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“If you want to build a ship don’t drum up the [people] to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

For educator, designer, and best-selling business author, Josh Levine, these words embody exactly what company culture is all about.

The big question is: how do we actively or proactively design and creatively control a company culture that employees love, especially when the state of business is just crazy? Incredible advances in technology are speeding up the world. When we think about where we are, one thing is certain: This world is really hard to manage. We can no longer predict a stable growth path. If we’re trying to predict what’s happening in the next 24 months, forget it. We don’t even know what’s going to happen in three months. All this acceleration and change is now a constant.

If we can get culture right, understand what it is, and manage it, we can actually empower people to understand and be part of the change that’s happening. But if we continue to operate in a command and control style (in a way that’s suited for creating efficiency from the industrial age) we’re never going to be able to speed up, to catch up. It’s a higher order shift, the role of culture, the underpinning of success (or failure) of businesses in the 21st century.

To be clear, culture isn’t ping-pong and pizza. Those are just perks. “Culture,” says Levine, “is the cause and effect of every choice we make. It’s the primary way we operate, the fundamental foundation of our businesses.”

When it comes to developing culture, in his research and latest book Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love, Levine identifies six components behind culture. He readily admits these ideas aren’t new. It’s the cumulative pattern and flow he’s observed that gives a company the ability to dial up and think creatively about how to control culture, as opposed to stumbling on it.

The first and foremost is PURPOSE

why an organization exists beyond making money. Think of it as the peak of the mountain, the summit of where we’re going. Credit Karma has a really powerful purpose statement: “to help people be their best financial selves.” Another strong example is Kellogg’s: “to nourish families so they can flourish and thrive.”

Second comes VALUES

– how we get to the top of the mountain; the shared beliefs about what’s most important when conducting business. Values are the guardrails that keep people on track rather than meandering along a path that’s dangerous or cheating by taking the gondola.

What makes good values?

  • They’re brief (the headline needs to be short enough that you can remember it)
  • They’re well defined
  • They’re unique
  • They’re limited in number and that number is five (easier to remember and the exercise of creating values is an exercise in creating organization – if you prioritize everything, nothing’s a priority)
  • And ideally, they end with a question that’s tangible and compelling

Here’s an exemplary Value from a technology company, Percolate:
“Our success is measured in advocates. We are truly successful when our teammates, customers, and partners become our champions. First, we must be one to create one.”
How is what I’m doing helping to build advocates?


– the choices made by employees that are guided by PURPOSE and VALUES. When Wells Fargo found itself enmeshed in the 2008 financial crisis were the institution’s employees at fault or were they doing what they did because the bank’s purpose and values failed to direct behavior?


– programs that encourage behaviors that bring culture to life. One of the most common problems is rewarding the wrong things. Back to Wells Fargo – they recognized and rewarded people for selling-selling-selling. And look at that outcome. What we need to do is recognize and reward values-driven behavior. That’s how to activate your culture and deliver on the vision your company has articulated.

Fifth is RITUALS

– recurring group activities that build and strengthen relationships. If relationships degrade, then no matter how hard we work at the core, it’s going to be very different at the edges. Relationships are the synapses of culture. Interestingly research indicates that, as humans, we have a limited capacity to know a certain number of people. In business, that number is about 50. If your company exceeds more than 50 people – you get little groups forming, little niches, fiefdoms. Barriers go up, physical barriers like doors and offices and cubicle walls. Then you’ve also got areas of expertise and team focus, managers, division heads, and senior leaders. All of these things are barriers preventing relationships from happening.


A ritual like the annual holiday party, your company softball team, lunch & learns, and informal gatherings like a Dungeon and Dragons night or book club, is a social lubricant where people can get together and interact with folks they don’t normally connect with.

Sixth in the mix is CUES

Reminders that help employees and leaders stay connected to the future. No matter how amazing your culture and vision is, we all have emails and quarterly budgets and deadlines and meetings and all the stuff of daily work life that gets in the way. We connect employees back to the top of the culture mountain by choosing physical, behavioral, and digital reminders of what we’re shooting for, of what we’re trying to do now and for the future.

At a San Francisco based company, their main entrance atrium is surrounded with conference rooms. Each of the frosted glass doors has a name with a little symbol on it that tells a piece of the corporate story. Every day a Swedish company (and its U.S. subsidiary) breaks for tea and biscuits – creating time for relationships.

Having helped build culture-driven brands for technology and social enterprise organizations, business luminary, Levine believes when we get our culture right, we’re able to hire the right people and let them do their best. “I feel great culture actually elevates people in their own personal lives and helps them become better people and more effective talent.”