Actionable ways to create a company culture where everyone believes more in the idea than getting a paycheck?


What are some actionable things a founder does to create a company culture where people are motivated by the vision, and not just getting paid?

Also, what are some resources you'd recommend reading that provide actionable ways to do so.

I've read a few books but they all just showcase a company and it's culture, not how the founders created it.

Culture Management Ideas Leadership Vision

asked Jun 27 '14 at 19:25
Bernard Childs
9 points

2 Answers


Let's break this down. First, "How do you create company culture?"

1) Being mindful of it, consciously creating foundational principles. If you don't think about it, culture is something that happens rather than something you create. If you want to create culture, you need to outline a consciously-created framework, like Moz's TAGFEE, that identifies your core principles.

2) Communicate your principles. Make sure you take the time to talk about culture and your vision for the company with your team. Make sure it's visible -- on walls, on websites, and especially in hiring, both as communication to new hires and as a criteria by which you hire. No one needs to be beaten over the head with it, but especially in startups where team members are expected to make decisions on their own initiative, they need to know that there's a litmus test they can give their decisions before they make them. "Should I give a refund? Well, one of our core principles is 'Generous'."

3) Reward & reinforce. Leaders in the startup need to make sure they're looking for and rewarding examples of people embodying the company principles, and remind people of principles if they make decisions (even otherwise 'good' ones) that aren't in line with company values. I love the slides in Netflix's culture presentation that talk about Enron having 'Integrity Communication Respect Excellence' enshrined as values in the lobby. "The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go."


Now the second part of your question is, "How do you create a company culture where people are motivated by the vision, and not just getting paid?"

The biggest piece of this is the vision itself. 'Creating the world's best advertising platform' isn't really something that grabs you by the gut. Startups that are going to 'change the world' / 'make the world a better place' have become cliche for solving problems that affect a privileged minority even within the first world.

The other part is who you're attracting & hiring. People change company culture, not the other way around. Having principles outlined doesn't mean people will absorb them. Ideally, it means they will use them to guide their actions when they don't have a go-to solution, and ideally your leadership will reward people such that those who exemplify the principles will gain more power within the organization, and those who don't will find their way out of it.

But by far the biggest determination of a culture where people value the work more than the paycheck is going to be hiring people like that. Advertise based on what you're trying to accomplish, address salary super early in the interview process so you can disqualify people who aren't interested in the pay you're offering, and you can spend the rest of the time evaluating on skill and culture fit.


It's worth pointing out that there are some big potential negatives to building a culture more focused on the mission than on taking care of employees. Primarily, that you won't be able to attract the best people, and counter-intuitively won't be able to do as well at accomplishing your mission because of it.

There are many ways of rewarding people other than financially, but we do live in a society where your level of income directly affects your access to comforts, to stability and health, and to future opportunities. The best companies align incentives between employee enrichment and company success.

And companies that continually emphasize the good of the company / pursuit of the mission over the good of the employee will create a culture of mistrust, underachievement, and burnout. "Why should I ______ when the company won't even _______?" will become a common refrain.

The cultureamp blog is a good source for a mix of how-tos and inspiration around creating culture in startups. Hope that helps!

answered Jun 28 '14 at 16:25
Jay Neely
6,050 points


Hi Bernard,

Two quick rules...hire right and fire fast. There is no way around this one. Sure you can try and gauge someone's mindset at the beginning, but they don't have the skin in the game you do. Everyone you interview is going to be there for the paycheck, what happens between Monday and payday is what you need to figure out by the way they work, what they do when no one is watching, how they interact, etc.

Rule I always follow which comes in handy during interviews, it is never about what people say, it is about what they do...and that unfortunately you won't know until you hire them...which is why you fire fast.

answered Jul 5 '14 at 14:08
Darren Slaughter
121 points

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