up, we make the next bet, and we go!


Groan. I don’t know why people write 85 slide decks. There is no need.

Uberflip culture code


Honestly, this is a pretty cool guide. It is fit for it’s purpose. It’s a handbook for new employees and that’s what it is.

Valve culture code


Whatever, I’m tired. This is like a 20k word blog. Hopefully, you got some value. One of my core values is just being f’n honest.

Comments 2

  1. Having a company culture that suits your business model and ideal work environment is so important! Especially when wanting to establish a effective and efficient workplace, where employees feel valued and want to be at work. Definitely crucial to strive for a culture that suits your business!

    1. Post

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