Recruiting & Hiring Blog for HR Professionals

Company Culture–What It Is, What It Isn't & How 3 Companies Define It


As HR pros, we live, die, eat and breathe by our company culture. It plays a significant part in how we recruit and hire too. Evaluating culture fit helps us look beyond candidates’ qualifications to determine if their attitudes, work ethic and workplace values align with those of the company.

But how do you talk about your  culture to a potential employee? More importantly, how do you define your culture so that it’s clear, translatable and transferrable throughout your organization? We believe it starts with understanding what culture really is and what it isn’t, which we reveal below:

What Company Culture Isn’t

Your colleagues and employees could be confusing your company culture with company perks. That includes things like casual Fridays, free food, team happy hours and other fun activities that shape a workplace environment, as Rand Fishkin reiterates here. While all of these perks can serve as selling points for your company in the eyes of an applicant, honing in on simply the perks leaves a lot unsaid about your culture, such as:

  • How employees get things done
  • Workplace values, attitudes and egos
  • How employees communicate, share ideas and collaborate
  • How employees are treated, recognized and rewarded by managers and co-workers

We dig into why these are important in shaping your culture below …

What Company Culture Is

While culture can be defined in many ways, the definition Frances Frei and Anne Morriss gave in Harvard Business Review was particularly insightful:

“Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide.”

“Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”

In short, culture drives empowerment, which, in turn, drives enthusiasm, which leads to greater productivity. “When a business is more productive, that means it is working faster; and when it works faster, it can get a leg up on the competition. So it’s worth the investment for companies to build and nourish their culture,” says Zach Bulygo at KISSmetrics.

More importantly, when you have a coherent culture in place, employees know what to do and they live by it. “When you put a focus on culture, you’ll have guiding principles,” adds Bulygo. “You’ll base hiring and firing decisions on the principles. It’ll help get all employees working on the same company mission. In some sense, it’s the glue that keeps the company together.”

How 3 Companies Define Their Corporate Culture

Your company culture, no matter how you define it, will encapsulate the values, priorities and vision for your company—all of which drive the way to hire to grow your business. While these intangible qualities are often difficult to define, the process will help you uncover your culture so you can create a community of empowerment, productivity and enthusiasm.

Ready to see culture in action? Here are three companies that have made culture a crucial part of their business models, publicizing their cultural manifestos as part of the process:


From DVD-by-mail to streaming television sensation, Netflix has taken the TV industry by storm. One could attribute that success to the company’s culture primarily focused on two core values: freedom and responsibility. While CEO Reed Hastings’ culture deck is 126 slides long, leading executives have dubbed it the “most important document to ever come out of the Valley.”


We’ve blogged about Buffer before, and The Buffer Culture deck deserves notoriety on its own. When asked why the company decided to publish a culture slide deck, co-founder Leo Widrich used one of Buffer’s values to guide his decision-making: “One of Buffer’s core values is to default to transparency. So when we put our Culture deck together, it was quickly clear to us that we wanted to make it accessible for everyone.”


Like Buffer and Netflix, HubSpot, a marketing software platform, has implemented a cultural manifesto to guide the company during times of great growth. Not only do these slides clearly define HubSpot’s culture, they also make a case for making culture a priority within your organization.

Once you’ve defined your corporate culture, use it to drive your hiring and recruiting efforts. For tips on how to interview and assess candidates for culture fit, check out this blog post.


Topics: Culture, Company Culture, Culture Fit

This is disclaimer text. We’ve shared these tips to help educate you on social media employment screenings and considerations for your business — this information should not be construed as legal advice. But if your company chooses to screen applicants on social media or want to explore the topic even further, consult with an attorney for advice related to this screening tactic.

Photo credit: photographer via website

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