Last week I found myself reading through all (ok not entirely all, I
skipped the NASA one) of the slide decks on
culturecodes.co - there are a variety of
slide decks from tech companies, which attempt to describe what the
company culture looks like, their values, or company processes that
serve as an employee handbook. They are called Culture Codes and not
Company Culture because culture can only be talked about or described,
but cannot itself be seen. Hence - the content of the slides are codes
for the culture.
At any company we express our culture naturally - it has been described
as "what happens when nobody is looking" (and there are many more
quotes about it you can Google in your own time). It would be
interesting to think about what might be inside a slide deck about my
own company's culture, were we to put one together (we haven't yet,
hence my thoughts on the topic). To that end, I decided to read as many
of the slide decks on the above site, and summarise my thoughts.
These are stream-of-consciousness notes in no particular order about
what I observed in the slide decks.
- Usually has a value/mission statement for the whole company.
- Things they aspire to do, some descriptions of what the culture
- What makes the company (and culture) different from others.
- Longer-form description and detail of company values (i.e. describe
- How the company works (as in workflow) and works (as in success).
- How to make decisions.
- Definitions of what success looks like.
- High-level description of behaviours/traits of people who work well
in the company.
- Lots of justifications for "why" these values are here.
- Culture deck is often shared publicly and used as
recruiting/marketing tool (both for employees and customers).
- Some have a small "history" section describing the founding of the
company or bootstrapping of company values. Good if they are
interlinked. Describes major milestones of the company so far.
- Quotes from customers, employees, source material (e.g.
entrepreneurs) for values or guiding statements, supporting the
- If the deck is shared publicly, it sets expectations for employees
before they walk through the door. Some are explicitly aimed at
being marketing material.
- Company involvement with community - greater impact than just
through core mission.
- It is tempting to copy values or content, but there are some slide
decks which are very incompatible with our values, feel jarring (or
just feel plain wrong). Some are very prescriptive, strict rules.
- The language you use matters! Imagery too.
- Many pictures of smiling employees / teams. Photos/descriptions of
company events (e.g. parties/picnics etc).
- Crediting culture with driving the success of the company.
- Video where employees can give concrete examples of living the
- Many culture decks double as employee handbooks (e.g. Zappos,
Valve). Some are extremely long (Zappos ~300 pages -> many
personal employee stories and photos -> tell the values story
through many concrete examples rather than analogy/metaphor and
- Some (Genius, Trello) dogfood their own product to create their
culture deck (or employee handbook), but it comes off as a bit messy
and hard to understand, in some cases full of comments that obscures
what is current or actual reality. NextBigSound, Sprintly, Clef
store markdown on Github (which is optimised for authoring but not
- Inputs sometimes also from partners and customers.
- All culture decks walk a tightrope between cliché and meaningless
catchphrases on either side. Extremely difficult (impossible?) to be
original, quite difficult to be meaningful and capture reality that
people can buy into.
- Often both clarifying negative and positive statements: "X means
that we do Y", or "X doesn't mean that we do Z".
- Google's values are predictably different (and perhaps not a great
fit for many other smaller companies with fewer resources). Same
goes for NASA which has a completely different set of needs to most
tech companies (safety!).
- Although I don't like the Big Spaceship culture deck too much
(painful on the eyes) I like that they call bullshit on buzzwords
and manager speak.
- Lots of quotes from Daniel Pink, Steve Jobs, Malcolm Gladwell, US
and UK leaders.
As you might expect, the values that companies strive to adhere to and
live every day are very similar. I summarised them into a smaller number
of similar themes (which may not all be entirely cohesive, but not much
time was spent on this):
- Autonomy / freedom / desire to reduce process / resourceful.
- "Do the right thing" (also related to the above) / trust /
responsibility / ownership.
- Driven by a vision / vision provided by leaders / leaders living and
- Transparency / sharing knowledge / communication / feedback /
questioning / openness.
- Selflessness / not personally identifying with the work / using data
rather than opinions.
- Striving for results / outcome-driven / calculated risk taking /
action over talk / results vs busy / building for the customer /
doing more with less / growth / Get [Sh]it Done.
- Learning from mistakes / great is the enemy of good / ship now /
- Helping others / treating colleagues with respect / coaching /
mentoring / servant leadership.
- Constantly learning / inventive / optimistic.
- Mindfulness / empathy / care / reflection / time for being
- Inclusivity / diversity goals.
- Work/life balance, living healthily. Having fun / celebrating
success / "family" feeling / friends at work.
- Meaningful work / Company invests in community / serving a higher
- Intertwining of individual/team/company values and missions.
- At least one "quirky", unique company-specific hashtag or
catchphrase (several companies list "quirky" as a value).
- Working with other talented people / hiring & nurturing.
- Almost all claim to be unique! (really?)
Some companies have very different values to others, which may be
undesirable or completely destructive outside of that particular
company. But perhaps within their own environment they do work.
Presented here without further comment:
- We start work at 8:30 every day.
- Many sporting team analogies and metaphors (bro culture?).
- Success is "hard" or a "grind".
- Work hard play hard / fast-paced / urgency / hustle.
- Timebox everything. Strict scheduling.
- Focus on competition mentality vs satisfying customers.
- Only hire "A" players.
- Do the thing you least want to do right now.
- Blindly attempting to define culture around The Art of War.
- Never compromise (never never? really?).
- Do things that don't scale.
- Open Office! (I thought that wasn't cool anymore...)
- Many other things that work when the company is very small, but
eventually fail and it turns into the same org structure and ways of
working as most other tech companies (e.g. Github).
What are some of your own culture codes or values that you like, and see
lived out every day? Leave some comments!