As the entrepreneurial bug bites more people and money floods into technology startups, the buzz about company culture continues to get louder. Whether it’s nap pods, private chefs, indoor tree houses or over-the-top parties, tech companies are pulling out all of the stops in hopes of creating the coolest corporate culture around. But flashy perks don’t equal a good corporate culture. Unsurprisingly, many companies are reevaluating these costly perks in the face of high employee turnover and dissatisfaction. In order to create a corporate culture that is truly effective, leaders must look beyond the perks and focus on creating a workplace where employees not only enjoy spending their time but also feel fulfilled and valuable.
Corporate culture itself is much more than exciting benefits. Ultimately, it is the beliefs and behaviors that permeate your organization that are the essence of culture. While it’s not easily defined, culture is a living, breathing aspect of your business that develops and changes as you grow. It also extends to how you work with customers and partners and even how stakeholders and potential hires perceive you. For this reason, when I have the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs to help them build their businesses, I drive home the importance of intentionally developing a corporate culture that will be a truthful representation of their company’s values.
Before you start picking out the perfect spot for your espresso and craft beer bar, it’s important to recognize that culture begins — and can also end — with your values. These values are the foundation for the way your company operates both internally and externally. First, you must determine what your company’s values are (or should be). Then you have to use those values to evaluate each and every decision you make, including the employees you hire and the leaders you choose to represent them.
At SailPoint, we have four core values that drive every decision we make, and they’ve proved to be durable for almost 20 years and two companies. When my co-founders and I started the company, we knew from our previous ventures that the core values were integral in deciding how we would conduct business and also in how we would hire our team. Our core values of integrity, innovation, impact and individuals continue to drive our business decisions more than 11 years and 750 employees later. They epitomize our corporate culture, and we even share them with our customers and partners at our annual conference. We want anyone who interacts with our company in any way to have a clear understanding of our core values and to hold us accountable to them.
Some of today’s most successful corporate cultures also take a values-first approach. Southwest Airlines hires employees based on the values of “a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart and a fun-luving [sic] attitude.” If employees don’t meet these requirements, they won’t be a good fit for the company. When you set clear expectations around values for employees, it’s easy to make hires that meet those expectations and reinforce your corporate culture. Southwest Airlines makes a strong statement about its values both internally and externally, and the resulting exemplary corporate culture and customer service are the gold standard for companies around the globe.
I firmly believe that putting employees first is integral in creating not only a successful corporate culture but also a successful business, which is why individuals are one of our company’s core values. It’s a mistake to think that your business offering is the most important asset to your company, especially in the tech industry. Over time, technology and markets can change radically, so the most important business assets you have are your people. As a result, it’s critical that you value them as people, give them meaningful work to accomplish and help them succeed. This investment in our team members has been a linchpin of our strategy to lead our market. Encouraging employee buy-in and loyalty is imperative so everyone on the team is ready and willing to weather the inevitable storms that come with organizational change.
Richard Branson, a successful entrepreneur who also has airline ties, subscribes to this employee-first mentality across all of his Virgin business ventures. He even goes so far as to refuse to put the Virgin name on any new business venture until its customer service meets his high standards. How does he accomplish this? By making sure his employees come first. He knows that happy employees who love their jobs will provide the best customer service, ultimately affecting the bottom line. In short, happy employees mean happy customers and happy shareholders.
Companies that create a strong corporate culture for their employees internally will surely reap the rewards of this corporate culture externally. Corporate culture, whether positive or negative, quickly becomes recognizable outside of an organization’s four walls, as we’ve seen with the news surrounding Uber’s troubles. Toxic corporate cultures are increasingly making headlines as employees seek out organizations that value accomplishing great things while helping team members find work-life balance. Companies that fail to factor in the long-term well-being and satisfaction of their teams may burn brightly for a while, but they do so at the cost of long-term organizational health. When you put your employees first, they will, in turn, go the extra mile for your customers and partners, ultimately pleasing your stakeholders, too.
There’s no denying that the working world is changing and, in many respects, it’s changing for the better. Technology allows us to grow our businesses globally, hire talent all over the world and stay connected with our teams more easily and effectively than ever before. Companies are also realizing that tradition can be bucked to make the workplace more exciting and engaging for employees. But at the end of the day, it’s your corporate culture and your people who will determine your long-term success. Creating a fulfilling, values-based corporate culture for your employees isn’t just fun and rewarding — it’s necessary to compete and succeed for the long term in today’s business world.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com.