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The Important Role of Company Culture: How We Define and Create it at Buffer

Nov 26, 2014 7 min readOpen
Photo of Nicole Miller
Nicole Miller

Director of People @ Buffer

#bufferchat (1) copy 2

How do you define workplace culture? And how do you keep your company culture growing in the right direction?

Buffer’s very own Chief Technology Officer, Sunil, and Chief Happiness Officer, Carolyn, stopped by #Bufferchat recently to discuss these very big questions focusing on workplace culture.

Here are some of the highlights. Catch the full Storify recap here.

How do you define “workplace culture?”

From Sunil:

  • “Tough one, it means different things. For me, it’s the *how* to go about working and living to accomplish shared goals.”
Buffer Values
  • “I believe being aligned on the ‘how’ more critical than the ‘what.’ No two people are exactly aligned in this ‘how.’ “

From Carolyn:

  • “Oh boy. I think we’re always figuring that one out! It’s the DNA of the company; nurture plays a role but nature is key. :)”
  • “I think it is defined by the values, decisions made (& by whom), how teammates work out conflict and even greet each other.”
  • “Dennis Bakke says in The Decision Maker, “Nothing tells you more about an organization than the way it makes decisions.” “
  • “Right now, we’re all reading Reinventing Organizations and figuring out what some of these concepts mean for our culture.”
  • “I think culture eventually determines every fiber of the team. How everyone conducts themselves at work, and beyond.”
  • “Your refund policy? Salary structure? Culture. Even what personal details people share. Major culture influence there.”
  • “To use the “seats on the bus” analogy from Good to Great, culture determines the direction the bus drives.”
  • “For me, culture defines the feeling I get in my stomach when something great—or not great—happens.”
  • “Ultimately, I think culture often determines the person you will have become when you look at your time at a company.”

Other great insights:

  • “Workplace culture is the culture you get after management sets expectations and team members mutually agree, and vice versa.” @erikjfisher
  • “I think that most of all it is defined by the company values and how they are experienced by all the team members!” @joaosg
  • “”Workplace Culture” is the backbone of the office – how employees interact with customers and one another” @toby_metcalf
  • “Its also more than how you interact INSIDE the company. Culture effects every communication with all outside the company too” @DomGarrett

Why is company culture something to be aware of or improve upon?

From Sunil:

  • “This is so true: “Every company has a culture. The only question is whether or not you decide what it is.” — Jason Cohen
  • “As the org evolves, so too does the culture. All team members will adjust to the current culture and shape it.”
  • “With each new team member, brings a new set of values. Our culture is always evolving and we recognize that.”
  • “We learned from mistakes made, and added values like ‘Show gratitude’, and “Do the right thing” “
  • “We’re still making a ton of mistakes, but learning from them.”

From Carolyn:

  • “It affects everything. :) Recruiting, revenue, even the types of customers who choose to work with you.”
  • “And, perhaps most importantly, it determines what aspects of yourself you choose to practice for > 1/3 of your life!”
  • “We have changed ours constantly based on learnings as we have grown.”
  • “As a remote team, we’ve been lucky to have the opportunity and constant reminder to be very intentional about culture.”
  • “E.g., we wanted to help make conversations about self-improvement easier, so we gave Jawbone UPs and Kindle Books.”
  • “Later, we realized it is hard to hold that value alone at home, so we give UPs and Kindles to family members who want.”

Other great insights:

  • “Job should = passion. Have a career that you love, are proud of and excited to do. Then it doesn’t feel like “work”.” @_mariajuan
  • “The world,the business,the people, everything changes and so their needs.It should be constant evolution reflecting others” @PetrPinkas
  • “Workplace culture is the heartbeat of an organization.It must be monitored.” @sjsbates

What role should culture play in hiring?

From Sunil:

  • “For me, culture is everything. Being aligned on the ‘how’ is way more important. So hiring for it is key.”
  • “It’s so much harder to find people aligned with the ‘how’. I change all my interview questions and format to look at culture”
  • “I wrote about removing all technical questions from interviews, which allowed me to focus on what really matters”
  • “I think my current hiring philosophy is finding all the right culture fits I can find, and then find where they work best”
  • “Jim Collins had this saying: First find people who want to go in the same direction on the bus, then find the seats”
  • “And ensure they’re off the bus, because you’re stealing a portion of their lives if they’re going in the wrong direction”

From Carolyn:

how we hire
  • “I have seen it be self-fulfilling as the team grows, so it can play the biggest role at the beginning of team growth.”
  • “In fact, I think that’s (sometimes unintentionally) defined by the founder, so that’s the shortcut to understand the biz.”
  • “In my experience, “birds of a feather” (regarding values and big goals) are the happiest and most productive.”
  • “So, it feels like it could perhaps be the most important aspect of hiring, over any other factor.”

Other great insights:

  • “You can’t teach heart! Hire people who have passion for the cause, then train them on the tools to deliver it.” @MatthewKnell
  • “The people you hire have to fit into the culture you’ve built or everything seems to fall apart.” @JP_Enterprises
  • “Gotta be the right fit. Both sides clear on expectations & desires. Spell it out from the beginning.” @DaveWebb

For freelancers, how does culture fit into your day-to-day?

From Sunil:

  • “I’ve done a bit of solopreneur/freelance and I loved it. I think it’s because I got to shape my culture every day.”
  • “As solo, you work as you prefer and are self-motivated in the truest sense. That itself is culture.”
  • “As a solopreneur, your personal values shape your work even more. How you interact with people, how you work etc. “

From Carolyn:

  • “My one thought would be: as a solo, you probably have your own workplace culture, even if you don’t always realize.”
  • “How you conduct biz, treat customers and vendors, and even words you use in your emails, that’s all your culture. :)”
  • “I’d encourage you to determine your values, even if just for your own eyes, heart, and closet door. :)”
  • “That’s been the defining moment in our company ‘s history of culture evolution, to me! Only regret is it wasn’t sooner.”

Other great insights:

  • “Its more of a personal culture, and the beauty of technology is connecting to other solopreneurs throughout the day” @vincenzolandino
  • “culture plays into my work, communication with clients, my way of handling biz. I keep myself happy, energized, and healthy!” @KaitMoffatt
  • “Helps you determine which clients and customers to take on, becomes part of your company/personal brand. @Avizuber

Apps and tools to keep the team connected:

From Sunil:

From Carolyn:

Other great tools mentioned:

What other companies cultures inspire you?

From Carolyn:

  • “This is slightly off topic, but it blows my mind how @zappos pays people to leave if they’re not 100% in.”
  • “… I love that because they only end up with teammates who are sure that this is their home at that time.”
  • “Regarding perks, I’m always floored by my friend @chaseclemons‘ tales of @37signals planning vacations for them.”
  • “A previous company I worked at, @emmaemail, sends you on a paid sabbatical to learn, grow, and improve the world.”
  • “… I saw people come back totally changed and with new perspective on life, work, and purpose. Kudos @emmaemail!”
  • “… That, to me, says “we care about you, and not just you, but everyone in your family.” That’s big!”

From Sunil:

  • “Think Carolyn and I agree .Always loved how @zappos pays employees to quit.”
  • @WholeFoods is focused on the big picture, value for all stakeholders (customers, employees, partners first then investors)”
  • “I also love the @WholeFoods view on stakeholders. Capping exec compensation to at most 19x the lowest paid.”
whole foods values

Other great insights:

  • “Love the unlimited vacation from @Virgin. Shows they want their employees to be OK with taking vacay and unwind” @_MariaJuan
  • “Monday Morning Dance Party (in office or virtual) – loosens everybody up and starts the week with a smile” @PSEO_Inc
  • “Retailers like @patagonia that give freebies/discounts to employees is not only a great perk, it’s great for the company.” @Mandy_Stark
  • @unbounce does 4 weeks vacation time + helps with vacation cost. Sounds pretty nice!” @sarahleeyoga
  • “Workplace cultures I’ve been hosted to for conferences, workshops, etc. & now envy = @88Creative @BuzzBuzzHome @Pear_says” @megharmer

What books inspire you?

Thank you to all who participated! Catch #Bufferchat on Twitter each Wednesday at 9 a.m. Pacific/12 p.m. Eastern.

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