Everything I learnt about how to do company culture right I learnt in a tiny, cramped office at an up and coming publishing startup in Farringdon Road, London.
It was 2007. The buzz phrase ‘company culture’ did not exist yet.
It was my first office job. I was lucky to be learning from the best, but I'd only fully comprehend this many years down the line.
I have since then went on to work for a number of different companies all over the world. Some boasting fancy offices, ping pong tables, full fridges, and so on - yet none of them quite getting it right the way this company did.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and it's certainly true, in this case.
How did they get it so right? What did they do? Why do I still think about them thirteen years later?!
The company would host a welcome lunch for every single new employee (be it a temp or the most junior team member as I was back then). Every team member would attend, regardless how senior or busy they were, and it was a wonderful, informal, relaxed way to welcome new people to the company.
There is one incident that still stands out, and, for me, and speaks volumes about how to get company culture right:
A marketing team member had just returned to the office after lunch and exclaimed that someone at the restaurant thought she was a waitress. One of the analysts retorted 'it must have been because you are Spanish'. That afternoon, all three founders sat down with him in private and explained to him that any kind of racist comments, no matter how innocuous, were not going to be tolerated.
It was his first and final warning. The rest of the team did not know this had occurred.
I was a marketing temp. I was there on a short term contract. I was frantically applying for roles in London whilst working there as I knew my contract was almost up but not having any luck.
One of the directors, having heard of my predicament from another team member, asked if he could help me. He allocated an hour of his time to sit with me during a lunch break and meticulously worked through my CV, helping me to edit and revise.
I landed a job at the largest publishing firm in the UK two weeks later.
As with the welcome lunch, the farewell dinner was another tradition. Regardless of how briefly or long you had been with the company, or your level of seniority, on your last working day, the company organized a farewell dinner and drinks. Everyone showed up. You were handed the company credit card and told to order drinks.
Trust was implied. That you were worth celebrating was implied. That you had brought value to the business was implied.
So, next time you focus on improving your company culture, maybe try to go beyond the free coffee and gym memberships.
Maybe focus on respecting your team members, valuing them, and providing a safe, respectful environment for them.