How to Create a Culture Deck Worth Sharing
You want a company culture deck that’s going to knock people’s socks off. You’ve seen the likes of Hubspot and Netflix proudly showing off their culture decks, and for one reason or another, you know this is a must have for your own business. But where to begin?
The trouble is, most culture decks that get created are boring enough to be a bedtime story. And does anyone ever read them?
Too often, culture decks are a token gesture rather than an integral part of people’s day-to-day work life.
As someone who’s seen a fair share of culture decks, I felt it was about time that I shared what I’ve seen that truly works, and what continues to die a death in the company archives.
Get a notepad ready, because this guide will potentially make or break the success of your culture deck.
Why create a culture deck?
Let’s be clear about why it’s good practice to have a culture deck. Hopefully, this will make you realise how much deeper this goes than just culture vanity.
People need to understand and know what the expectations and assumptions are within your company culture.
When we have guidance on what’s expected, we can work together more fluidly, rather than always second guessing ourselves or having to be micromanaged (bleurgh!).
If you’re building autonomous, self-managing teams, or even if you’re not; your culture deck provides clarity on what people should do when there’s no-one around to ask. Being able to make decisions quicker enables your team to get on with what they need to do, without feeling like they have to seek permission or ask for validation.
Imagine how many people are unsure of something in your company that’s easily resolved, and how much time this takes?
When people have information and knowledge about what to do, they can make better decisions. It truly is that simple.
Culture decks are also about creating a safe environment where everyone, no matter their role, title, or status, is behaving in an aligned way.
No, a culture deck isn’t JUST for team members. It’s for everyone, even your clients or customers.
Another core reason to create a culture deck is to teach and train recruits on your company culture.
In fact, your culture deck should be at the heart of your onboarding process.
We forget that in companies we may have norms and habits which we become accustomed to in a subconscious way. It’s therefore important to support new team members in feeling comfortable and safe by giving them an understanding of what’s expected through the culture deck. Because your culture may be very different from what they’ve come from in another company.
Put yourself in their shoes and remember how it feels to be new.
These are just a few reasons culture decks can be a powerful tool to support your company culture.
Ultimately, if you want to empower everyone to work to the best of their ability, then people need to know what’s expected of them in all manner of situations.
As Brene Brown says, “clear is kind.” This should be the basis of your culture deck.
Does a culture deck replace a handbook?
A question I’m often asked is “does a culture deck replace a handbook?”
Personally, I’ve seen companies use their culture deck as more of an HR for PRs sake or even a marketing tool; while I believe that the people it should serve the most, are the people it’s supporting, your team.
If your head is thinking how great this is going to ‘look’ outside your company, you’ve already lost its purpose.
To use an Abraham Lincoln quote, the culture deck should be, “for the people, and by the people.”
Don’t get caught up in the semantics. You can call it a culture deck or a handbook, a manual, or, a culture code. Essentially, what you need is a guide that any of your team members can pick up and understand what’s expected of them, and how they should behave in particular situations.
If you’re creating multiple documents, please ask yourself why?
You might have a belief that it needs to look or sound a certain way in order to meet a legal requirement, but trust me, it doesn’t.
So now we’ve got that covered, let’s move on to building it….
What format should your culture deck be?
We are overwhelmed with choices now thanks to a variety of tools at our disposal. It can feel like being a kid in a candy shop. Do you make it like Netflix and have a webpage for your culture deck, or make it like Hubspot and do it on SlideShare? The options can feel endless, and that’s because they are.
The key thing to remember is that you want your culture deck to be accessible and easy to consume. People shouldn’t need a masters in literature to read and understand it.
I actually find this a bit of a sticking point for companies. So few really think about the people who this is going to impact.
Remember that across your company you may have a spectrum of neurodiversity, which means long reams of text will not only bore people but will not be accessible to some.
This is why I can’t reiterate enough that you need to include your team in building the culture deck and having a say in what format it’s in.
No – your culture deck shouldn’t be created by HR and then just rolled out.
No – your culture deck shouldn’t be created by the brand or marketing department and then rolled out.
Your culture deck needs to be co-created with your team.
Countless times I see companies create some beautiful, branded thing, like something straight out of an Apple catalogue (If Apple made catalogues!)
Did they consult about the format of it? Nope!
I hammer this point home often, and I’ve covered it in a detailed blog about why co-creation is essential for strong company culture. If you want people to adopt your culture deck, you need to include the people who are going to be living it.
It Sets The Foundations for The Future
What they never tell you when you start a business is that the culture will drive everything.
It will drive how the processes and operations run within the company, it will influence the language people use about your company, and it will be the gentle stream that carries your business forward.
When businesses focus on profits first and people last, it becomes obvious to everyone. And when that happens, customers become unhappy, people leave and that incredible growth they saw in the initial set-up suddenly dwindles.
Many leaders believe that company culture is just the perks and the fun stuff, but that is as naïve as believing in the tooth fairy.
Company culture should run seamlessly throughout your entire company – people might not even be able to put a finger on it, but they know it’s there and that it makes an impact.
Your company culture is greatly entwined in your vision of the organisation, which means if there isn’t one, you’re going nowhere fast.
If you want to know how to embed a unique company culture in your start-up, the company culture workshop by Liberty Mind provides you with the foundations and guidance to get started. Click Here.
Brand examples of culture decks....
Netflix Culture Deck | Webpage
Netflix culture deck used to be on SlideShare, but they’ve since now published it on an individual page on their website.
The full page gives lots of context about what it’s like to work at Netflix and what’s expected of you.
My favourite part of this deck is how clear they are with the description of their values. They give clear expectations and non-jargon language so that you fully understand how best to show up in the Netflix culture.
For me, the thing that lets this culture deck down is it’s too simple. Just one long page of black and white text is quite boring. I think they could really improve this by adding an audio and video version, which would also support those with more neurodiverse needs.
Considering Netflix is so well known for its media and content, I’m surprised it’s kept its culture deck as simple as this.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear, but it could just be in other consumable formats.
This webpage may not be the only version they have of their culture deck, but as a prominent page on their careers web page, you would have thought they could make it a little more accessible.
Tesla Anti-Handbook Handbook | Document
Forever trying to be the disruptors, Tesla has opted for a playful name calling their handbook the ‘Anti-Handbook’. However, it’s far from impressive.
Yet again, it’s another tiresome black and white document that doesn’t inspire, unlike the cars they build.
The handbook starts well, but the tone throughout feels like you’re reading a discipline assembly from school. It’s not only patronising, but despite writing that they don’t treat people like children, the tone says otherwise.
The Corporate Rebels did a great job of critiquing the handbook, and as they say, it feels more like an Anti-Employee handbook.
Zappos | Digital Magazine
It’s easy to tell why Zappos has a world-renowned company culture, you only have to look at the pure effort and commitment that goes into creating their annual culture deck.
Each year Zappos relaunch their culture deck with stories from their team, as well as updates to any of their packages and benefits. It’s a true nod to their roots of creating a strong company culture that focusses on both people and customer happiness.
The Zappos culture deck is very visual, so you feel like you’re reading a magazine, rather than a manual.
Patagonia | Book
Nothing gives you the true purpose of a company like a good story, and that’s exactly what Patagonia has done.
While Patagonia does still have a webpage detailing their company culture and what’s offered to their people, the book written by Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard was inspired to give outsiders a chance to understand why they run the business the way they do.
The book was never intended to be a representation of their company culture, but now it’s one of the best selling business books in the world and holds some of the wisest and most influential statements about building a business that honours people and the planet.
The fact is, there’s nothing stopping anyone from writing a book about their business and culture. You never know who it may inspire.
Facebook | Printed Booklet
This is the printed handbook which is given to all new recruits at Facebook.
While it’s designed beautifully, with pictures, and inspirational quotes, it does seem to lack substance in terms of giving context.
If I was working at Facebook, yes this would be pretty cool, and a nice bit of branded propaganda, but there’s no real explanations of behaviours or even benefits. It’s seems too abstract and could be easily misinterpreted.
SEMCO | Printed Cartoon
Semco is a world leader in changing the way we work, so it’s no surprise that even their earliest handbook was easy to understand, and contained these fun illustrations.
Even though this is an older example, compared to the other brands in the list, it goes to show that it doesn’t need to be complicated, or overly branded.
You can view this example in the book Maverick by Ricardo Semler.
While all of these brand examples will no doubt inspire you, keep in mind that if you come up with a unique or unusual way to do your culture deck, that’s also great!
Just because someone else hasn’t done it a certain way, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Keep in mind to check-in annually on how effective your culture deck truly is. Where does it need to be improved?
Don’t be naïve enough to believe that this is a once in a lifetime project. It should be treated as a constantly evolving feature that supports the changes in your culture.
What should be included in your culture deck?
If someone were to be the last person standing in the office, could they make the best decision with the information presented in your culture deck?
To begin with, think about the everyday assumptions you make about your work-life and the way you act and behave.
Sometimes a good task to help unearth this is to simply watch yourself and others mindfully during a day to see how people interact with each other. When you act like the observer, you may be amazed at the nuances that come through in people’s language and behaviour.
Ideally, you should be facilitating inter-departmental sessions to draw out what should be included in your culture deck.
A good place to start with areas to include in your culture deck is with the following check-list;
You may want to include details. But this is also space for you to share your beliefs as a company about the importance of holidays. For example, you may have unlimited holidays but discuss in the deck why this is important in your culture.
Behaviours you definitely do not tolerate
There may be certain behaviours which just outright will not be tolerated in your culture. Giving examples of these not only creates a sense of safety in the workplace but provides examples of how this behaviour may occur. For example, it may be getting aggressive, or even raising voices. Getting passionate about your work is ok, but not showing aggression towards others.
Values – examples of these being lived
Values can easily be misinterpreted, so it’s a good idea to give clear examples of what these values look like in the day-to-day running of the company. Getting your existing team to share stories about living these values builds context around the actions and behaviours associated with these values, rather than the values feeling ambiguous or fluffy.
Unfortunately, some companies still insist on a dress code that was made for corporate clones. However, regardless of whether you have a strict dress code or a casual one, it’s good to be clear about what’s ok while at work. Again, give some fun examples, and encourage people to represent their personality. Do we have to strip people of their individualism just because they’re at work? Absolutely not. So consider what dress code means.
Processes and procedures
From meetings to booking a sick day, if there are unique attributes to your culture, you need to make this clear in your culture deck. For example, there are some companies I’ve worked with that are very diligent about not having meetings for meeting’s sake. So they make it clear to their team what meetings are, how they should be structured, and who needs to be invited. This stops everyone from spending too much time in meetings they never needed to be a part of or meetings that have no true purpose.
Cues and rituals
As well as general working processes and operations, you may also want to touch on the cues and rituals in your culture and why these mean so much. For example, particular company celebrations, or how failures are learned from.
By making this common knowledge to everyone, it’s more likely that your culture is owned by the entire team, and isn’t waiting on someone else to lead these celebrations or conversations.
Knowledge is power. And with this power, everyone gets to contribute in a meaningful way.
Swap jargon for common sense
When you’re a specialist in your sector it’s easy for jargon to become common language. Even worse is when companies use legal jargon in their culture deck. (Yuk!)
As I emphasised earlier, your culture deck should be able to be read and understood by anyone. Even someone who is not in your environment or part of your industry.
Did you read the Netflix culture deck and understand it? Exactly. You don’t need to be a creative media wizard to know what’s expected of you and how work gets done.
To give it a good litmus test against jargon, share your culture deck with people who are completely outside of your company and don’t even know what your company sells.
Watch your tone
If it sounds like a scalding from a school teacher, you’ve taken a wrong turn.
So many culture decks start on the right foot, with an approachable manner that sounds more like a friend’s advice, but then for some reason turn into this narrative that sounds like a telling off from a school teacher. (Looking at you Tesla!)
The tone you use will either make people love to read it or get a thorn in their side.
Be cautious of how your message comes across. Leave the cautionary tales for when people have actually done something wrong, and keep it well out of your culture deck.
Make it open source
Many companies now make their culture deck public knowledge which enables recruits and customers to understand your company much more deeply.
A culture deck is a powerful education piece for conscious consumers.
Being bold enough to share your culture deck works well in many ways to support your culture journey.
To begin with, it keeps you accountable to the culture you say you have. After all, there’s nothing worse than shouting that you have a particular culture without really living it. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many companies fall at this hurdle.
If you don’t feel that you’re living your culture in the first place, then you’ve got way more work to do than just building a cool culture deck.
Making it open source also creates a mutual understanding between other brands and companies, while you may see it as a sign of competition, the truth is, it builds more growth for everyone trying to improve their culture. If we kept everything top secret, none of us would learn and improve.
Always be evolving
As you’ve seen from the strongest brand examples, a truly powerful culture deck is not a stagnant feature, it should be constantly under revision and be challenged.
Setting aside time annually to review your culture deck should be in your calendar to ensure it’s not only still relevant to your culture, but to give people space to re-align with it.
Has what you created become a core part of the culture or a one-hit-wonder?
Does the deck truly represent the culture you have or are aspiring to create?
Don't leave it there
Now that you have the knowledge to create a culture deck worth sharing, don’t just leave it there.
By taking it further into the day-to-day life of your company, you’ll ensure it becomes a consistent reminder of what everyone is striving towards.
Here are just a few ways you could bring your culture deck to life;
Use it for check-ins
Meeting check-ins are an ideal moment to bring your values into the space to make everyone feel aligned before you dive straight into an agenda.
Ask people which value they are feeling most aligned with today?
Or, what have you done recently that feels like ‘x’ value?
Add to your environment
Come together with your team to create an environment that represents your culture. I’ve seen brands even do the smallest gestures, such as having their culture deck playing on a loop on a TV in reception, or having a mural wall created in the main cafeteria where everyone has written something or added a comment. One of my favourite culture nudges was in the shape of stickers in the toilets. It asked a question, along with a fun illustration.
If you’re feeling inspired to build a culture deck that rocks, but still feel uneasy about where to start, or how to get your team involved, talk to me today and book a discovery call.