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How to Build a Company Culture Deck

Kristen Craft | November 29, 2018

Cohesive, idealistic, and driven. That’s what people say about some of the most successful companies in the modern world. These are the companies that consistently blow expectations and rival companies out of the water. They are the ones with lists of accolades, like Zappos, or scores of articles waxing poetic on how they found so much success, like Netflix.

These companies have a powerful tool in common. It’s called a culture deck: a breakdown of the company’s culture, explaining what their values and mission are, and what success means to them. Generally, it tries to capture the ideals, as well as what they might look like in practice.

Culture decks are unique to each company, and they’re a big part of why these companies are so strong. Best of all, they’re a tool that your business can use to find its own success. By creating a culture deck yourself, (or at least defining your cultural values,) you’ll create a defensible competitive advantage. It will help you hire and build the best possible team in a way no one else can replicate.

What is a culture deck?

At its most basic, a culture deck is a slideshow that breaks down your company’s culture, core values, and mission into clear, easy-to-absorb pieces. This is more ambitious than it sounds. A good culture deck is the purest distillation of your business’s ethos in all areas, from who you hire to how you conduct business.

Creating a culture deck helps your company get on the same page and stay on the same page. A clearly articulated mission will help you attract great talent…talent who shares your same motivations and philosophies. When you make these hires, your culture deck helps uphold the expectations you set. Each person benefits from having a clearcut guide to how and why your team does certain things.

As you scale, a culture deck helps keep your business on track. It’s the ultimate compass for maintaining focus on your original purpose. A great culture deck also evolves over time, giving you a living way to record your company’s history and remind you where you started.

At Tettra, we’ve curated a collection of some of the most noteworthy culture decks in the business world to help inspire you. But first, let’s explore the vital elements of a great culture deck.

How can you build an amazing culture deck?

Ambitious as it may sound, creating a culture deck is achievable for even the smallest and largest teams. For example, the world-famous design team, IDEO, created their culture deck decades after they started. To make a culture deck, you need to be willing to dig deep and be thoughtful about what makes your business unique. You also need to think about what your goals are, and what you believe in when it comes to business. Every culture deck will be customized to the business, but they share some core attributes, so you can follow this process, no matter your business’s size, industry, or culture.

1. Center on your mission

At the core of your culture deck should be your company’s mission. This is the explanation of what you’re trying to accomplish and why you’re doing it. That will likely involve defining your customers or clients, so be sure to include what you see as your duty to them.

This is also where you should briefly sum up your company’s history to date. Even if your business recently started, it’s good to make mention of your origin story so that you and your employees can keep the business’s roots in mind as you grow.

If your business already has a motto or a North Star philosophy, the first few slides are the perfect place to include them. This isn’t the place for a lot of industry jargon. Instead, explain the motto or philosophy in a way that someone who has never heard of your company will understand.

Task list tool Asana does a particularly good job of this in their culture deck. On the fourth slide, they plainly state their mission, which is “to help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”

They also explain why they’re sharing their mission: to make sure everyone at the company is aligned around the same goal. Asana knows that they’re hiring smart, savvy people, so they’re transparent with them about the purpose of their culture deck from the very start.

Questions to consider:

  • What is your company hoping to achieve?
  • What’s your philosophy on your industry?
  • What is the core problem your company wants to solve?
  • How did your business begin?

2. Build in your values

Your mission is about what you’re trying to do. Your values are about how you work towards that mission, as well as the way you conduct yourself along the way.

Values might be as simple as two or three sentences describing what you see as important in running an ethical business. Or they may be a complex network of quotes and examples of the way you want your employees to view the world.

One interesting approach is the one taken by women’s activewear company, Lululemon. Their culture deck is a single page, but packed edge to edge with philosophies, phrases, and ideas that sum up what the company is all about.

While any one of these phrases in isolation may not express a company’s values very well, taken together, you can see the picture of a positive, athletic, idealistic group of people. Even the design contributes to the idea of a dynamic company culture that cares about creativity and an out-of-the-box approach to work.

When including your company’s values in your culture deck, think about what a thriving company looks like to you. How do you hope your employees see and treat one another? If your concept is nebulous at first, don’t be afraid to include charts, images, and quotes that express the idea for you.

Questions to consider:

  • What does a leader look like at your company?
  • What qualities are you seeking in new talent?
  • What does ideal teamwork look like?
  • If failures happen, what comes next?

3. Make your processes as transparent as possible

Excellent culture decks are transparent. That doesn’t mean you have to share all of your business’s financial details or upper-level strategies, but it does mean being open about what matters to your company.

You should make it clear how you define success, and how you define failure. You should also be open about what sorts of ideas, behaviors, and results will add up to an employee moing up in your company, as well as the behaviors that won’t be tolerated. Help people understand what these behaviors look like in practice. This makes it far easier for employees to engage in the way you’d like.

Music app, Spotify, defines success very clearly in their engineering team’s culture deck.

Spotify doesn’t leave any room for confusion or debate in what’s most important to them. They outline success for everyone from new hires to team leaders and lay it out in a way that’s easy to understand and reference. Spotify also breaks down each of these headings into a few slides to examine them in further depth.

Questions to consider:

  • What does success mean for you?
  • What outcomes or behaviors result in promotion?
  • What outcomes or behaviors call for corrective action, and what does that look like?

4. Get your whole team involved (but also choose a “DRI”)

Seeking varied perspectives will help you create a strong culture deck, (and will increase buy-in.) That said, you need a DRI, (“Directly Responsible Individual”) or collection of individuals. Given that many people may feel a sense of ownership over the team culture, it’s particularly important to identify the DRI.

The DRI needs to know that he or she has the entire company’s permission and backing throughout the process. On the flip side, the team needs to realize that the DRI is empowered to make tough choices, should there be misalignment between different perspectives. Your DRI might be a founder, a CEO, an HR leader, a Brand executive, or a Communications leader. This person isn’t making all the decisions; he or she is curating input from many sources to come up with the best possible decision and deck.

Once you’ve pinpointed your DRI, get everyone involved. It’s one thing to create a slideshow full of ideals. But if those ideals don’t reflect the feel of your company, they’ll never be fully integrated into the business. You can make sure your culture deck reflects reality by finding out what employees have to say about the culture.

One way to do this is by interviewing your employees. Do they often find themselves referring to your current mission statement? Do they feel like it applies to the work they’re doing? You can also set up an anonymous survey and collect responses that way, which may generate more candid input than in-person interviews.

Involving your employees helps create more buy-in for your culture deck and advocacy for the culture itself. And employees who buy into the culture are more likely to stick around and help your company grow. Furthermore, employees who contributed their perspectives are more likely to uphold and advocate for your company values over the long haul.

Make sure to involve people who have a different perspective, such as field reps or newer hires. You may find they’re better able to see the forest, rather than getting lost in the trees. The people out in the trenches might pinpoint cultural norms in a clearer way than those who are there in the office every day. The more contributions you get, the more well-rounded your culture deck will become.

Once you get a broad perspective on how people perceive the culture, use it to make your culture deck stronger. This could be as big as altering your values or mission statement, or as simple (but meaningful) as shifting the language you use to express those ideals.

Crafts and vintage e-commerce site Etsy has a culture deck that’s full of personality and features several products that actively reflect their culture.

All of Etsy’s values are phrased for the collective:

“We are a mindful, transparent, and humane business.

We plan and build for the long term.

We value craftsmanship in all we make.

We believe fun should be part of everything we do.

We keep it real, always.”

Etsy uses “we” statements so that their employees feel included from the moment they’re hired. This is a simple change you can make to help your culture feel more relatable, and make your deck integrated as soon as it’s introduced.

Questions to consider:

  • Who has enough comfort with the team to solicit broad input but also has the confidence to make hard decisions, should they arise?
  • Who are the stars at your company? What traits do they have in common?
  • Whose voices haven’t you heard in discussions of company culture?

5. Weave your culture deck into daily operations

In the end, it doesn’t matter how you design your culture deck, as long as it’s being used. The trick is creating a deck that contains useful information, is easy to reference, and really ties into what your employees do each day.

Video game company Valve created their culture deck in the style of an old-fashioned employee handbook, with a twist. They use illustrations of characters from their games, sprinkling in annotations to give it a playful style that suits a game company.

The handbook is full of important information that helps people acclimate to the team and do their jobs better. They include both philosophical, as well as actionable information like definitions of team structures, why they’re built as they are, and how to get involved with new projects.

The result is an engaging document that’s easy to reference and read through without employees’ eyes glazing over before they absorb important information. By making the deck reflect their own laid-back, fun culture, Valve has made it far easier and more engaging for employees to reference.

You can help employees apply the culture to their daily work by weaving it into both strategy and projects. Find ways to tie every new project back to your company’s mission and values in some way.

A final element to keep in mind is that your culture deck should be a living document. Your company will grow and change, and your culture will change with it. Be ready to make adjustments to your culture deck to reflect these changes, and broadcast the updates to the company. Sharing updates helps to instill trust that you’re flexible and upfront with your team.

Questions to consider:

  • What’s the best way to make your culture deck accessible for your team?
  • How can you tie in projects to your central mission?
  • What aspects of the company should you monitor for changes?

What should we do with our culture deck?

Once you’ve done the hard work of creating the deck, make it broadly available. If it’s easily accessible, team members are more likely to leverage it in the daily work they’re doing. A knowledge management tool like Tettra is a great home for your culture deck, so people can add questions or comments. Putting it in Tettra also helps teams that use Slack, since people will see a Slack notification whenever you make edits to the deck.

It’s also worth considering whether you want to make your deck available to the outside world. Doing so may benefit your recruiting and hiring processes, since candidates can more easily determine whether they align with the team culture. Furthermore, you may find that customers appreciate the opportunity to read about the company with whom they do business. Sharing your values can help create an even stronger bond with your brand enthusiasts, assuming they share the same values.

Creating a thoughtful, intentional culture deck is central to helping your company thrive. But building one takes nothing more than an understanding of your business and a desire to help it be its best.

Check out Tettra’s culture deck collection for more inspiration from amazing companies.