In 2009, Netflix published its now-famous culture deckonline: 125 slides outlined the company’s values, expected behaviors and core philosophy (“people over process,” in case you’re interested). The document demystified the company culture, providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what it’s like to work at the company. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said that the culture deck “may well be the most important document to come out of Silicon Valley.” Shortly after her proclamation, Netflix released an entire season’s worth of episodes for its show House of Cards at once, and changed how we watch television forever, introducing us to binge-watching.
Given how Netflix scaled from renting DVDs to redefining television, it would be easy to think there’s something inherently magical about the culture at Netflix. There’s no doubt that its culture is extremely effective. The deck does acknowledge that the culture is unusual. But, what’s more fascinating is that it wasn’t concocted. It was simply written down. This came out in a recent interview with Patty McCord — the company’s former chief talent officer, who co-created the document with CEO Reed Hastings. McCord said, “I don’t know if [the Netflix culture] was so different. Here’s the most important thing we did: We just wrote it down.”
Don’t let culture just happen.
Simple as it sounds, just writing it down is something many CEOs and founders have either not considered doing or don’t have the head space to really think through. Often, that’s because they have not taken the time to intentionally create their culture so that it becomes their company’s greatest asset. Yet a recent survey of 1,348 North American firms found that more than half of their senior executives see corporate culture as one of the top three drivers of their company’s value, with 92 percent of respondents saying company value would increase by improving culture. And a mere 16 percent said their culture “is exactly where it should be.”
In speaking to hundreds of CEOs and founders about their company cultures, I frequently hear stories of companies that did not consciously design their culture to be a tangible asset. Instead, they let their culture evolve subconsciously and unintentionally — into a serious liability. Not only is this a shame, it’s an enormous missed opportunity. A well-defined culture can be the key to bringing employees together, standing out in your industry and scaling your business. Further, culture isn’t only an important differentiator for scaling a truly great company. It is also often the main reason a candidate chooses to join a company. As a deciding factor, culture can surpass compensation or even the inherent risk associated with the company or role.
Use the culture deck to clarify your culture.
To the many founders and CEOs wrestling with the question of when to address culture, my answer is, do it now. In my 17 years of working with high-growth startups, I’ve found that every company has a culture, deliberately and intentionally created or not. …read more
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