Every time I listen to or read about company culture it seems that it’s a hugely abstract concept and that it has nothing to do with the small things we do every day. And that bothers me a lot, it bothers me because they in fact are very connected. What we do every single day is what shapes our culture. So I’m here to share with you how we can understand and bring this concept to reality and shape your company culture.

Why talk about company culture?

Having everyone in sync with the company’s culture is what makes everything run smoothly. A great culture helps in the decision-making processes, it contributes to educating clients and potential customers and help with recruiting and building a great team.

This is a very sensitive topic to me because, at Startaê, this has been a big deal since its foundation. We’re more than just a business; we are a group of great people that are connected by the same values and purpose.

Our purpose: “Empower positive change”

At Startaê, we believe great ideas can improve lives and make our world more human, simpler and happier. We want to help entrepreneurs and companies to make the difference.

Our core values

We’ve been carefully defining our core values by observing our habits and how things work here, what are the principles, beliefs and values. So far, we managed to sum up our culture in six core values – they are: Simplicity, Human, Transparency, Flexibility, Healtholic, Kaizen.

Read more about our core values in our team page.

But what habits have to do with the company culture?

We have to understand culture from a different perspective. As a designer, I knew we had to understand people. I get the feeling that sometimes when we are talking about human centered design we focus a lot of our efforts on understanding our customers and forget about understanding the ones inside, the members of the team that are making that incredible product or experience happen.

With this new perspective in mind, I could understand culture as nothing more than the operating system behind a group of people. It is “The way things are done here”. Or better yet, culture is the set of collective habits of a group of people within the organization.

Culture is the set of collective habits of a group of people within the organization.

To understand habits, I resourced to Charles Duhigg’s habit loop. He explains that every habit is composed of 3 parts: cue, routine and reward. The cue is the trigger to that habit and it can be a time of day, a place, a person, a thing, a feeling or even a song. The routine is the habit itself, the sequence of actions that compose the habit. And the reward is what your brain gains with that routine, it does not have to be anything physical, a reward for your brain can be just a good feeling as pleasure, relief or other.

Another important notion that I took out of this is that habits are almost like a brain programming. It is programmed in there that when x happens you will do y. So, by that logic, if your brain is programmed to believe that every time you take a risk to do something in a different way, to try to make it better, and for some reason you fail, the “reward” is a bad thing such as a scolding or even the risk of being fired, you will no longer take risks. And it will not be because you do not want, it will be because you are not programed to.

Of course that in understanding how habits work we can use them in our favor. As our brains are programmable, they are also reprogrammable. In the book and the video, Charles explores how to create new habits or adapt existing ones. The easiest way to do that is to clearly define a trigger and a reward for the routine that you want to establish. And when I say clearly I mean to be able to write each one down in a tweet clearly.

But programming your brain is far different from programming a computer. Our brain cannot be reprogrammed overnight, it is a little more difficult to program because you have to repeat something several times until it recognizes it as important and turn into an automatic habit.

Ok, but how can you apply habits in a way that will help to shape your company culture?

As we realize that culture is a set of collective habits we begin to understand why we do what we do. What are the triggers? Routines? And what are the individual rewards with that? It also helps us to identify our bad habits and create new routines to shape each one of them.

Here are some habits we’ve been creating at Startaê:

  • Checking in and Checking out every day on Slack so anyone who’s remote can be aware about who’s available and who’s not.
  • The habit of sharing everything from interesting articles to the company finances help us default to transparency and keep an aligned team.
  • This habit of sharing also helps us develop each other together as we share our discoveries and interests on our lunch talks, dojos, pairing, etc.
  • Our meetings are all part of our habits, all of them have a clearly defined trigger (day of the week and time) and a clearly defined routine so we can be as productive as possible.
  • As our team grows, habits give us a structure to pass the culture forward. When y happens, you will do this because of z.

In sum, now we have a way to integrate our culture into our daily life and actively make it better. With that, we expect to keep Startaê as a place people look forward to coming to work every day. Cheesy, maybe, but when I truly feel that I can’t think of explaining it in any other way.

And by sharing this, I hope could have raised your awareness about your habits and how they can shape the company culture. So what are your habits? How can you shape them?

This blog post was adapted from a talk that I gave on Culture & Strategy + Design.