Company Culture - No it’s Not a Football Table


Culture. Founders love and fear it.

Get it right, you've got an A-star team for the long haul.

Get it wrong and your team goes, leaving you with some painful Glassdoor reviews to read. For instance, a recent survey titled “The Cultural Economy”, suggests that 34 percent of people leave their jobs due in some way to poor culture. 

When we started Few&Far, we went a bit overkill - pool tables, free beer, dress down every day and so on. We rebelled against the more ‘corporate’ recruitment industry, which at first served us well. But as we expanded we realised there was a balance to be struck. People want a voice, good perks, and freedom, but they also want leadership and direction.

What is company culture?

Company culture is the heart and soul of a business. It defines the environment in which people work and includes but is not limited to company mission, work environment, goals, and values.

Things like free beer and pool tables are tools for interaction. Those micro-interactions are a part of our culture but they don’t make it.

Culture is an accumulation of things, from office decor to diversity, and leadership to vision, and much more. It stems from the top and works down. It’s like air, always around you. It involves everything and everyone. A wrong hire can throw it off, a lack of vision can hinder it, but if you get the components right - you can excel!

Why do we see many organisations place significantly more focus on things like structure than on culture?

It's complicated - to be intentional about curating culture it needs to be considered across all aspects employee experience - from how we source and select people, to the capabilities we develop, who we promote, what we reward and what poor behaviours we call out.

It's never finished - Culture is ongoing, often we are driven by the sense of achievement that comes through delivering an outcome by a specific date. A focus on culture does not have a start or an end date - it is something we need to keep front of mind at all times 3.

It's deep - Culture is shaped by behaviours and behaviours are influenced by emotions. A genuine focus on culture requires us to go deep and that takes many of us out of our comfort zone as we seek to understand how people feel and how they want to feel in the workplace.

We’ve worked with 500 clients from two-person startups to huge global brands to help them grow their product teams. We’ve learnt culture has always been about the shared vision, communication, and freedom people have. You won’t keep people forever, but nail these four core things and you’ll stand high above the rest.


It starts from the top - a vision, strategy, honesty, and transparency. A willingness to listen and share where things are going. 

"Don’t be a dictatorship, be a democracy"

All of this makes for a company with direction. If that’s in order, and your team are supported, coached and respected, they’ll want to be part of the company's future and work hard to ensure its success.

It’s hard as a founder to let go - trust me, I’m guilty. I’ve realised that for us to flourish I need to always hire people better than me. If your business can do this, then founders can serve the system and business much better. Turns out, we aren’t the only ones seeing this trend, did you know that 88 percent of employees surveyed prioritise having a boss that listens, even though only 60 percent think their managers actually do? 

Organisation Guidance

How clear is your vision, purpose, mission and values? 

It took us four years to realise we needed these things. My background has always been sales so when I first heard about purpose I thought it was nonsense but we brought in external help to execute and facilitate this.  Now, I know it’s not. And we aren’t the first to realise this, a study by Korn Ferry found that teams focused on their organisation’s purpose had annual growth rates nearly three times that of their industry-standard rates. 

If these aren’t clear to employees it can cause a lot of problems. We’ve recently faced this and are still on the journey. The beauty is that when your team has a voice, they will tell you the issues without fear. 

Without guidance, you can’t expect people to be on the journey with you. If everyone pulls in different directions, you’ll never move forward. You can work this process internally, or bring in external support to do so. Our advice is a halfway house. 

Get your team involved, not just the board, and have it facilitated for best results. When we didn’t have a clear voice or direction many problems occurred, including hiring the wrong people...

People Culture or Cultured People?

Without the right people, you have nothing. Most businesses will hire for cultural fit rather than cultural add. 

We quickly realised that if we hired people who just fitted in we were doing something wrong and suffering long term. How dramatically will company culture shift if everyone is like each other? Hiring a diverse group of people with the same values is tough but if you can how different and interesting would that culture be! How much better would your company be?

The challenge is getting the team to think on the same lines. Do that by ensuring you have a clear hiring process and that your values are interlinked to ensure everyone stands true to the organisation's values.

We now hire on cultural add and our process is far more defined. Interviewees meet many of us and we then have a washup, a team meeting where we provide feedback but not a yes/no. We give facts rather than press our opinion on others. Hiring managers and founders then make the final call. 

Having values is great - but you must ensure you can test against them. We recently came across AQ (Adversity Quotient) - adaptability. How adaptable are your people to change? Can they think on their feet and move with an issue? If one window closes, can they quickly open another? Create a process that has consistency around who and what it is you are you looking for and the culture piece will take care of itself.

Perks and Tools

People want great things and rightly so. They deserve to be treated well and if you’re not doing it someone else will. Support your team with some great perks and tools and they will be grateful for it. 

You can’t do everything, but you will increase morale and productivity by giving great perks. Heck, some will even provide benefits like a learning budget. Don’t fear productivity dropping, just ensure it’s measurable and clear so that people know what they have to achieve in order to enjoy their perks. 

Lastly, watch out for the 20-person cult. This stage can be very difficult to push past. However, by gearing up with good leadership and clear organisation guidance you will push past this with ease if you nail the above things.

This article was originally published by The HR World.

- Samm Green, Co-Founder and Head of Talent Strategy at Few&Far 

A big shout out to Amit Zala and the team at Fieldwork who helped us uncover our company purpose and values. Fieldwork supports organisations and individuals to get actionable insights from beyond the intellect.

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