Jump-Start Your Company Culture

Your business strategy’s perfect. But what about your company culture? Make it game-changing.

BY: MICHAEL MAERLENDER

With a positive company culture behind you, you’re unstoppable.” – Heather Allen 

Business philosopher Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He would know—he’s been referred to as “the father of modern management.” What he’s saying is that it doesn’t matter how precise your vision is; if it doesn’t include a healthy working environment, your carefully crafted strategy is bound to fail.

This concept is something we invest in at iostudio, and no one has been more hands-on in crafting our office culture than our facilities director, Heather Allen. I sat down with her recently to talk about Christmas parties, Play-Doh and some simple tips that keep company culture headed in the right direction.

Percolate Positivity to Pull in Positive People

“It’s a make-or-break thing in a company,” Heather says. “Of course, there are a million other things you need to have, like talent, clients and good sales numbers.” But she notes culture can take teams to the next level. “With a positive company culture behind you, you’re unstoppable.” 

But this is a chicken and an egg thing: Which comes first?

“I think culture attracts people, and that’s definitely been a saving grace for us,” Heather says. “This company has only been around since 2001, so we've had growing pains, shrinking pains and roller coasters of all kinds. The culture, though, that gets better all the time. When personnel come and go, [that’s] what we fall back on.”

Part of building this positive culture is messaging. How we talk about ourselves and our services matters, and we’ve learned over the years that it’s not good enough to have a good heart if we’re hiding it from the world. In fact, as part of our own desire to always improve ourselves, we’ve spent the last several months laboring over new company positioning that we’ll release soon. It’s that important to us—not just so our customers can know what we’re all about, but also to set a positive course for our company culture.

Takeaway: Never be complacent with the caliber of your culture, and it will support your business when you need it most. Build a positive culture, and you’ll attract positive people.

Invest in Your Tribe

One of the first steps towards cleaning up your culture is simply to invest in it. But it’s not enough to throw money at the problem—you have to make it personal. “Specific to iostudio, some of our biggest culture catalysts are the events we throw. For example, the founding partners host our Christmas party at The Palm in downtown Nashville every year,” Heather says. Pretty much any place you work for will have some variation on a holiday party, but Heather knows that the secret to making the holiday spirit last year-round is care. “We could probably do the Christmas party anywhere, but we rent out The Palm. It's not some stuffy catered party in the office; it’s an event people look forward to all year.”

It’s also more than just an excuse to get out of the office. There are traditional toasts made every year. Our video team builds an annual highlight reel. Stories are told. Long-timers are celebrated. Gifts are given. We sing, and we dance. Each of these events builds a shared experience around ritual, imparting powerful emotional connection points and providing each attendee with a team member marker—if you’re there then you are one of us. That’s an incredible motivator year-round.

Plus, the team that plays together stays together. Heather says, “It's fun! You get to see your co-workers outside the normal element, and it helps you bond.”

Takeaway: Work hard, play hard. Successful social events don’t have to cost a fortune, but building ritual, sharing experiences (and interacting on a personal level outside of the office) will build a stronger tribe. 

Get Familial

In the few short weeks I’ve been at iostudio, I’ve noticed something unmistakably familiar about the atmosphere. There’s a near-constant banter going on between co-workers, and conversations about hobbies and families sprout up at almost every desk. What I recognize is a genuine interest in the lives of others, outside of how they relate to the job, and it’s something the company as a whole encourages.

“We also have an open house every year,” Heather says. “While the Christmas party focuses on camaraderie and celebrating what we've done in the previous year, the open house is a more family-centered event.” Trace amounts of Play-Doh can still be found in the office’s carpet, remnants of the craft table she set up for the children of iostudians at last year’s open house. “It can really be a wonderful time for our kids to bond—the whole event just makes the office feel like one big family.”

Takeaway: Include employees’ family members in office life from time to time, and you’ll develop more than a team—you’ll build a community.

Find Your Own Happy Place

If what we’ve referred to as “positive culture” is an abstract concept, and can be hard to quantify, how do you seek it out for yourself? And if you’re not a business owner, starting a new job means stepping into a culture that’s already established. So how do you figure out what you’re getting yourself into? Well, there are always clues.

“Start looking when you walk into an interview,” Heather advises. “I'm a facilities person, so I'm most likely going to scope out the paint job and the furniture. You can tell a lot about an organization just from how much they're willing to spend on their employees' well-being. If they’re not investing in employee comfort at their desk, then they're probably not investing in them as people.” Because it’s unlikely you’ll get to witness an office event during your short visit with a potential employer, looking for the telltale signs of a satisfying workplace during your interview is a smart move.

Takeaway: Invest in the details of your team’s experience. Prioritizing their comfort in everything from workstations to office atmosphere will communicate to them that they’re more than just butts in seats.

Every company approaches culture differently, and there’s no way to decide what the universal “right move” is. Of course, in our experience, letting loose a little can help tighten your business a lot. Trust us, we’re social scientists.

 Looking for a workplace where culture is always growing? Step into our lab.


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Michael is a content intern here at iostudio—and pleasantly surprised to discover that “content” is not slang for “coffee run.” Instead of fetching lattes, Michael assists our creative team on copywriting projects and also serves as a nice filler for that open desk next to Mark. As a rising senior at Vanderbilt University with majors in Theatre and Creative Writing, Michael is not only the youngest person in the office, he’s also the least athletic. He loves talking about music, playwriting, graphic design and the DreamWorks animated masterpiece, “The Road to El Dorado.”