This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.
It's no coincidence that the same qualities that make your company a great place to work can also help you grow your business. Think about it: A great company culture means that you know how to keep your employees happy and productive. And if you have happy and productive employees, they will not only stick around, but attract new talent as well.
We're taking a look at some businesses that are constantly lauded for their company culture, from quirky online retailers to tech giants. We'll show you how to use their core values to grow your business without losing sight of what matters: keeping your employees and customers happy.
1. Hire for the long haul.
THE BIG IDEA: Corporate culture isn't built from the top-down—you can't simply impose an ethos on your business and hope that your employees absorb its values. Company culture is about hiring individuals who embody the core values of your brand. Some companies accomplish this through referral programs: According to a recent study by Evolv, referred employees are 20 percent less likely to quit their jobs and are more productive compared to other new employees. Other companies vet employees through unusual interview questions: Amazon.com, for example, may ask you the following question: "Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?"
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: According to Entrepreneur.com, you must ask yourself some direct questions about what you want your brand to represent: What is your company's mission? What qualities do you want them to associate with your company? Always interview and hire with these principles in mind. And when building a team, don't forget that diversity matters. A diverse team means that you're building your brand by attracting the most talented group of people possible. The added benefit of diversity is, of course, the creativity and innovation that comes from differing viewpoints.
2. Give your employees some time to tinker.
THE BIG IDEA: If you want your business to be a place that rewards creativity, you may want to implement a "20 percent" model—that is, allow your employees to devote 20 percent of their working hours (one day a week), to side projects. Legend has it that this practice originated at 3M, where Art Fry used his "15 percent" time to invent the Post-It Note in 1974. Recently the concept has been popularized by Google (who may have unofficially pulled the program recently), where "tinker time" has led to the creation of Gmail, Google News, Google Talk, and AdSense. This tactic has been imitated by legions of other tech companies.
HOW CAN YOU USE IT: You've already hired talented employees—now use them wisely. Too often, business owners are blinkered by the day-to-day demands of running a company. Working on passion projects is a great morale-booster for independent-thinking employees, and you'll be able to incubate great ideas to boot.
3. Don't just offer your employees paid vacation—make sure they take it.
THE BIG IDEA: Big businesses have come up with many ways to increase worker productivity and boost morale. As reported at the Huffington Post, the average American worker receives two weeks of paid vacation annually and will leave an average of nine vacation days unused at year's end. Some companies (Netflix, Gilt) have begun to offer unlimited time off. Although these companies posit that unlimited vacation days will help remedy worker burnout, others are more wary. The latter camp believes that open-ended policies create confusion over how many days are appropriate to take. This could, in turn, actually breed a bad work-life balance, since flexible holidays tend to turn into "working vacation" days.
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: Set clear standards for vacation days and encourage your employees to use them. If you're the workaholic type, don't hesitate to impose a vacation on yourself—or else employees may be too intimidated to take the appropriate amount of days. If you can swing it, take a page from tech startup Evernote's book and offer your employees incentives for taking at least a week off (in Evernote's case, a $1,000 stipend).
4. Pay attention to your space.
THE BIG IDEA: The open floorplan has become a standard feature in many upstart companies—the idea being that it maximizes collaboration and creativity among employees. Other companies have taken their design principles a step further in an attempt to reinforce their brand culture. One example is the apartment-rental service Airbnb, which has designed conference rooms that closely mimic some of its coolest and most unusual rentals. Many companies try to foster a "home-away-from-home" ethos by implementing ergonomics programs and strongly encouraging employees to add personal touches to their workspace.
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: The "open floorplan = more creativity" theory isn't watertight—studies have shown that it may actually increase stress and decrease productivity among employees—but it's useful to create a variety of spaces where your employees have room to collaborate, both formally (in conference rooms) and informally (through casual proximity to one another). The key is to have a good mix of "zones": open space for collaboration, private spaces where one can hunker down and work without interruption, and "fun" spaces where employees can blow off steam or simply relax. While it's true that some of the space-age-style tech campuses are a bit gimmicky (see: Google's slides), design is important to both your brand's culture and your employees' health and happiness.
5. Encourage camaraderie, but don't force it.
THE BIG IDEA: Team-building: It doesn't have to mean trust falls and canned "get-to-know-you" games. Zappos, the online retailer that has literally written a book on corporate culture, places an extremely high premium on both customer and employee happiness. The company operates on the basis of ten core values, one of which is "create fun and a little weirdness." The company hires with a keen eye on culture fit, and the casual work environment helps employees to feel comfortable being themselves at work, allowing them to form authentic relationships. As one reviewer on Glassdoor wrote, "If you're on the right team, it can feel more like family than work."
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: While a casual work environment may not be for every business, a sustained focus on employee happiness is the key to keeping talent around. This doesn't mean one-off "team-building" sessions, but an environment in which employees have regular and informal opportunities to socialize with one another. Hiring with a focus on culture fit is also a great foundation for building solid teams.
6. Keep your door open.
THE BIG IDEA: While "my door is always open" has become a management cliche, some companies take an extremely proactive approach to open communication. Online eyewear retailer Warby Parker, for example, has grown from a small startup to a 300-employee company in just three years. In order to keep the lines of communication open, the company has an "Ask Anything" segment of its weekly meetings, in which employees can, well, ask anything. The quirky and transparent company culture extends to each of its employees submitting weekly "happiness ratings" (on a zero to 10 scale) and participating in quarterly, one-on-one, "360 reviews" in which brutal honesty is encouraged.
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: Here, small scale works to your advantage: It's easier to communicate informally when you have a small corps of employees. But keeping your door open isn't quite enough—more introverted employees may be less likely to come forward with concerns. Schedule time to catch up with your employees, and create clear channels for any concerns that may arise. If you want to grow your business, it helps to keep your finger on the pulse of your employees' happiness—and longevity.
7. Don't end training after onboarding.
THE BIG IDEA: Every company has its own method for onboarding new employees, but there are a special few that dedicate themselves to ongoing employee development. Zappos offers life coaching for employees throughout their tenure at the company. J.M. Smucker (the jam company) offers a tuition reimbursement program for employees who want to further their undergraduate or graduate education—they will pay 100 percent, with no price limit. Biotech giant Genentech allows its employees to take fully paid six-week sabbaticals after they've been at the company for six years. The company calls this "an opportunity for personal or professional development, or simply a time to recharge every six years."
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: Onboarding is crucial: Instead of throwing your new employees directly into the fire, make sure they have a solid idea of your brand's values and their role in your company's success. Encourage your employees to attend trainings and conferences to gain new skills that they can share with their coworkers. By showing that you have a stake in your employees' development, you'll be improving engagement, productivity, and retention.
8. And yes, perks matter.
THE BIG IDEA: Some companies are well-known for their flashy campuses with perks that include dry-cleaning services, rock-climbing walls, free food, free daycare, paid birthday off (Thrillist), pet insurance (Zappos), and even on-site medical care (Google).
HOW YOU CAN USE IT: While you might not have the cash flow to supply the lavish perks of a tech giant, benefits such as maternity and paternity leave, flexible working hours, and promoting well-being through fitness classes or healthy snacks can help your employees have a healthy work-life balance. Perks can help with employee retention while also attracting top talent to your business.