How to Create An Awesome Work Culture

Where's the magic wand?

Culture.  The word brings to mind many things and images when thinking about organizations.  With the heavy publicity that companies like Google and Facebook receive regarding their “fun” environments, the idea of an “awesome culture” often means ping-pong tables, free food, and the like.

How to Create An Awesome Work Culture - Mike Russell

But do those things create an awesome work culture?  A journalist recently asked for feedback about creating one:

  1. What is a work culture? What goes into creating one?
  2. What are your favorite tips for creating culture?
  3. Can a good culture ever compensate for other shortcomings – like lower pay
    or longer hours?
  4. What are the risks of ignoring your culture?

Here are some starting points for awesomeness:

First and foremost:

Second, keep in mind that a work culture encompasses the entirety of how people do work … it’s how things are “done” in the organization.  It is not just practices.

Third, culture doesn’t need to be created … if the organization already exists, a culture exists.  The question is:  should the culture be changed?

A quick test

Do you have an awesome culture in your workplace?

Here’s a quick test:  does it create positive emotional energy?

There may be dips or rough spots here and there, but an awesome culture should generate positive emotional energy over time rather than be a drain.

If the quick test answer is “yes” … then the challenge is to maintain it.  Two functions critical to this are hiring and promotion, but culture isn’t often considered in those decisions.  Hiring, selection, and promotion without consideration can quickly create or increase culture erosion.

  • Every new person brought into an organization will bring their own culture.  If any differences between the new hire’s culture and that of the organization are not addressed, then there will be erosion.
  • Similarly, every selection for a new position or promotion is a signal about what culture is desired for the future and what – in the form of the selected person – is rewarded.  Selecting someone not aligned with what is desire for the future will also begin or continue erosion … and send loud signals that culture takes a back seat.

If the answer is “no” – it is not “awesome” … then the challenge goes beyond surface tactics like free food, ping-pong tables, and other mechanisms copied from other companies.  Copying what other organizations do without understanding the underlying principles can create a hollow “cargo cult” mindset (note:  look up “cargo cult” up if you’re not familiar with the concept).

Culture can help overcome workplace shortcomings, but only when people are drawn first to the organizational mission or deeper purpose of the work.  Some examples of strong callings are the military, religious missionaries, and public service jobs.  Otherwise, culture is a short-term crutch, and people will leave when they find a workplace with less of the shortcomings.

Culture affects everything

By now, you should be getting a sense that ignoring culture can be a major problem.  Given it is one of the interconnected elements of the organizational performance model, it affects everything.

Organizational performance model elements

Major culture changes are more like transformations and will likely involve looking at strategy, the entirety of how the organization functions and how people behave (see the book Wrong Until Right).  Transformation is not a small task and not one to be taken lightly.  And if major change moves forward, be prepared that some people already working in the business may not align closely enough to be retained … they were hired for the current culture, not the desired one.


Answer the following questions.  What is at least one thing you can do immediately as a leader to move in the right direction?

  • How does your workplace culture fare against the quick test?
  • Does it enable and promote awesome work?
  • Do your hiring, selection, and promotion practices support awesomeness?
  • Do you have a “cargo cult” mindset?


By Mike Russell