5 Tips On Building A Great Culture


Had a chance to chat with Robert Richman, formerly with Zappos and author of The Culture Blueprint.

Quite an inspiring fellow! Got me inspired and thinking about new methods I will be applying at all of my companies.

One key takeaway from Rob: Culture is co-created – not instilled by leaders.

People like to take ownership and contribute to success – but only if they’re part of the process.

If you organize a party, guests will leave if the party isn’t jamming. But if you enlist friends to help host the party or be part of creating the different elements that go into this party, they’ll work to ensure guests stay and enjoy themselves.

After chatting with Rob I realized that his views on culture and business align with mine. For years, I’ve been working on teams and have built teams blindly based on the power of culture.

Company happy hours are great, but building a company culture takes more dedication.
Company happy hours are great, but building a company culture takes more dedication.

I’ve taken away five things that help to build a strong culture at any organization. These key values need to be co-created by you and those on your team.

As one, your ability is limited, but with a team of people committed to a strong culture your ability is unlimited.

Use the following key values to build a culture that can achieve greatness.

1. Focus On One Value

Every company has values. Some companies have a dozen core values. Honesty and integrity don’t count. If you don’t have these already, the others don’t matter.

A long list of values distorts your focus. It eats away at culture. But one value usually trumps the rest. Focus on one. Let it drive your culture and daily decisions.

And become known it. Like Volvo is known for safety. BMW for performance. And FedEx for overnight.

Take Zappos. Known for great customer service, Zappos reinforces this value by shutting down everything—even its call center—to conduct quarterly retreats featuring team-building exercises.

Nothing stops Zappos from holding these meetings! Nothing!

2. Make It A Daily Habit

Reinforce culture daily. Make it a habit. If we really care about something, we’ll do it frequently—daily if possible. Conducting an annual off-site retreat won’t build a great culture.

If you value culture, make it part of your everyday process. Work on it. Take a look at what value people focus on. That’s what they really care about. Apply your resources there.

3. Accountability Is A Skill

To create culture, you need accountability in your team.  Accountability is a skill—not a value. You can’t instill it in a company. It just won’t work. Instead, think about accountability as if it were a muscle. Exercise it regularly. Start small. Go big. Then watch your culture become contagious (in a good way)

New hires at Zappos train their accountability muscle by one simple exercise: be on time for at least 4 weeks in a row. No excuses. If they’re late, no matter how awesome their excuses were, their timeline resets. Zappos also builds integrity with this exercise.

4. Hire and Fire By Culture

Many companies hire based on skill. But hiring by skill alone doesn’t always work. It can “poison” your company, turning your A Team into a B or C team.

Hire by culture instead. Set culture over everything else. If vendors don’t embrace your culture, drop them. You’ll build a stronger more reputable company in the long run.

After a disastrous 2012, the Boston Red Sox added players to its team based on culture—not skill alone. The team went from worst to first and made the World Series for the first time in 6 years.

5. Frustration Is Gold

Team members show their frustrations because they trust you and feel safe with you.

Frustration creates energy and a passion for change.

Channel this energy and passion into something positive. Non-profits like the National Breast Cancer Foundation are great at this.

So stop focusing on bottom lines and revenues. You’ll jeopardize your team’s trust and safety.

Write all the frustrations on the wall. This does not have to be just external business problems, but internal problems too. Explore solutions and ideas with your team. You don’t have to accept all of it. Remember, you are the CEO, at the end of the day, you hear what others have to say and you will make a decision that is right for you.

What I’m Doing

We’ve been lucky. We hired a lot of A-Teamers (unfortunately, we’ve also hired a few Cs) that fit our culture. But now we’re rededicating ourselves to building a greater culture and a happier team by:

  • Building an experience that our team can feel
  • Leading culture change by example
  • Focusing on one value (since beauty & innovation are given): Delivering projects on time.

Need help with your team’s culture? Reach out to Rob Richman.

What is the culture where you work?

What are you doing to create a great culture?

About the author

Jeremy Choi

I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur, mentor, and an irredeemable golf addict. Possibly like you, my big hairy audacious goal (vision) is to make a positive dent in this world. I write about creating better leaders, workers, and people. I also write about my experiences in all aspects of my life. These ideas are my experiences living & learning through my own core values; integrity, authenticity, leadership, inspire, and health.


  • Great recap Jeremy. An idea we implemented years ago was an employee core value award. We gave this each month to the employee who epitomized a particular value.