Creating a Culture Code – How To & Why You Should

 In Corporate Culture, CultureTalk@Work, Employee Engagement

Declared a “defining HR trend of 2016/17” by Thought Leadership Partners, Culture Codes have officially gone mainstream. What are they? Why should you pay attention? Who should be involved? Below are some of the key facts you need to know to catch up on the movement that’s disrupting HR, marketing, and management.

What is a Culture Code?

A Culture Code is a detailed document (often a presentation) that outlines the culture of your organization. It covers your company’s motivations and inspirations, the common drivers and passions that unite your team and define your cumulative culture (think less employee handbook and more, ‘unwritten rules’ of engagement). The impact of the Culture Code movement can be experienced on SlideShare following the hashtag, #CultureCode.

A Culture Code talks about what you do but more importantly, explains why you do it and who you are.

Where did it come from?

The Culture Code movement is often credited back to Netflix in 2009. Originally an internal document, the CEO publically published it as part of a recruiting effort. Demonstrating complete transparency, it shows an honest “work in progress”. Rather than a perfectly-polished marketing piece, it’s simple, authentic and real.

By 2013/14, early adopters had joined the club. Companies such as HubSpot, The Motley Fool, Spotify, IHG, and Dell have shared their Culture Codes. Each one unique to their distinct cultures.

Why create a Culture Code?

Culture Codes are valuable documents for HR, marketing, and management. Depending on your goal, you may customize or refine the approach. With both internal and external applications, some popular uses include:

  • Employee Engagement
    Culture Codes aren’t meant to be a top-down exercise. Often inspired by a thorough organizational culture audit, they have more meaning when they’re a collaborative project and treated like a “live” document. Cultures evolve and people change, your Culture Code can shift but should still focus on your core values. In the end, staff will enjoy the clarified expectations about what it means to be ‘you’. Building it from the ground up will ensure ownership and help everyone rally around why you do what you do.
  • Recruiting and Employment Branding
    One of the most popular uses of the Culture Code is in recruiting. It offers a transparent look at who you are and helps candidates pre-qualify themselves. If they’re clear on what it’s really like to work for your company, and why people work there, you’ll end up attracting better-fit people earlier in the process. Making it public can attract A-players and passive candidates that have a choice about where they want to work.
  • Performance Management
    A well-crafted Culture Code can help blend business goals with performance expectations. Were an employee’s actions in alignment with your Code? How can they learn to support the Code? With a clear document, managers and leaders have a reference for acceptable (and unacceptable) behavior.
  • Marketing
    As the Culture Code movement continues to grow, so does the recognition of the businesses that have participated. A great Code can inspire viral sharing. And with an authentic representation of who you are, it may even attract right-fit collaborators, investors, vendors, or customers.

How do you develop a Culture Code?

The process for developing your Culture Code could be as unique as your specific culture. But, as we’ve gone through the process ourselves and helped others create their own, there are some steps to consider as you get started.

Step 1. A Culture Audit

At CultureTalk, we believe strongly in building a lasting foundation. There are a lot of benefits to creating a Culture Code, but transparency can have its downsides if you’re guessing about the ‘right’ message. Ensure you’re telling the true story by starting your process with a measurement tool, such as CultureTalk for Organizations. With your results, you’ll be able to see who you are…and who you’re not.

To supplement your survey results, we’d also recommend reviewing existing documentation that may hint at your culture. Places to look include:

  • Engagement surveys
  • Quotes/interviews with founders or CEO
  • Job descriptions
  • Employee handbook
  • Letters or announcements
  • Internal notes from job interviews (Notice when someone says, “They’d be a fit if they had [X], but they don’t.”)

Step 2: Explore Other Company Examples

Jump onto Slideshare and start taking notes. Consider the elements of other Culture Codes that you like and dislike. The value in every Culture Code is what makes it distinctively yours but allow yourself to be inspired by others’ formatting, design, structure, tone and more. Look at how each company approaches these themes:

  • Purpose
  • Values
  • Rituals
  • Recognition or Rewards
  • Language
  • Business goals

Step 3: Build and Refine

We’d recommend identify an individual or small team to spearhead the project. They can be responsible for interviewing other staff members, collecting notes, and drafting your document. Success will come from testing drafts for cultural accuracy. Whether it’s public presentations or workshops, get feedback frequently and consider every perspective.

Thought Leadership Partners created this useful graphic to help ‘test’ your document’s consistency, usefulness and clarity.

thought leadership partners

Step 4: Promote it! (Internally and Externally)

Gather your team for a presentation of your final Culture Code. Use it as a celebration of where you’ve come from, who you are today, and what you’re working for together.

*Important: As you present the Culture Code internally, we recommend also presenting how you’re going to use it. Too often, the hard work from projects like this are filed and forgotten. Present a plan that illustrates usage in both the day-to-day as well as less frequent engagements, such as annual meetings or reviews.

Gather your HR, marketing, and management leaders to discuss how share your Culture Code with external audiences. Whether it’s embedded on your Careers website page, posted to SlideShare and integrated in your LinkedIn account, publically unveiled to celebrate your renewed commitment to culture – a Culture Code can be a valuable brand engagement opportunity.

*Tip: If you post it to SlideShare, make sure to label it with the hashtag #CultureCode and upload it to this page for maximum exposure. 

Ready to build your Culture Code but not sure where to start? Our Culture experts are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our Culture services.

Curious what it’s like to work with us? Check out our own Culture Code.

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