Learning about company culture examples — the good, the bad, and the ugly — is key for small business owners to thoroughly understand the concept and how it impacts their own workplaces.

Through word-of-mouth, research reports, and media coverage, we tend to hear a lot about certain characteristics of company culture. There are businesses with employee game rooms, daycare, or gyms on the premises. There are companies known for being fully distributed or having flexible working arrangements. And we can probably all name a company or two with a bring-your-dog-to-work perk. 

But there is more to great company culture than ping pong and puppies. Join us as we take a deep dive into varying examples of company culture.

Company culture defined

Workplace culture, corporate culture, and office culture are just a few of its synonyms. Whatever you call it, company culture is the aggregate blend of several factors within an organization, including:

  • Attitudes
  • Behaviors
  • Ideas
  • Norms
  • Traditions
  • Values

These components of organizational culture can manifest through leadership styles, office space set up, relationship between employees, onboarding procedure, dress code, and social events – as well as company mission statement, vision, and values, to name a few.

Company culture can be looked at as the personality of a business. And similar to a human personality, a business’ personality can be likable or not.

Different types of company culture

The culture at a business can have a big impact on how easy it is to attract and retain workers, as well as on employee productivity and – therefore – profits. Because of the implications company culture can have on a business, significant research has been conducted on the topic revealing several types of company culture throughout the marketplace. Out of the many types of workplace culture, the four most common are adhocracy culture, clan culture, hierarchy culture, and market culture.

Adhocracy culture: In a business with an adhocracy culture – commonly found in start-ups and tech companies – employees are encouraged to be innovative, think outside the box, and take professional risks. Leadership in an adhocracy culture typically provides employees with the tools, resources, flexibility, and autonomy they need to achieve success. 

Clan culture: Small and family-run businesses usually have this type of collaborative culture, focused on teamwork, employee engagement, and communication. One of the most important company goals in this supportive, family-friendly environment is employee satisfaction and interactions.

Hierarchy culture: This type of culture is known for its traditional reporting structure, with a clear separation between management and employees. Unlike clan culture, hierarchy culture focuses on process instead of collaboration. Checking off the to-do list is more important than employee relationships. High-risk workplaces such as in the healthcare industry and the military typically have a hierarchy culture.

Market culture: Companies with a market culture prioritize performance and profits. This type of culture gets its name from its focus on market share and its emphasis on market success. Large corporations and companies that have been in business for a long time tend to develop a market culture.

An A(pple) to Z(appos) list of 10 great company culture examples

As we mentioned, company culture is a hot topic lately, especially in a tight labor market where a business’ personality is given great consideration by potential employees. Awareness of company culture can also influence where consumers choose to spend their money. Thus, workplaces with a great culture are often publicly spotlighted and sought after to work for and do business with.

Check out this list of ten examples of great company culture ranging from A(pple) to Z(appos).

  1. Apple. You probably own an Apple product or ten – but how familiar are you with it as a company culture example? Innovation is one of the pillars of the company and Apple employees are encouraged to think outside the box. Their slogan, “Join us. Be you.” in the employment section of their website is indicative of an adhocracy culture where individuality, resourcefulness, and imagination are both expected and appreciated. Apple recognizes that by inspiring and satisfying their employees, the company is better positioned to meet the constantly-changing technology needs of their customers.
  2. Buffer. You might think that with 79 employees working across 22 countries that company culture would be hard to establish. However, even with an entirely remote staff, this social media marketing company not only does it, they excel at it. Buffer is the type of company that continuously considers employees’ needs and desires and addresses them through policies and perks. In 2020, after realizing the strains of the pandemic on employees, Buffer went to a four-day work week (while still getting paid the same amount) on a trial basis. The arrangement became permanent in 2021. The company is also strongly focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a foundational component of its overall strategy. Buffer’s 2022 DEI report shows the company has a lot to celebrate in this area and outlines future goals as well.
  3. Cisco. Known for encouraging employee interaction, Cisco has a work culture that revolves around its employee recognition initiatives. Workers have the opportunity to recognize one another in this program, which results in more than 600 awards per day. Not only does this type of company culture lead to greater team collaboration and better relationships among workers, but employee satisfaction is also high – resulting in increased performance, productivity, and profits.
  4. Google. One of the most famous companies in Silicon Valley – home to thousands of start-ups and large tech corporations – Google is often noted for its strong company culture. In fact, Forbes recognizes Google for a culture that provides employees with the flexibility, tools, incentives, and resources needed to be creative and successful. The company is well-known for making work fun – they’ve instituted a long list of employee amenities beyond most workers’ imagination, including slides in the lobby. It’s also known for being one of those dog-friendly companies, having incorporated an entire section about dogs into its employee handbook. With an emphasis on innovation, ingenuity, and vision; trust between employees and employers; and the shared values evident throughout every facet of the organization, Google is a true example of an adhocracy culture.
  5. HubSpot. Part of what makes this software platform a great company culture example is its slide-deck on the topic that is almost 200 slides long. Not only can anyone access the deck, but anyone can also download a template of the deck to help out with their own company culture. Another reason why HubSpot is an interesting example is because it’s generally a combination of adhocracy and clan cultures. The company emphasizes autonomy, creativity, and innovation, while also stressing that hierarchy does not matter when it comes to ideas and vision. The slide deck also goes into detail on their rules of transparency – stating that it’s not an open-door policy, it’s a no-door policy and that everyone has access to everyone in the company.
  6. Patagonia. This company culture example is the epitome of the phrase “doing well by doing good.” With over 3,000 employees worldwide and $1 billion in sales a year, Patagonia is certainly doing well. But this concept almost seems like an afterthought for the founder and his team. The company ensures that doing good is always at the center of their operations through its commitment to sustainability and environmental causes. Deeply grounded in this pillar of their values-culture, Patagonia prioritizes hiring people who are passionate about the outdoors and helping the environment. In fact, after you’ve been with the company for one year, you can take up to two months paid leave to volunteer for an environmental organization. And, if you happen to get arrested for peacefully protesting the environment, Patagonia will pay your bail.
  7. Paxos. You may not have heard of this blockchain company, but Paxos is on the cutting edge in the fintech industry. However, it’s also known for being an example of great company culture – starting on day one of a new hire’s employment. Their exemplary onboarding procedures include many welcoming opportunities, such as asking new hires to bring in “rookie cookies” on their first day to encourage other workers to drop by and introduce themselves. They also have regular social events and are encouraged to have meaningful interactions with fellow employees. A theory behind instilling such a welcoming and inclusive workplace is that it creates an environment where employees are receptive to feedback and comfortable brainstorming ideas.
  8. Trader Joe’s. As long as you’ve been inside a Trader Joe’s you know there’s no comparing their culture to that of any other grocer. Workers are typically friendly, engaging, and eager to help. They offer recipe suggestions, wine pairings, and engaging convo while ringing up your purchases. It’s a happy, local family grocery store kind of feel but with hundreds of locations across the country. Trader Joe’s is also known for its flat hierarchy that includes many middle managers and evenly assigned and rotated tasks. They also take care of their employees by offering healthcare benefits to even eligible hourly workers, as well as competitive pay. In fact, employees can receive an annual pay increase of 7%.
  9. Warby Parker. This eyeglasses retailer brings together fashion and affordability. However, Warby Parker leadership also has its sights set on creating a fun environment so that employees actually want to go to work. In this company culture example, social events and employee relationships are a priority. There is even a cultural committee composed of team members who are focused on creating an engaging and enjoyable workplace.
  10. Zappos. This retail company identifies culture as its number one priority on its website – recognizing that a great culture is what makes them successful. An employee-driven culture famously known for its commitment to their core values, Zappos is identified as having a clan culture. “Great culture leads to employee happiness… Happy employees means higher engagement, profitability, and low turnover,” their website states. From their regular social events, to the collaborative approach to working, it’s clear that the team at Zappos looks and acts like a family. And just like in a regular family, the success of the company depends on the happiness of each individual employee at Zappos.

How to assess and improve the culture at your company

Being able to identify your business’ culture and understand how to make improvements is key to having a successful company. It can be difficult to objectively assess the type of culture in your own workplace, so getting feedback from your team is a good place to start. You can do this through anonymous surveys, one-on-one discussions, and large group communications. Also, consider being a secret shopper at your own business: Call, visit, and peruse the website as though you were a customer to get a feel for the consumer’s experience with your company. 

Another way to assess your culture is to carefully consider the rules, procedures, traditions, and other norms in your business. Think about how effective they are and how well your employees adhere to or receive them. Specifically look at your onboarding process and how well new employees are enveloped into your workplace.

Once you have assessed your culture it’s time to get to work on improving it. First and foremost, make sure whatever type of culture you desire to have at your business emanates from the top down. Be conscious of your own attitudes, behaviors, and leadership style and make adjustments where appropriate. Make sure you and your employees are invested in shared company values – whether it’s giving back to the community, protecting the environment, or a commitment to collaboration, just to name a few. 

One key to a successful workplace culture is simple: Treat your employees well. This includes competitive compensation and benefits (Gusto can help with this!), flexibility, recognition programs, social events, ensuring a good work-life balance, and emphasizing their well-being just as much (if not more) than your bottom line. Also along these lines, employees appreciate and work better when they have consistent and productive feedback. Gusto can help with this too by automating the process with our suite of performance review integrations. Finally, consider creating a company culture committee to ensure your business stays accountable to the workplace culture you desire.

A final word

As the labor market remains tight, positive company culture is not only important to workers, it can also have a direct impact on the attraction and retention of top talent, as well as on performance. Because of its importance, research efforts continue to concentrate on the topic and reveal examples of company culture – both positive and negative. Take the opportunity to discover more about successful companies and those with cultures you admire, as well as those that have struggled. Learning from their strengths and challenges can help you adopt the right personality for your own small business. Perhaps you’ll soon find your business being featured on a “best places to work” list as an excellent company culture example.

Nicole Rothstein Nicole Rothstein covers a variety of topics related to finance, small business advocacy, and workforce and regional development. In addition to writing for and managing several blogs and publications, she has worked closely with federations, chambers of commerce, nonprofits, small businesses and financial institutions to create impactful content marketing strategies.
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