What makes the culture of some companies successful?

Companies like Google, Airbnb, Apple, or Patagonia, often get mentioned in conversations about corporate culture. They are voted as some of the best places to work at, are lauded for innovative products, and have a presence that is attention-worthy. Hence, they attract the best talent.

Why are these companies so successful? Let’s explore.

  1. Profit isn’t the purpose. It’s the people. Many organizations talk about it, but few put people at the center of their policies and practices. One such is BambooHR, which does more than just ensure work-life balance for its employees. Besides following practices like flexi-time or work from home, and providing amenities like food at work, they offer learning opportunities like stress-reduction workshops, nutritional consultations, financial planning sessions, and grievance counseling services.

The idea here is to show people that they are cared for. Satya Nadella demonstrated this exceptionally, when he took over Microsoft from Steve Balmer, and wanted to give people more autonomy in their roles. He said in his first speech, “If you don’t like your job, please tell your manager.” Some employees reported thinking that they could finally be honest about how they wanted to grow.

  1. Bring the personal into the professional. This practice is not about blurring boundaries; it is about being humane and considerate. Celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, or showing support in times of grief helps people belong. BambooHR treats birthdays as paid holidays. Insomniac Games provides new parents with a custom onesie, art books, and toys, as well as a baby briefcase to help them keep their newborn’s details organized. Honoring such life transitions suggests that the organization is as invested in people’s personal milestones, as it is in their professional ones.

This is also a form of recognition and appreciation – the lack of which is the reason 79% of people quit their jobs. Active forms of recognition reduced voluntary turnover by almost 40%. That’s something.

  1. Offer agency to manage their own work. Based on studies conducted by researcher Michael O Malley, executives of popular organizations believe that employees should think and act like owners. “Allowing them to control aspects of their work is the key to accomplishing this. Employees who have the leeway to rearrange, modify, and improve their assignments feel possession over them, and once this happens, their mindsets begin to change.” They are more creative and make better decisions.

Spotify has institutionalized such autonomy by grouping people into ‘squads’. Each squad is accountable for a specific aspect of the Spotify product and has the freedom to decide how that aspect is built, what assistance they need, etc. This way, teams get to make vital decisions and have ownership of their work.

You’ll recognize that some of these practices go beyond providing snacks and yoga rooms, and almost steer in the direction of becoming corporate philosophies, that truly reflect the belief of #peoplefirst. If you could design policies and practices based on such a belief, what might they look like?

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