Culture Rituals: The low-time, no-cost guide to build a world-class startup culture.
“How do I create a world-class company culture?”
I know, there are a million blog posts written on the subject.
I’m writing this because most of the articles I read lacked practical action steps, or they felt irrelevant for the small, start-up company that doesn’t have a full-time HR Lead or Head of People.
This blog post is for the start-up leader who is realistically asking this question…
“How can I create a world-class culture while juggling other priorities, ensuring cash flow, managing people and trying to live a great life away from work?”
If that conversation is bouncing around your head late at night, this post is for you. I’m even going to share the culture manual that we created at my company Tribute.co, to help guide our culture on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Feel free to steal it and tweak it to your company’s liking.
I have been curious about culture since I started my first organization at the ripe age of 22-years old. The first business book I ever read was Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. His approach to business success was simple and inspiring…
“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”
While it left me inspired, I still found it difficult to implement many of the practices he espoused. I was cash-strapped, short on time and frankly, I didn’t fully believe in the power of prioritizing culture.
As I grew older and my companies got bigger, I began to take culture building more seriously out of necessity and because I simply wanted to support the people around me. I started to think about my impact as an entrepreneur through the products and services I was selling, but also in the way that I was serving the people working with me.
In my 20’s, I had a team of 5 people packed into a donated artist loft in downtown Washington, DC. It was pretty easy to feel connected to each other and our work.
In my 30’s, I found myself leading a distributed team of 70 employees that operated in seven countries. Not so easy anymore.
After more than 13 roller coaster years of building companies, falling down, getting up and even getting inducted into the INC500 this past year, I think we finally figured it out.
First, what is culture?
I believe that company culture consists of three things: SBV. Those are the systems, behaviors and values that impact your employees and customers. I think that culture can colloquially be defined as how your company does what it does and how your employees talk about the company when they’re not at work.
So, how do we build culture?
While there are many things that can be done to build culture, I believe the simplest and most time efficient practice for creating a world class culture comes down to one thing…building rituals.
A ritual is something that is done with regularity and intentionality.
Within the business context, you can think of a ritual as anything from a weekly standup, to a monthly learning and development activity.
When we document these rituals and make them available to our team and prospective employees, it becomes easy to understand how the team operates and what we value.
As we often say at Tribute, “We are not what we do. We are what we do consistently.”
When we commit to consistency, our employees drop into purposeful routines that support their personal and professional growth with much less effort.
In my experience, writing these down and sharing them with the team is vital to the process. It leads to a level of accountability for the culture torch-bearers that are responsible for each ritual. It also gives the team opportunities to contribute their ideas and suggestions for new rituals that can be added. It turns the ritual building process into something alive that can evolve over time.
Without further adieu, here is Tribute’s low-time, no-cost guide to building a world-class startup culture.
Tribute Team Rituals for Culture Building
Part of Tribute’s magic as a team are the ongoing rituals and activities that keep us growing, connected, and learning as a community. Here are the rituals that are a core part of our daily, weekly, and monthly activities. If you would like to suggest a ritual to be added, please let us know!
Key Culture Documents
Frequent Rituals — Daily/Weekly
Employee recognition. We use Bonusly. This serves as our anytime-recognition platform to give gratitude, appreciation, and kudos to other teammates. It is our key tool for employee appreciation and includes written notes of gratitude paired with points that can be redeemed as real-dollar rewards.
- We share auto-reminders to give gratitude at the end of each week (Feedback Friday) and month.
- Our company values (#support #gratitude #resourcefulness #ownership #communication #proactivity) are tagged with each Bonusly post so that we see how team members are living tribute values each week.
- We also set reminders so that we get notifications on employee birthdays and are encouraged to send a note of appreciation.
The #1 reason that people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated (Gallup). It is essential that you have some sort of system in place to cultivate in-the-moment and frequent recognition between employees if you want an engaged and connected team.
You also don’t need to pay for a service like Bonusly if you don’t want to.
Assembly is free for up to 10-employees. Donut is another that has a free option for birthdays and anniversaries.
Weekly Wins Watercooler: Our weekly video conference to share personal and professional wins for the week — both leadership team and full time staff are welcome to join every week.
- Occurs every Friday at 1:30pm EST for about 30 minutes
- Attendees can share one personal win and one professional win amongst open discussion.
- You don’t have to share either — you can simply join and be present if you prefer!
As a company, we are on a mission to spread gratitude in the world. That means we do it externally and internally too. These little touchpoints are such a great way to head into the weekend. Even in the midst of a challenging week, these meetings are a reminder that there is always something to be grateful for.
Wednesday Connection Prompts: Every Wednesday morning we post a conversation prompt to the #staff Slack channel to spark opportunity for connection, shares, and stories.
- Send a photo of the best vacation you’ve ever been on
- Holiday specific (for Mother’s Day, we’ll ask a question about why they Mom)
- What’s the best show or movie you watched recently
- You’re encouraged to tag the next person/people to go, to keep things rolling!
This is a chance for us to get to know the person behind the worker. The #1 driver of discretionary effort at work is strong relationships. Building these dreeper, more meaningful connections will pay dividends in the long run.
Semi-Frequent Rituals — Bi-weekly/Monthly
About the Business / All-Hands Meeting: This is a monthly, team-wide meeting for full time staff and leadership team to gather and update on the state of the business. Hosted by the CEO.
- Agenda includes relevant updates on the business
- Each month we honor an employee of the month
- Open space for Q&A and discussion
- Spotlights and shares on specific features, programs, product updates, etc.
Personal reflection checkpoint: CEO (for leadership team) and ops lead (for full-time staff) check in bi-weekly with the team to open up space for personal reflection on wellbeing, job satisfaction, and personal updates. This occurs every other Friday.
Prompts are sent as a video or written note. Questions that are sent are:
- How are you feeling about your role/work right now? Any questions, excitements or concerns? How are you most excited to grow this year?
- How are you feeling about working at Tribute right now? What’s working, any thing we can do to support you and the team
- What’s good/challenging away from work? I would love to hear what’s happening in your world.
Let employees know their response is 100% optional. Even when employees do not choose to respond, having this consistent touchpoint has consistently been reflected as a meaningful part of their role and sense of belonging here.
Founder’s Ask-Me-Anything: Once a month we send a mini-survey where employees can anonymously ask Andrew & Rory (Founders) anything about the company and they will respond personally. Sometimes responses are sent to the whole team when they feel pertinent.
Connection Activities: We host at least one social activity a month:
- Monthly trivia or game day with the team (crowdpurr or typeform are free)
- Lunch & Learn containers — can be around external resources (e.g. a TED Talk) or in-house knowledge hosted by other team members. Lunch is covered for whoever attends. (Usually Wed or Th for mid-week pick me up)
Learning & Development Challenges: We host a quarterly challenge that keeps us learning, growing, and evolving together. Topics span a variety of personal development and practical skills for wellbeing. (Meditation, Public speaking, Diet etc.)
- Incentives/rewards to participate are given per challenge via Bonusly.
- These are held every other quarter
Annual & Less-Frequent Rituals
Personal & Professional Growth Checkpoints
- Annual performance/role review with supervisor & Co-Founders
- Annual whole-human goal setting (at start of role, and revisiting annually) — Here is the template we use
- Learning and development budget (varies by role) — Give your people a budget to improve the skills that are important to them.
- Employee Appreciation Day (first Friday every March) — launch a gratitude challenge on your recognition platform; if 80%+ of the team participates in sharing gratitude, it unlocks a monetary award and a corporate donation.
- Holiday party — Do a team-wide zoom or gather in person, get everyone to wear ugly sweaters and plan a secret santa where everyone can spend a certain amount on the company and send someone a gift. If virtual, you can tell someone what they are getting and then the company can ship it to them.
- Tributes on major occasions (anniversaries, hirings, retirement, birthdays)
- While we are a little partial, we truly think that giving a Tribute (a group video montage) is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give to celebrate employees’ on a special occasion.
- Hiring — We ask our potential hires to create a Tribute for themselves instead of giving us references. This saves us time and if we decide to hire them, we show them all the videos from coworkers, family and friends telling them why they are awesome. This makes their first experience of the company about as good as it could possibly be.
- Birthdays — We will do a birthday Tribute for any employee who has never received one before.
- Work anniversaries — On our employees 1,3 and 5 year anniversaries, we give them a team wide Tribute.
If you decide to take this guide and use it for your company, go for it! No credit needed.
I wanted to share this because I believe that building a great, people-centric culture is one of the best ways to find success ethically.
We are going to spend 1/3rd of our lives at work. As leaders, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make that time meaningful and rewarding for our people.
I hope this guide can play a small role in helping you to build a great culture that positively impacts your employees and all the people you serve in the world.
Go forth and be awesome.
Thanks for reading.
Andrew and Team Tribute