The importance of a strong company culture


In the entrepreneurial sense, it is an ambiguous thing about "how it feels to work at your company" that is rather hard to quantify.

Yet you hear entrepreneurs talk about it all the time.

While I don't believe there is any specific "how to" on building a great culture, I do think there are many things you can pick up, learn, and apply to your own company.

In this article, I am going to dive into how we have built a culture at Lead Cookie and how we are currently building one at Content Allies.

Hopefully, some of the ideas here will inspire you to implement something similar in your own company.

But first...

Why does culture even matter?

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"

This quote above is from Peter Drucker that my adviser, Alex McClafferty, shared with me in the early days of Lead Cookie.

He stressed the importance of culture to me, but I didn't even see the value of it until further down the line. But I can tell you now, 2 years out, that investing in culture makes a huge difference.

Having a team that cares is like pouring rocket fuel on your business.
Culture is fuzzy. It's emotional, but it makes a massive ROI.

Culture reduces team member turnover

At Lead Cookie, we have virtually zero turnover. In the course of the 2+ years we have been running the company, we have only had:

  • Two team members poached at a rate over 2.5x what we were paying them

  • One team member from the Philippines who received a work visa to move to Australia. The economics of our position no longer made sense as they moved to a new location.

Other than that, we have not had a single person "quit."

Along the way, we had a few mis-hires who we had to let go 1-2 months into their work with us. But we have never had someone leave us once they are with us.

Having this low of turnover is amazing because you don't spend any mental energy worrying about your team leaving or replacing them.

For anyone who runs a company, they know how painful it is when someone from your team leaves. It disrupts all other initiatives while you have to go search for and train a replacement.

Turnover sucks. And so if you can minimize it, you want to do so.

Your team actually cares

The other benefit of culture is that your team actually cares about the company. They want to see it succeed. They feel as though they are part of something and this leads to them stepping up and giving an incredible amount of effort.

They don't just "clock in" and "clock out".
They go above and beyond.
They find solutions to problems.

They don't argue if work gets intense for a week.
Instead, they show up with gratitude for the position that they have.

Our team is freaking amazing and the culture we have is a superpower that propels the whole organization forward.

Having a great culture is more enjoyable

I genuinely look forward to our team calls every week. It's a highlight to my week as they are always full of laughter, connection, and happiness.

That's odd to say "I look forward to our meetings" because, in most companies, meetings are this dreaded thing.

For us, meetings are more like a fun time to get together, joke, laugh, and talk about some actual items along the way.

And I wouldn't want it any other way.

What I have done to build a great company culture

Culture starts with you, the entrepreneur

Here is a question I had a fellow entrepreneur ask me on a recent call...

"How do you get your team to stick with you? I can't seem to get anyone to stay around for more than a few months."

To respond to this, I just mentioned how we have this great culture and we treat our team well... but in the back of my mind, here is what I was really thinking.

You're a pompous asshole. That's why your team leaves. You treat them like shit, pay them as little as possible, and the way you talk about them makes them all sound like replaceable cogs in a machine.

Ahhh, sometimes I struggle for transparency on the spot.

But, in this, is a serious lesson.

You, the entrepreneur, are the source of the entire company culture.
Sure, the team will take it and create a culture of their own over time.
But the culture that the company creates is, first off, a reflection of you, the owner.

When I had my first video agency in my 20s, I was a shithead.
I was smoking pot and getting wasted on weekdays, showing up to the office hungover.

No one followed me because I was a great leader.
They followed me because I could sell and provide cool work for them...

That is the dynamic of many company cultures.
The team is just there for a paycheck and could care less about the company.

Counter that with where I am at today.

Today, I lead as a well-rounded individual.
I show up to every meeting with a sharp mind.
I am rising in all areas of my life, including my fitness, mindfulness, and in my personal relationships.
I consistently rise as an individual with constant growth and improvement.

As a result, many of my team members have joined the company because they knew they could learn from me.

Who I am and how I show up every day is the first source of company culture.

Your business is a reflection of yourself.

This is true in every aspect and particularly in your company culture.

Discover your values

The next piece is to discover your values. Note that I strategically used the word "discover" here because you can't just fabricate values out of thin air.

There is a ton of information out there about values- so I am not going to dive super deep into this- but this is essential. I learned most of these exercises from Jim Collins, but there are plenty of other similar sources.

While I am not going to go into the details of discovering your values here, I can't emphasize this step enough. It may seem fluffy, but it is essential, as your values become a decision filter for the rest of this process.

My onboarding process for new hires

There is a tactic I picked up from a podcast at some point from Netflix.

At Netflix, they have a "culture deck". It's a presentation that they show every new hire on the team. It outlines who they are and what their core values are.

So I decided to create something similar for all new hires.

You can see Lead Cookie's culture deck here.

This is the actual document I use. It's pretty ugly. Actually, it's horrendous.

I've never paid a designer for it because that isn't the point.

Instead, here is how I use it.

Whenever I hire a new team member, I schedule a 30-45 minute call with them. I do this with everyone- both onshore and offshore team members.

During that call, I get to know them a bit, chat, and we get to know each other. Then, I share this culture deck with them so they can get an idea of what we are about.

We talk about this, have some more conversation, and then wrap up.

This enables me to show our culture and values to each team member. This is also a good signal for when we have made a bad hire.

One team member "no-showed" me twice on this meeting... They didn't last.
When I think of other mis-hires, I could feel a misalignment with them when I shared this deck.

It's a powerful thing to build trust with great team members and to weed out the bad ones.

Pay your team well

It baffles me how many entrepreneurs think about compensating their team.

For many, the mindset is How can I pay my team as little as possible so I can profit more?

What if you changed that question to How can I pay my team as much as possible so they are motivated to produce more?

Now, compensation is a sticky subject. It's hard to land perfectly, and when you compare yourself to others in the market, it's always easy to get messed up in the head here.

But it's an interesting thought-process to think through how you can pay your team more.

For example, we have a large offshore team for Lead Cookie, mostly in the Philippines. When I talk to other entrepreneurs and we compare rates, they are often baffled by how much we pay them.

They come back and say, "Wow, that's crazy high. We can get team members at $250 per month."

We pay quite a bit more than that starting from day one of working with us, and for our leadership team members in the Philippines, significantly more.

And while, yes, we could hire team members for $250 per month... that's just ridiculous in my mind. At $250 per month, that is significantly below the poverty level in the Philippines.

That means that you are hiring team members who are struggling to make ends meet, or they are going to have to work a second job just to make ends meet while working with you.

Do you think that living below the poverty line will affect their quality of work?
And lead to turnover when they find anything that pays better?

So here is an alternative solution.

Pay your team well.
I'm not saying to pay them insanely higher rates.
But pay them a good and fair wage so that they don't need to work second jobs.
Pay them a good wage so that they can take care of their families, and their health, and show up in a good mental state for you.

Yes, make wise business decisions and control your costs.
But not at the expense of your team members' lives.

Treat your team well and they will treat you well.

Education Reimbursements

One of our values is Lifelong Learning and so another thing we do for the team is offer a $50, per quarter, educational reimbursement.

Team members can use this however they like, on anything to improve themselves.

We have had people use this on online courses, books, musical instruments, fitness classes, and all sorts of different things.

We are very loose in how they use the credits, as long as it is in some way focused on helping them better themselves. They make a purchase, they submit the receipt, and we pay that out with their payroll.

$50 per quarter may not seem like a lot, but to team members in the Philippines, that is a huge amount. That would be equal to a $300-$400 education credit in US dollars.

It is also just a great way to keep our team all focused on learning, growing, and improving themselves.

Work-Life Balance Scores

Every week during our team stand-up meeting, we end the meeting by having everyone rank their work-life balance scores.

This is a qualitative number that everyone shares to talk about how good their balance is between work and life over the past week.

A 10 is "Great!"
And a 1 is "I hate my life. I want to quit." (Fortunately, no one has ever given a 1)

Here is an actual screenshot of last week's scores.

Screenshot 2019-08-25 12.53.40.png

If we have a few weeks where someone is at a 7-8 range or below, then we take a serious look into how we can make changes so that is not the case for them anymore.

This happened, at times, for my ops director, and it often meant that we needed a new hire, or he needed to change something in how he was running operations to get his balance back.

Weekly Jokes

Another fun thing we do is end every meeting with a joke or funny video. We rotate through the team members each week and have 3 people share either a joke or a 60-second funny video.

This is always a hoot and is hands-down a favorite part of the meeting each week.

It gives us a lot of insight into each team member's personality and is a ton of fun.

We always keep the jokes mostly PG, with some occasional PG-13 rated jokes.

And we are particularly fond of puns and bald jokes...

Marble Racing

Somewhere along the line, my ops director discovered marble racing on YouTube.

It is pretty much horse racing with marbles... It's pretty ridiculous and quite fun.

So I threw together an internal Google Spreadsheet where each team member chose the name of a marble they think would win in the Jelle's 2018 Marble Rally Race. And then, at the end of our team meetings each week, we would watch the next race of the series together.

I won't ruin the ending of the series, but there may be foul play involved, which created quite the team debate.


And then, we took this even further and created our own Marble Racing series...

The 2019 Lead Cookie Marble Rally


> You can watch the full series here <

I shot and edited the entire video series.
My ops director is the ridiculous voice talent.

And needless to say, this was a hit with the team.

We poured in probably a good 20+ hours making this series... But once again, these are the odd, crazy things that create a super tight culture.

To bring it all together

Great company culture is not something that is created overnight. And there is no straightforward "how-to".

In fact, I'm learning, as I build up Content Allies, that you can't just copy and paste one company culture onto another. My team at Content Allies is very different than my team at Lead Cookie.

And while many of the values overlap between Lead Cookie and Content Allies, there are also some differences.

The nature of our service is different.
The types of personalities we hire for different roles is different.
And as a result, I'm actually discovering that we may have some values that differ from Content Allies.

So take this post, not as a copy and paste framework, but instead as inspiration.

Treat your team well.
And build a great culture.
It is worth investing in.

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