Culture decks are a company’s constitution
A culture deck is a foundational document, the constitution of a company.
They can be the result of a bottom-up input process, like in the case of Zappos’ Culture Book which compiles employees’ testimonials.
(To avoid confusion of terms: A culture deck is basically the same as an employee handbook. The format is the only difference. Decks are MS PowerPoint, handbooks are MS Word.)
But the best culture decks are those where owners and management ram a stake in the ground and say “this is how we want this company to work.” They have started the company with a vision for the future, and they should be the ones who decide what kind of culture they want to build. Brett emphasises that there always should be a level of employee participation, though.
As the book says, quoting Pardot co-founder David Cummings, “Corporate Culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur”. So there is a strong top-down approach that needs to be present in a culture deck.
They polarise the audience
If you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one. The best culture decks polarise. For example, Netflix’s famous deck (which in 2009 started the whole movement of companies publishing their internal handbooks publicly) contains statements like “we are a team, not a family”. As Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, is quoted in Brett’s book: “If you know [that mentality] going in, you can love it; if you don’t know it, you can feel bait-and-switched.”
So especially if a company culture is unique, having these unique quirks out in the open can save you and your recruiting team a lot of pain and hires that don’t fit the rest of the team.
They help you to call bullshit
One aspect of culture decks the book doesn’t cover much, but is the most important and useful one in my view, is that culture decks serve as the ideological anchor of the company that allow people to call BS on leaders’ actions.
Just like the constitution of a country serves as the highest document against which a Supreme Court can evaluate more humdrum decisions (laws and regulations), so can a company’s official culture deck be the yardstick against which one can evaluate people’s actions.
The most powerful application of that principle is observing management’s reaction when someone transgresses against the values espoused in the document. Are there consequences, or will they try to weasel their way through and brush the problem under the rug? Nothing crystallises hypocrisy better than company leaders accepting behaviour that goes counter to the constitution of a company.
Also, this aspect opens a range of interesting questions job candidates can ask in their interview. For example:
- “Your culture deck says that your employees participate in the success of the company, but I read 3 reviews on Glassdoor that say that they didn’t receive any stock options or bonuses.”
- “Your employee handbook talks about work-life balance. 10 out of your 35 Glassdoor reviews say that they regularly had to work evenings and weekends.”
- “How do you reconcile your stated mission of being the best place to work with a 2.5 ranking on Glassdoor?”The way the interviewer will answer these questions will tell you a lot about the company culture in turn. Squirming, evasive responses? Probably, the culture will be one of unwillingness to confront difficult facts. A slightly aggressive reply that indicates you crossed a line? There might be a good dose of hierarchical thinking going on in that company.If you as a job candidate (with many options) ask a question like that and then don’t get invited for the next round of interviews, then rejoice – you probably dodged a bullet.
Create a culture deck in your company
Creating a culture deck is a very useful exercise that forces you to think what you as a company stand for and what you want to signal to existing and prospective employees.
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