Company culture – the beliefs and behaviors of an organization – might be the single most important ingredient in a happy, engaged, and loyal workforce.
There are several factors at play in creating an effective work environment, but the most successful company cultures are created with the same North Star in sight: people. Simply put, the way an organization treats and supports its people is at the core of a culture that shines. And a culture that shines makes for a great place to work. (Not to toot our own horn, but we at Atlassian know a thing or two about that!)
The following organizations have also built reputations for caring company cultures, and serve as examples for leading with integrity and purpose:
1. Zoom: Delivering happiness
From its humble beginnings in 2011 through its rise to household-name status in the aftermath of COVID-19, the video conferencing juggernaut has held tight to the ethos that the best employees are happy employees. “Delivering happiness” is the company’s mantra, and the organization takes care to point out that this mandate extends to the people who work at the company as well as the communities it serves. Zoom’s numerous appearances on Glassdoor’s annual ranking of the best places to work suggests they’re doing something right.
It’s worth mentioning that Zoom has joined the post-pandemic wave of tech companies that are requiring their workers to return to the office in some capacity, which generated some controversy. For his part, Yuan has made clear that flexibility will remain a hallmark of the company’s hybrid-work policy going forward, which suggests the company’s ongoing commitment to a caring culture.
2. Patagonia: In business to save the planet
Last fall, Patagonia founder Yves Chouinard and his immediate family made headlines when they handed over the company’s ownership to a trust and a nonprofit organization that were specifically created to protect the company’s independence and make sure that all of its profits are used to support environmental initiatives. Chouinard’s bold move is in keeping with Patagonia’s lengthy record of putting the planet before profit, whether through responsible sourcing or suing a former president to protect public lands. In 2018, the company even updated its mission statement to “We’re in business to save the planet.”
But environmental causes aren’t the only avenue where Patagonia walks the talk of corporate integrity. The company was ahead of the curve in offering its employees flexible working hours and time off to pursue passion projects, long before these practices became relatively common workplace perks. When COVID-19 forced the immediate closure of its stores, the company both retained its staff and continued to pay them. And in 2022, CEO Ryan Gellert shuttered the company’s North American stores, warehouse, and offices for the week between Christmas and New Year’s to grant employees a week of paid time off.
3. Intuit: Powering prosperity
The company behind TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint, Credit Karma, and Mailchimp is serious about its mission to “power prosperity around the world.” But in addition to its trade in personal finance and marketing tools, the company also powers the prosperity of its employees. Intuit offers extensive worker benefits that encompass a wide array of physical, emotional, and financial needs. In addition, employees report a welcoming and inclusive culture where people genuinely care about one another, plus the flexibility to take time off when necessary – critical components of workplace satisfaction, according to a recent poll of U.S. workers. It’s no wonder that an overwhelming majority of the company’s employees say it’s a great place to work.
4. Hubspot: Grow with a conscience, succeed with a soul
As a workplace, this marketing, sales, and service software company is no stranger to best-of lists. And the reason why is simple: Hubspot’s company culture is all about people. (Are you noticing a trend?)
A line from the Hubspot mission statement offers further insight: “We believe businesses can grow with a conscience, and succeed with a soul.” One way Hubspot has worked toward this noble goal is through its renowned “no door policy.” In short, everyone in the organization has equal access to everyone else, and all opinions are welcomed. It’s an approach that says: You matter, and we’re all in this together.
5. Zappos: Get the culture right, and the rest will follow
In a 2010 interview for NPR’s Marketplace, Zappos founder and CEO Tony Hsieh was memorably quoted as saying that company culture was the online retailer’s top priority. “Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand, will just happen naturally on its own,” Hsieh said.
Although Hseih died in 2020, his legacy endures in Zappos’s formidable company culture, some leaders still uphold as the ultimate example of what a successful company culture should look like. To keep it going, the company focuses on hiring for cultural fit, seeking service-minded staffers who embody the company’s mission. Trust in teams remains paramount in the company’s culture and operations. Today, Zappos is as famous for its culture as it is for selling shoes.
6. Pixar: Supporting creative collaboration
How does this company remain so consistently creative? The answer is simple: by supporting creativity in all areas and by acknowledging and supporting the creativity of everyone around you.
The animation studio abides by a set of basic principles that permeate the entire culture. These include the idea that “innovation demands the ability to live with ambiguity” (a beautiful acknowledgement of the creative process), that “passionate innovative leaders make my job fun,” and that “creative ideas come from collaborations.”
There are other specific approaches that Pixar uses to create its culture, too. A particularly interesting one to note: Pixar employees are encouraged to share their unfinished work. This practice invites feedback and collaboration, displays work and talent (and shows a willingness to be vulnerable), and it moves the creative process forward. In other words, creative culture isn’t just about fostering the creativity of individuals. It means working together creatively, too.
7. Costco: Attracting, developing, and retaining strong teams
When Costco was just getting established, the warehouse retailer’s offerings and business practices were unusual. But the company’s commitment to the four essential operational choices in a “good jobs system” – offer less, standardize and empower, cross-train, and operate with slack – makes it possible to invest greater resources in frontline staff, both in terms of training and compensation. The company also boasts a high rate of internal promotion, developing its leaders from the ground up.
“Seventy cents of every dollar spent by Costco goes to employee wages,” said founder James Sinegal in a 2018 lecture at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “The company has a 7 percent turnover rate, compared to 60 to 70 percent at other retailers.” This system translates directly into effective customer service, feeding a virtuous cycle. The company’s culture continues to be credited as a major factor behind its enduring success.
8. LinkedIn: Connection and opportunity
It might not come as a surprise that the social media company whose whole business is “work” has a solid understanding of what its own organizational culture is about – and who it’s for. The company’s people-first culture statement lists “a shared sense of belonging, the flexibility to prioritize what matters most, the space and support to dream BIG, [and] a welcoming and inclusive environment” as the core tenets of “#LinkedInLife.”
LinkedIn is routinely included in Glassdoor’s annual Best Places to Work list, and employee reviews of the company suggest that culture plays a key role in why. As one current staffer puts it, “LinkedIn has one of the most caring workforce[s]. The leadership is genuine and care[s] about their employees. Work is challenging but you get to work with great people.”
9. Culture Amp: Building “Culture First”
Culture Amp, an employee experience platform, is another natural choice for guidance on the latest approaches to company culture. Their main philosophy: Build a “Culture First” organization that prioritizes employees as the path to customer experience success and, as a result, financial success will follow. In other words, rather than shy away from bottom-line thinking with respect to company culture, Culture Amp leans into the business benefits of a supported workforce. And why not? It only stands to reason that one would influence the other.
“A Culture First company recognizes that if you take care of the culture, then the customer experience and profits will take care of themselves,” writes Founder and CEO Didier Elzinga on the Culture Amp blog.
In short, investing in workplace culture is good for the company’s bottom line, and not (as some people believe) simply an optics play to appease employees.
10. Spotify: Less is more
Spotify doesn’t operate according to traditional corporate structure. Instead, the company uses several unique strategies for creating its products and organizing its teams. For example, they have “squads,” “tribes,” and “guilds,” each serving to organize and perform work with greater accountability and autonomy than in a traditional team hierarchy.
But there’s more to it. Through guilds, different team members are connected by communities of interest, such as photography or a particular coding language. These groups cut across the organization independently of individuals’ roles or projects, and allow for employees to connect on a variety of different interests.
The bottom line is simplicity. Spotify’s organizational model shies away from complex processes in favor of self-management and collaboration. This approach has allowed the company to ship fast and scale quickly. What’s more, people love to work there.
11. Clif Bar & Company: Nutritious energy built on purpose
Clif Bar & Company is about more than just energy bars. The company has aligned itself with fair trade manufacturing and environmentally sustainable protocols for decades. Their reason why is simple: ethical business practices were always part of the company’s culture, central to its mandate and mission.
The company’s culture page is filled with the initiatives and projects, both personal and company-focused, of people across the organization.
What Clif Bar & Company seem to have figured out long ago is that companies are communities. If you invest in your community, it will not only thrive, but propel the organization forward by inspiring people to believe in the company and to champion it – not simply as an entity apart from them, but as a part of them.
12. Trader Joe’s: All about values
Trader Joe’s embodies a premise often forgotten: An organization is simply a collection of individuals working toward a common purpose. That common purpose is shaped by the retailer’s seven core values:
- We are a product-driven company.
- At Trader Joe’s we create WOW customer experience every day.
- No bureaucracy.
- We are a national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.
- Kaizen (a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices).
- The store is our Brand.
If you were looking to model core values, you’d be hard-pressed to find better ones than Trader Joe’s. And a final note about Kaizen. Speaking on the second episode of the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast, the company’s former Chairman and CEO Dan Bane explains: “For us, [Kaizen] means everybody in the company owes everybody else a better job every day, every year, in what they do. Because of that, we don’t really do budgeting. We just expect our stores to do a little bit better every year. [The crew] create their own targets.” It speaks to a culture of shared accountability to one another. Everyone’s in it together.
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