How to Create a Cool Corporate Culture

It’s easy to create a healthy, happy, and winning corporate culture. (Hint: Avoid “Meetings.”)

Silicon Valley tech firms might not seem to have very much in common with jewelry stores. After all, you’re not going to set up a foosball table in the showroom or let your salespeople bring their dogs to work, and catering three meals a day for your staff would eat up a big chunk of your operating budget. But those zany offices with their “work hard, play hard” mentality are actually on to something that—believe it or not—can help jewelry retailers improve their businesses: In a fast-moving, highly competitive industry, managers know they have to create and cultivate a corporate culture that’s going to keep their people happy.

Human resources and management experts say that the biggest mistake business leaders make when it comes to corporate culture is to assume it’s something that will just fall into place on its own—or that corporate culture is something only big corporations have to worry about.

That’s not true, says Scott Dobroski, spokesman at job-review site “It’s not that different from a small employer to a big corporate conglomerate.” 

To get the company culture you want, be proactive, says Dayna Fellows, founder and president of WorkLife Performance Inc.: “When you don’t put effort into it, you’re left with what people create for themselves, and the results might not align with the values you want your business to embrace.”

The first step to creating a culture that reflects your company is to define a clear set of goals. “You really have to understand what you want to achieve and why you want to address the culture,” says David Slight, president of U.S. operations at Quora Consulting in Seattle. 

Here are the steps experts say you should take to foster a winning workplace environment.

Ask—Then Act

“People want to work at a corporate culture where they can shape it,” Dobroski says. This means it’s important for you as an owner or manager to solicit opinions and input not just from a few top executives, but from everyone—from the sales staff to your bench jeweler to your bookkeeper.

The point is to engage employees, get their feedback, and make improvements, Dobroski adds. 

If this sounds like a huge undertaking, rest assured it isn’t, says Art Glover, an expert panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management. “Ideally, everything you do, really, should inform the cultures and core values,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be huge or complicated.” 

In a small retail setting, just asking your employees what they like about working there and what they wish were different will lay the groundwork you need to move forward. This is where small businesses have one distinct advantage over sprawling enterprises with workers scattered across one or more campuses. “You know the people and you’ve got great access to them,” Slight says. 

Asking your staff for input, however, implies a commitment on your part. “The flip side…is you’ve got to walk the walk,” Slight says. 

Maybe this means pitching in on some of the store’s grunt work yourself, or taking a task off employees’ hands when the store is busy and they’re overwhelmed, Dobroski says. If underlings see that their boss isn’t afraid to get his or her hands dirty—be that figuratively or literally—they’ll be more motivated to go the extra mile themselves.

Be Inclusive of Younger Workers

Opening—or keeping open—the lines of communication is particularly important as a maturing Generation Y becomes a greater presence in the labor market, Dobroski says. 

“As millennials and the generation even younger than them come into the workforce, they’re expecting and demanding transparency,” he says. They also place a high priority on work/life balance, he adds. 

The shift in workplace dynamics includes a change in the commitment employees feel to their employers. “The generations entering the labor pool now don’t expect to stay with an organization for their entire career,” Fellows says. “It’s not that people aren’t loyal now, it’s just not something that can be assumed. You’ve got to be a little more deliberate.”

While millennials are different from the generations that preceded them, ultimately they want much the same things. “There are some consistent principles across -generations,” says Julie Wayne, associate professor of management at Wake Forest University. “They’re looking for a cultural fit.”


Embrace the Huddle

Experts say scheduling a daily check-in facilitates better communication and can address any issues or discord before these grow into problems. 

“Take an hour every morning when the staff gets together before the doors open so they know what to expect,” Slight says. “Plan the day, not just in terms of tasks, but to set goals for the day.” 

The idea is to get everybody on the same page and focused for the day ahead. Managers should also use that time to go over the previous day’s performance and evaluate what went well as well as what could use improvement. 

Just one thing: Don’t call it a meeting. “The word meeting can throw people off in this day and age,” Dobroski cautions. “Call it a huddle, stand-up, or company update.”

In addition, food generally helps when it comes to bringing people together. A monthly office breakfast can do wonders for building camaraderie. If that’s too much of a budget stretch, see if your staff would be receptive to a monthly potluck lunch where everyone contributes. 

Nurture Growth

Some big Silicon Valley companies provide employees time to work on their own projects while on the clock. 

At a jewelry store, this principle would look a little different in execution, but the idea is the same. Offering your people a chance to explore and grow their skills in a way that’s meaningful to them is a powerful motivational tool. 

“Give them some career opportunities,” Dobroski says. 

For instance, Fellows suggests talking to staffers and finding out what they’d like to learn. Better selling skills? Diamond grading? Jewelry appraisals? Buying? “Take into account that different people are motivated by different things,” she says. “Find out what motivates them.”

As an owner or a manager, it’s up to you to make sure employees can advance in a way that suits their skills and temperament. 

“Characteristics of good leadership involve being oriented toward someone’s growth and development,” Fellows says. “That’s so much more respectful than just asking them to be behind the counter from 9 to 6 every day.”

Give Back

Another common thread among companies that have developed acclaimed corporate cultures is that they give workers a chance to give back and help -others, individually as well as collectively.

“To work toward the common good, to do something in your community, is extremely powerful and something that everyone feels good about,” Glover says. 

Not sure where to start? Close early one day, or stay closed entirely, so the whole staff can go pitch in at a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, or a community garden. Getting the entire crew together in a different situation can foster team spirit and allow people to find common ground outside the store. 

Publicize the event on your social media channels so customers won’t be disappointed if they try to visit. Then take pictures and post them online to let your team feel proud of their accomplishments.

Top and ants pushing ring: Mark Evans/Getty Images


Even among tech companies, these camaraderie-boosting tools are absolutely over the top.

Sleeping on the job? Sure, why not? Companies such as Google know that their employees often need to burn the midnight oil, but they’re willing to give sleepy staffers a place to catch a catnap—on the clock.  

The only thing better than a vacation at a high-end resort or an invigorating adventure-travel destination is getting that vacation for free. Companies like online payroll startup Gusto have taken their entire workforce on getaways. 

What if happy hour started at the office? Cloud storage company Dropbox is known for its “whiskey Fridays,” when workers can unwind and imbibe.

Talk about an endless summer. At Virgin and Netflix, for instance, employees
get as much vacation time as they want, as long as their boss okays it.


It’s the ultimate in zaniness, but Google employees can relive their childhoods in an adult-size ball pit. —MCW

Palm tree: Chinnasorn Pangcharoen/Istockphoto/Thinkstock; cocktail: Chris Clor/Getty Images; airplane: Stockbyte/Getty Images/Thinkstock; balls: Kruwt/Thinkstock


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