Building and Shaping Company Culture You Can Be Proud Of


Company culture is an ever evolving matter. And as you grow it becomes at risk of fading away.

The importance of company culture can not be over emphasized. It should never be something on a back-burner while you’re busy doing other, “more important” things.

Yes, the product matters, but if you can’t attract and retain people that will build you that product, then you’ve got a serious problem.

A strong company culture is absolutely vital, but here’s the thing: you can’t even begin to dream about building a positive company culture if it doesn’t come from the top down. This is vital for any new Operations or People Ops hire to know.

Avoid poor culture at all costs

Previously to joining Kayako, I had to learn the importance of company culture in reverse. I was on the receiving end of poor culture more than once.

My last one – an unnamed, popular and super trendy London startup – left me bruised and battered in ways working in startups for 15+ years never has before.

This experience of working in startups with poor company culture almost destroyed my faith in them. I didn’t want another Operations job. In a lean startup you’re expected to shape the culture, but you have no real power on actual decision making of how the culture manifests. You need leadership buy-in.

Choose where you can make a difference

At Kayako, however, the seeds of positive employee experience, and positive company culture were already planted by the founders. This makes a real difference.

When co-founder, Jamie Edwards, approached me with an offer at Kayako, I was a little hesitant to even meet up. But I figured I had nothing to lose.

Fully aware of typical interview etiquette (to not bring personal circumstances into an initial interview), one of the first things that came out of my mouth was: “I have a 3-year old”, closely followed by “I’d want to work remotely at least one day a week”, and “I’d want to do the school run – meaning reduced hours at the office”.

I wanted to know right there and then if this was a waste of time. As a woman, you can tell an awful lot by volunteering you have kids in a job interview.

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Jamie responded: “Varun, our co-founder also has a 3-year old” and this instantly installed some confidence there will be some actual human element to this startup. Hell, there may even be some understanding around last minute 7PM meetings and the like.

As employee number 4, I had a great opportunity to co-shape the culture.

What creates a good company culture?

In the early days this is tough because everything can seem like a priority. But it’s anything and everything that:

  • Attracts and retains employees
  • Makes people want to do their best work
  • Creates a stimulating and positive environment
  • Turns employees into company advocates

But when asked the same question two years down line it becomes a little easier. When I think about the culture at Kayako. I think of:

Core company values

Good culture has company values on what you do, not just what you say they are. It doesn’t matter what you write down — the only values truth is in what you do, day in and day out. Not just what sounds cool or what looks good on the wall. We really like Netflix’s definition of what makes a true company value:

Actual company values, as opposed to nice sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go.

Values should be lived and breathed in the literal sense.

An empowering work environment

Physical spaces should be comfortable and as inspiring as possible. But good company culture goes beyond the physical environment you work in.

It is trusting, transparent, encouraging, collaborative, and inclusive.

Employee job satisfaction is dependant on collaboration and the flow of information and interactions with leadership teams, as reported by Dr Yafang Tsai.

Work to keep this a policy. We work hard to ensure we keep our internal information flowing clearly and smoothly through all hands meetings, lunch’n learns, internal newsletters, preferring open Slack channels to direct messages.

Encourage team leads to use regular 1:1’s with their teams.

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Or take it further, our PeopleOps teams ensure everyone has a sounding board outside of their team or their immediate manager to voice their issues or concerns.

An enjoyable hiring and onboarding process sets the tone for an excellent employee experience

A great company culture should be protected by a thorough hiring process. You’re not looking for anybody to join your team, you want the right people, you need the right fit. But it’s just as important to help new team members to get up to speed fast and set them up for success.

All of these create the foundations you can build and scale an excellent company culture and employee experience on.

Flexible working hours

Treat employees like the adults they are. Whether your team is office based or remote, it’s important everyone can work hours that best for them and in return they give their best back to you – that’s just how reciprocity works.

On top of that, think about offering childcare vouchers, look at your parental leave, and do your best to be understanding of people’s family priorities at all times. It matters.

Growing and scaling company culture

Core values, a great workplace environment, and employee experience are the foundations of a good company culture.

I think of all these things, because from our perspective, they all form an important part of employee experience. In a nutshell, that’s what matters in a good company culture.

And only then we tackled the larger subjects, like:

  • Putting in place generous stock options. Modern companies reward staff with stock options. The framework for awarding stock is dependent on salary and position, time with the company, and location and vesting period is standard. But consider an alternative to forcing your company alumni to buy out on departure – with us, even if you leave the business, you get to keep the (vested) shares (pending some caveats / conditions). This means we truly have everyone’s best interest at heart and offering options is more than just an empty token.
  • Private healthcare. We are lucky that half of our office resides in a country where healthcare is free at point of use. Regardless, we went a step further as we really want our people to be, and stay healthy and so we now offer private healthcare that also comes with discounted gym membership and similar other perks.
  • Pensions. We care about employees’ future as much as we care about them now by auto-enrolling them for a pension a year early.
  • Investing in employee development. We send employees to conferences, talks, and trainings. They come back, present a lunch ’n’ learn to the team and everyone benefits from their conference. And we’re always looking increasing books for the office library.
  • Unlimited vacation. This is a controversial one as you’ll find a lot of online talk suggesting that offering unlimited vacation is some sort of a ploy that companies use to get people to take less time off. Not here. At the very minimum we expect you to take 15 days, plus all public holidays. We absolutely need our team to take time to recharge, refill and restore. We mean it too and we continuously monitor team leads to lead by example.
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But ultimately, I think it’s how we treat people at Kayako that makes a real difference.

By creating an environment that is empowering, trusting, encouraging, autonomous, collaborative, inclusive, and transparent, we created a culture that is all those things too.

Company culture matters

Happy and fulfilled teams produce the best results. Believe in treating people as adults, hire the best people, and trust them to do their work.

We believe in creating an environment that is encouraging, helpful, and fun. In return for transparency, we offer trust. In return for good, not hard work, we offer flexibility and plenty of time to recharge.

Creating and steering a company culture of who you are and how you work, is not something that is ever “done”. It’s an essential part of your employees’ experience, it is something that can be a hindrance or a helpful tool to their growth. It can make or break your company.

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