How To Build a Great Company Culture (According to Google, Virgin and Apple)

A great company culture is what sets successful organisations apart from failed ones. Here’s great advice from some of the world’s leading business people.

What does a great company culture do for your organisation?

For most leaders, it involves creating a collaborative environment full of people who follow a shared vision. In the end, a great company culture is one that gets results.

This means eliminating company culture problems. That’s where the problem arises. There are so many ways that a toxic culture in the workplace can arise. If you take your finger off the pulse of your organisation, you miss the problems that lie at the heart of such bad cultures. You forget about your people, which leads to poor results.

Great Leaders don’t do that. They understand that being a manager is all about results, and you can only get results through people.

So, how can you go about building a positive workplace culture? Listen to the experts. Leaders like Richard Branson, Howard Schultz, and Bill Gates know what it takes. They’ve even offered advice for other leaders to follow.

Here are 8 tips from the experts for improving your company’s culture.

Larry Page – Give Your People a Purpose


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When people think of Google, they usually think of Larry Page. The man who gave his name to the phrase “Page Rank”, Page plays an important role in Google’s continued success. He also understands that most people don’t work for the money alone. They want to know that their work has a purpose.

“Make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, has a meaningful impact and is contributing to the good of society,” he says.

Here’s why this is so effective. When people believe that their work has a positive impact, they put more of themselves into it. They’re making a difference, which serves as a huge motivator. They’re also engaged with the organisation because it’s helping them to achieve their goals.

Again, this comes down to understanding your people. Find out what makes them tick and how you can use their talents to actually achieve something. Moreover, don’t leave your people in the dark about the effects that their contributions have. Make it clear just how important they and their work are to you.

Richard Branson – Praise Your People

Richard Branson’s successes in business make him one of the world’s most inspirational figures. His Virgin Group covers a vast array of industries. It’s also experienced success in most of them.

From the beginning, Branson has always understood the importance of positive reinforcement. He says that it’s key to creating a great company culture.

“When you lavish praise on people, they flourish,” he says. “Criticise, and they shrivel up.”

There’s an important point in this. A critical workplace creates company culture problems. Your people become so scared of speaking out that they won’t highlight issues that you need to know about.

They also won’t trust that you have their best interests at heart. When you criticise constantly, you’re showing employees that you place no value on their contributions. Remember that emotion plays just as much of a part in the workplace as business. If your employees feel undervalued, they’ll dread going to work. This demotivation means they’re less productive.

Praise your people when they perform well. If you must confront a negative, make sure you provide positive steps for your people to take. This shows you want them to develop rather than feel bad about your criticism.

Laszlo Bock – Understand That You’re Unique

Creating an organisational vision is one of the hardest things that you’ll do as a leader. It needs to inspire your people and provide them with a singular point of focus to get behind.

That’s something that Google’s former Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock recognises. He follows a simple philosophy.

“We want to understand what works here rather than what worked for any other organisation.”

Here’s what he means. Every organisation is completely different. Each has its own goals, services, and people. Looking to other organisations to define your direction means that you’re not working to the benefit of your people. You’re creating a goal that your business doesn’t really believe in.

Your people will know when you don’t believe in your organisational vision. If you don’t have a unique business aim, you risk alienating your employees. This creates a negative company culture because your people know they’re working for a copycat organisation. Why would they work for you when they could work for the organisation that created “your” vision?

Figure out what sets you apart. It’s this that will attract great people to your organisation. Great people lie at the heart of a great company culture.

Great company culture, Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull – Encourage Idea Sharing to Create a Great Company Culture

A computer scientist by trade, Ed Catmull first began making a name for himself at Lucasfilm. He eventually moved to Pixar and now serves as its President.

Pixar thrives on new ideas and innovation, which means that Catmull must foster a creative culture.

“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms,” he says.

Here’s what he means. Communication is the perfect remedy to a toxic culture in the workplace. At Great Managers we say, Communication is to relationships, what breathing is to life.

Without communication, you can’t understand the ideas that affect people throughout the organisation. This means you continue as you have always worked, allowing these problems to fester in the process.

Catmull encourages his people to be completely open with their ideas. Most importantly, he actually takes them on board and uses these ideas to improve the company. This creates a trust for his methods in his people. They know that they have voices that will get heard.

Howard Schultz – Support Your People

Starbucks’ Executive Chairman Howard Schultz has experienced massive success in the business world. He’s turned a small coffee company into a global monolith. Today, you can find a Starbucks in almost every country in the world.

Schultz is a big believer in supporting your people. He says “We will never – and I mean never – turn our backs on our employees.”

This support creates respect in the workplace. If you emulate Schultz’s philosophy, you show your people that you’re committed to their needs.

This extends beyond paying them for their services. Supporting your people involves understanding what drives them. Why do they work for you and what do they want to achieve in their careers. If you understand this, you can help them achieve their goals.

As well as creating trust in you, supporting your people means you’re building a better organisation. You’re equipping your people with the skills they need to succeed on both a personal and organisational level.

Kip Tindell – Don’t Use Fear

Kip Tindell served as the CEO of The Container Store from its 1978 founding until 2016. During this time, he opened over 30 stores and developed a product range that exceeds 10,000 items.

He also focused on building a strong workplace culture. Unlike many in high positions, he emphasises the importance of not using fear as a tactic to get results.

“You can build a much more wonderful company on love than you can on fear,” he says.

It may sound soppy, but this quote has an important point. People who work in fear of their managers can’t focus properly. They’re so scared of making mistakes that they focus on keeping the boss happy, rather than innovating.

This leads to them sticking to established routines, rather than coming up with new ideas. When such a culture spreads, it leads to stagnation. Nobody wants to be the source of a new idea in case their manager hates it.

Leading with love means that you respect your people and their contributions. You don’t punish them for saying or doing something that’s outside of the organisation’s norm. Instead, you offer them a platform to communicate their ideas and reward them for showing initiative.

Reid Hoffman – Encourage Teamwork

One person working alone cannot match the productivity of a group of people working towards the same goal.

That’s the philosophy of LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. He says: “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”

This is a particularly important point when dealing with the most talented people in your organisation. There may be times when such people get sucked into the trap of trying to do everything themselves. Moreover, some managers lean a little too much on their most talented people.

Trying to do it all alone slows the organisation down. It also leads to burnout. Everybody has their limits and they’ll start to resent the organisation if it keeps pushing them close to those limits.

Instead, create teams that contain people whose skills complement one another. This allows your people to break up large projects into manageable tasks. With each person working towards a singular goal, your organisation achieves its aims faster.

Great company culture, Tim Cook

Tim Cook – Start From the Top

Tim Cook took over from Steve Jobs as the CEO of Apple following Jobs’ passing in 2011. It’s an unenviable task. How do you follow up on the work of the person who turned Apple into such a huge success? How do you keep building a positive workplace culture following such a huge blow?

For Cook, it’s all about setting a great example. “Ultimately, it’s on the company leaders to set the tone,” he says.

“Not only the CEO but the leaders across the company.

“If you select them so carefully that they then hire the right people, it’s a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Cook recognises that he’s not the only leader that Apple has, even if he’s now the “face” of the brand. The company has many other leaders working in different departments.

His method of creating a great company culture is to set the example for those leaders to follow. Cook’s example then has a trickle-down effect. The leaders below him emulate his work. They then encourage others in the organisations to follow their examples. Starting from the top means you set the standard that prevents company culture problems from arising.

The Final Word

The words of these Great Leaders will help you to tackle company culture problems. Take their advice to heart and think about how you can apply it to your organisation. You may discover issues that hold you back or lower productivity.

And remember, a great manager can DOUBLE the capacity of their people.

Register for our next webinar to learn more about creating a great company culture.