Successful companies need more than a solid business plan and good timing to outcompete their contemporaries. Companies live and die by the people who run them, including partners and employees, so the values, satisfaction, and working styles of those staff members are vital to each company’s success.
Aligning those values and attitudes is impossible without a strong, specifically defined culture, and it takes a great leader to introduce that culture into the workplace. These are just five of the noteworthy leaders who did for their respective companies:
1. Tony Hsieh. Zappos built a name for itself by providing good shoes and amazing customer service. Founded in 1998, by Nick Swinmurn, Zappos started as a small company, and steadily began to grow. CEO Tony Hsieh made a commitment to succeeding with “more than just shoes,” and strived to keep the company’s culture consistent even as it grew. Today, Zappos’s 10 core values are still an important part of the company, including nuggets like “create fun and a little weirdness,” and “be passionate and determined.” Zappos’s culture is simultaneously inspiring and playful, and its employees warmly embrace that culture, making Zappos the continued success it is today.
2. Steve Jobs. Some people see Steve Jobs as a technological innovator, responsible for turning Apple around and introducing the world to the iPhone. But Jobs’s success wasn’t due to his technological innovations — in fact, he didn’t really invent anything by himself. Instead, Jobs introduced a new culture to Apple. He brought forth the core values of elegance, innovation, simplicity, and consistency to the company, and cut out any employees who didn’t align themselves with that vision. Though the working conditions were tough, they filtered out anyone who wasn’t a part of the brand’s overall vision, and in a matter of years, Apple became a stunning success. Today, you can still see that culture resonating in the company — just walk into any Apple store, and you’ll have a nearly identical experience in any other Apple store in the country. That’s the power of a brand culture.
3. Jack Dorsey. Though Twitter isn’t the strong social media contender it used to be, it still boasts hundreds of millions of users, and for a decade, it’s held its own in the world of social media giants. Co-founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey is a big part of that success. Rather than focusing on generating revenue as quickly as possible, as most businesses do, Dorsey wanted to focus on improving the product, emphasizing three culture values within the company: simplicity, constraint, and craftsmanship. Those values resulted in a better-aligned workforce and happier employees, who were eager to make Twitter as good as it could possibly be. For years, Twitter was one of the highest-rated places to work in the country, and it remains positively reviewed by its employees.
4. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. These leaders are listed as a pair because they operated as a pair, as co-founders of the company now known as Alphabet, but probably better known to you as Google. Together, Page and Brin made a marvelous search engine, but realistically, it wasn’t that much better than other search engines in operation at the time. What made Google different was its approach to building a business. Google gets significant press for offering ridiculously lavish benefits to its employees, including free food and personal massages, but their culture is about more than that; it’s about inspiring individual perspectives, reducing stress, and not “being evil.” Today, Google remains one of the top companies to work for in the country, and is well-known for its lax, employee-centric culture.
5. Warren Buffet. Surely the man worth $80.5 billion didn’t build his wealth just by introducing a strong company culture. Well, that’s partially correct. Smart investment choices don’t have much to do with embracing a positive, unified work environment, but Buffett has spent significant time creating the culture he wanted for Berkshire-Hathaway, treating shareholders and employees as peers and openly sharing his knowledge and perspectives with others. If you’re interested in a firsthand look at the kind of culture he maintains, take a look at any of his letters to shareholders over the past 40 years.
Company culture is about more than just offering decent perks or defining the nature of your brand. It’s about building and maintaining a community, driven by values and perspectives, for your employees. Look to the leaders who came before you to introduce a successful work culture, but don’t try to mimic their approaches exactly; there’s no single vision of a successful culture, so you’ll need to create your own unique vision if you want to thrive.
Casual cultures aren’t inherently better than stricter ones — instead, everything depends on the brand you want to create and the vision you have for your workforce.