As we’ve talked about on the blog here at TLP, #culturecode docs are a key disruptive trend in HR that intersects marketing and management. Here’s a quick illustration on why:

Based on current momentum and a number of recent high profile releases, the #culturecode is set to be one of the key mainstream HR trends of 2016/17. If you want to get ahead of curve and set the agenda (rather than responding to your competitors #culturecode) now is the time to start the process.

Culturecode growth

Included below are some key resources to help you understand the what, why and how of a #culturecode.

What is a #culturecode?

Culture code documents are a detailed documentation of the culture of your organisation. They cover not just what you do, but also why you do what you do. Think of the culture code as the employee handbook for the 21st century.

In one way or another, a great #culturecode should cover your organisation’s:

  • Purpose
  • Values
  • Behaviours
  • Recognition
  • Rituals
  • Cues

In describing these six areas of culture, it’s critical that your #culturecode is clear and culturally consistent. Clarity means that all readers understand your #culturecode in the same way. Cultural consistency means that you represent your culture the way it really is (rather than the way you want it to be).

Why do you need a #culturecode?

Your #culturecode is both a marketing and management document. It has a number of external and internal benefits, including:

  • Recruiting: Perhaps the biggest single advantage of a strong #culturecode is in recruiting. You will have passive candidates approach to you after reading the document. And because they’re 100% clear on what your organisation is, you get much better fit much earlier in the process. It’s one of the strongest available tools for attracting a-players: who ultimately have the choice of where they work. 
  • Employee evangelism: Your employees should be your strongest advocates in the market. Your #culturecode gives them something to evangelise.
  • Management: Your #culturecode should be a valuable document that codifies the way that things are done internally for managers and employees. It’s your benchmark document for management training and onboarding (because it’s so clear around what’s truly expected). Quick hint: If your #culturecode isn’t valuable for managers, it’s unlikely to be specific enough around real behaviours to be a true talent magnet.
  • Performance management: A good #culturecode can help keep your performance management aligned across your entire organisation. This doc makes it easy for managers and leaders to set and reference very clear expectations around what behaviour is acceptable (and what isn’t).
  • Employee engagement: Everyone loves clear expectations. Your culturecode keeps everyone on the same page about what your organisation is and isn’t.
  • Broader marketing benefits: A good culture doc has strong ability to generate viral views, and introduce new partners, investors and customers to the organisation. Just ask Netflix about the value of 11 million views (and counting).

There’s a lot of benefits of a #culturecode. But there’s also some costs through an increased level of transparency and accountability. If you try and tell the world that you’re something that you’re not, you will see this reflected negatively on forums like Glassdoor. This isn’t a reason for inaction. But it’s a strong reason for honesty and cultural consistency (as we talk about below).

Who has a #culturecode?

We’ve included some of the best and the most prominent examples of #culturecode documents below. These are a great place to start your thinking (but there’s many more appearing on slideshare each and every day).

How can you develop a #culturecode?

If you’re looking to get started with a corporate #culturecode, here’s some simple steps that can help you get started with the process.

1. Find existing #culturecode docs that you love

This slideshare page is the best place to begin your search. Identify the existing culture docs from other companies that you love and hate. Just like building a house, there’s no one size fits all model for a #culturecode. Your #culturecode has to reflect your culture across themes, structure, tone and design. Remember that it’s not just what they say, but also how they say it that matters. It’s worth looking at and thinking about:

  • Key themes
  • Structure of the document
  • Tone
  • Design

A bit of desktop research here can help consolidate your thoughts around what you want and need from your corporate #culturecode. Alternatively, we have a ‘look-book’ at TLP that we regularly workshop with management teams – to help accelerate the process.

2. Consolidate existing documents

Your organisation likely has hundreds of documents that provide insights into the culture of your company. These are a great place start building a #culturecode. Pulling them together can save you weeks or months (and means that you’re not reinventing the wheel if aspects of your culture have already been documented).

Great documents to look at here include:

  • Any current employee handbook.
  • Recent letters or emails from the CEO or MD. Remember that what isn’t being said is sometimes just as important as what is. For an objective observer, what do these notes reveal about how the company really works?
  • Founder / CEO IPO letters. If your company has listed or raised capital in the past 10 years (and sometimes even longer), these documents usually set out what your company is and isn’t. Given most organisation spend at least their first 20-30 years in the shadow of their founders, these are a great place to start.
  • Media interviews with founders or management. In depth profiles of senior leaders can be very illustrative about what’s really valued in the organisation.
  • Engagement surveys. What are your staff saying and not saying? There’s often great insight in the free comments section of the surveys.
  • Exit interviews. Why do people choose to leave your organisation? If there’s consistent themes here you should be very upfront about them.

And a bonus hint: One of the most powerful places to look for both the positive and negative traits of your culture are in interviewer feedback from job interviews. The reasons you choose to hire (or not hire) people can be very illustrative. When interviewers say: “She’s not quite [x] enough for us”, that [x] is a big indicator about what really matters to your culture.

3. Workshop early drafts with current employees for cultural consistency

It’s what’s done, not what’s said, that really matters in thinking about your culture. That’s why it’s so important to test with employees for cultural consistency. More often than not, what matters to your employees about your culture is somewhat different to what’s in your current employee handbook. You need to ask employees what they love and hate about coming to work.

There’s typically a big difference between what you ideally want your culture to be and what it actually is. Your #culturecode should reflect what your culture actually is.

You can do as much desktop research as you want, but it’s critical that you workshop your findings with your employees. If your #culturecode isn’t consistent with your actual culture, you’re creating more problems for your organisation. You’ll have employees joining your organisation believing it to be something that it’s not.

We’ll say it again, because it’s worth saying. We can help you produce a very clear and compelling #culturecode. But unless it’s consistent with your actual culture, then you’ve wasted your money.

Look at it this way:

culturecode framework

Fundamentally, unless you’re prepared to be both clear and culturally consistent, it’s not worth creating a #culturecode.

4. Strengthen the language

Most employee handbooks and corporate vision/values statements are written in very neutral language. But the aim of a culture code isn’t to be neutral. You’re trying to convince the right people to join your company. And at the same time you’re trying to dissuade the wrong people from even applying.

In the same way as a magnet, if you want to have a strong attraction effect – you also need to have a strong repulsion effect.The right people should read your #culturecode and love it. The wrong candidates should read your #culturecode and disengage.

You can’t attract or repel people unless you adopt strong language. For a #culturecode to be effective, you must use strong language to describe what really matters to your organisation.

5. Make sure everyone understands your #culturecode in the same way

As we talk about above, clarity is just as important as cultural consistency. Clarity means two things in the context of a great #culturecode:

  • Your #culturecode should not be subject to the interpretation of the reader. Everyone needs to read the document and take away the same things. The best way to do this is to use practical examples, and lots of them.
  • A reader of your #culturecode should quickly understand what the document means for their day-to-day as an employee. A reader should be able to form a strong view of what a day in the life of one of your employees actually looks like. You need to get to a level of detail beyond a traditional high level values statement.

Optimising for clarity is the reason that great #culturecode documents commonly run to >100 pages. See Hubspot and Netflix for two examples of long #culturecode documents that are also exceedingly clear. Length isn’t your primary consideration. It’s clarity about what it actually means in the hands of a reader.

6. Make it look great

Remember that cultural consistency in design is really important. For example:

  • If you’re a detail focused organisation, then the design of your #culturecode needs to focus on the details
  • If you claim to be “focused on user experience”, then this needs to be reflected in how easy it is to engage with your doc

This design/culture consistency is one key reason that the Netflix doc worked so well. The simple, to the point design of the document is completely consistent with the culture of the organisation.

7. Promote externally

Your #culturecode is both a marketing and management document. It should be actionable for management and promote your organisation to the wider world, in equal parts. Done well it can have a big role in selling your organisation to potential employees, investors, partners and customers.

We strongly encourage the HR team to engage with your marketing department in thinking about external release and promotion. Depending on your line of business and marketing strategy there are likely to be opportunities to integrate into your marketing planning. Your #culturecode can be a valuable brand asset for every part of your organisation. Just ask Netflix about the value of 11 million prospective employees, investors, partners and customers who downloaded their culture document. It’s easy to quantify an ROI running to hundreds of millions of dollars.