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We talk about work culture in vague terms such as “culture fit” and “supportive culture.” Yet, culture affects so much of our work experience from productivity, happiness, staying in a position, and even joining a company. What are the elements that create and affect work culture? How does work culture specifically influence creative professionals?

Defining work culture

The Balance Careers blog defines culture in general as a personality. It is a combination of values, beliefs, assumptions, interests, experiences, background, and habits. It is all around you but except for the intentional physical manifestations in the workspace, you cannot see it.

Key concepts for a thriving work culture

Victoria Hood writes in AI4Jobs that to foster a strong work culture you need diversity, communication, and perks. People shape the culture. They help create norms and values. For a company to be competitive, it needs people with diverse background and views to foster a dynamic culture rich with ideas.

Leadership and co-workers consciously and unconsciously shape culture through interactions. We learn the norms and values through rewards and negative consequences. Perks are a what you get from joining and staying at a company. Other rewards like promotions, salary, power, and influence are what you receive from actively contributing in a way that leadership values.

Why it is important

Work culture determines who you hire, keep, and reward. It influences your decisions and behaviors in a company. A well-managed culture can positively affect workplace satisfaction and productivity.

Tony Hsieh in his book, “Delivery Happiness,” expresses the insight that if you take care of your employees, they will take of your customers. In short, help people grow and feel more fulfilled with their work and skills. They will go out of their way to lift up the customers. This will reflect positively on your brand and the bottom line.

Why work culture matters for creatives

Artifacts and outputs are at least partially a result of culture. Creatives rely on a supportive atmosphere. The culture needs to consistently give them the space to do new and challenging work. Sam McMillan in writes that getting the culture right has a viral effect. It passes from person to person. Then spreads to the brand, the products and services, and the customer.

How to foster it for a creative culture

Culture starts with values. Leadership needs to believe in them, and every hire should reflect these beliefs as well. Make these values visible every day. Put them in a place where co-workers, applicants, guests, and competitors see them.

Stories and Legends

How do people internalize a story? It has to inspire them. Airbnb aligns its origin story to the hero’s journey. We know Airbnb’s humble beginnings starting with an idea that almost no one believed in, nearly failing completely, and relaunching their service into the $25 billion dollar startup.

The company tells this story repeatedly to inspire others and perpetuate its legacy.

Build skills

People have a vision for their career. They want to grow as a creative. This path is not always linear. It can include cross-training. Designers can learn basic coding. Developers can try illustrating. Everyone should learn writing. If the company offers the opportunities for skill building, creatives will feed their growth back work and culture.

Fail safely

Work should be fun. People need to connect and enjoy their time with their co-workers. This includes letting them fail and learn from it. Creatives face the pressures of producing something elegant, simple, and effective. To create something that is well designed and implemented requires trial and error. Not all companies value this.

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella discusses in his book, “Hit Refresh,” that he inherited a “know-it-all” and perfectionist culture that was rigid and lacked innovation. He shifted it to a “learn-it-all” and growth mindset that allowed for experimentation.

Leaders matter
Culture follows the leaders. Annette Ferrara reminds us in her post for Ideo’s blog, “Culture Matters (And How to Build a Good One),” of Uber’s ousted CEO Travis Kalanick. Under Travis, the company ignored local laws, pitted workers against each other, and turned a blind eye to “bro” culture and sexual harassment. This toxic culture became public and adversely affected the brand.

Work culture often starts with leadership. Nonetheless, people at different levels in the company can contribute to building, maintaining, or degrading the culture. For creatives, we rely on a strong culture that allows us to stretch our abilities and experiment freely.

Interested in more posts on bringing creativity into work? Check these posts.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.