Culture Codes: All the Best Culture Decks and How to Create One

Andy Cook
November 29, 2018
How to Build a Company Culture Deck

“That company is changing the world.”

That’s what people say about some of the most successful companies in the modern world.

These are the companies that consistently blow expectations and rival companies out of the water. They are the ones with lists of accolades, like HubSpot, or scores of articles waxing poetic on how they found so much success, like Netflix.

These companies have a powerful tool in common. It’s called a culture deck: a breakdown of the company’s culture, explaining what their values and mission are, and what success means to them. Generally, it tries to capture the ideals, as well as what they might look like in practice.

Culture decks are unique to each company, and they’re a big part of why these companies are so strong. Best of all, they’re a tool that your business can use to find its own success.

By creating a culture deck yourself, (or at least defining your cultural values,) you’ll create a defensible competitive advantage. It will help you hire and build the best possible team in a way no one else can replicate.

What is a culture deck?

At its most basic, a culture deck is a slideshow that breaks down your company’s culture, core values, and mission into clear, easy-to-absorb pieces. This is more ambitious than it sounds. A good culture deck is the purest distillation of your business’s ethos in all areas, from who you hire to how you conduct business.

Creating a culture deck helps your company get on the same page and stay on the same page. A clearly articulated mission will help you attract great talent…talent who shares your same motivations and philosophies.

When you make these hires, your culture deck helps uphold the expectations you set. Each person benefits from having a clearcut guide to how and why your team does certain things.

As you scale, a culture deck helps keep your business on track. It’s the ultimate compass for maintaining focus on your original purpose. A great culture deck also evolves over time, giving you a living way to record your company’s history and remind you where you started.

At Tettra, we’ve curated a collection of some of the most noteworthy culture decks in the business world to help inspire you. But first, let’s explore the vital elements of a great culture deck.

Examples of Culture Decks

To help inspire you, we scoured the internet for all the culture decks we could find and curated a list of very best ones below. Collectively, these companies employee over 100,000 people.

  • Patreon logo

    Patreon

    Founded: 2013
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~150
     
    Loading culture deck...

    Mission

    We have two missions:

    1. Fund the emerging creative class
    2. Create a company where teammates build fulfilling lives

    It's not an acceptable outcome to complete only one of those things. Why? Because we don't want to accomplish our mission at the expense of our teammates. And we don't want to create a happy, fulfilled team if we aren't getting creators paid.

    Our entire company is build on value for value.

    Core values

    1. Put creators first
    2. Be an energy giver
    3. Be candid, always
    4. Move fast as hell
    5. Seek learning
    6. Respect your teammates' time
    7. Just fix it

  • Tettra logo

    Tettra

    Founded: 2016
    Location: Cambridge, MA
    Employees: ~10
     
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    Mission

    We help businesses empower their employees to do their best work

    Core values

    We’re a team of makers in Boston, MA who take great pride in our work and want to create impactful and sustainable company. To do that, we believe that we should follow these "culture directives":
    Talk to customers
    Instead of guessing, try talking directly to a customer when you need to solve a problem.
    Prioritize customer impact
    Always try to prioritize doing things that directly help customers over things that make us feel good.
    Reduce scope before quality
    When making tradeoffs, always reduce the size or scope of a project before its quality.
    Share early and often
    We have the tendency to hide our work until we think it's perfect. Fight that urge and share your work, data, and ideas early and often.
    Stay curious
    Never assume something is unchangeable. Relentlessly seek the truth. Never assume someone is attacking you for asking questions.
    Don’t burn out
    It's a marathon, not a sprint. Use your time wisely, work hard while you're at work and live well when you're not.
    Be Inclusive
    Homogenous thinking can be dangerous. Seek other viewpoints, experiences, and backgrounds to enrich all the work you do.

  • Buffer logo

    Buffer

    Founded: 2010
    Location: Remote
    Employees: ~100
     
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    Core values

    1. Choose positivity and happiness
    2. Default to transparency
    3. Have a focus on self improvement
    4. Be a "no ego" doer
    5. Listen first, then listen more
    6. Have a bias towards clarity
    7. Make time to reflect
    8. Live smarter, not harder
    9. Show gratitude
    10. Do the right thing

  • HubSpot logo

    HubSpot

    Founded: 2006
    Location: Cambridge, MA
    Employees: ~1,700
     
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    Mission

    Help transform the way businesses grow, all over the world.

    Core values

    1. We commit maniacally to both our mission and metrics. 2. We look to the long-term and Solve For The Customer. 3. We share openly and are remarkably transparent. 4. We favor autonomy and take ownership. 5. We believe our best perk is amazing people. 6. We dare to be different question the status quo. 7. We recognize that life is short.
  • Asana logo

    Asana

    Founded: 2008
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~450
     
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    Mission

    Help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.
  • Zappos logo

    Zappos

    Founded: 1999
    Location: Las Vegas, NV
    Employees: ~1,400
     

    Mission

    To provide the best customer service possible.

    Core values

    1. Deliver WOW Through Service 2. Embrace and Drive Change 3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness 4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded 5. Pursue Growth and Learning 6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication 7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit 8. Do More With Less 9. Be Passionate and Determined 10. Be Humble
  • eShares logo

    eShares

    Founded: 2012
    Location: Palo Alto, CA
    Employees: ~150
     
  • Spotify logo

    Spotify

    Founded: 2006
    Location: Stockholm, Sweden
    Employees: ~2,500
     
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  • Valve logo

    Valve

    Founded: 1996
    Location: Bellevue, WA
    Employees: ~350
     
  • Hootsuite logo

    Hootsuite

    Founded: 2008
    Location: Vancouver, BC
    Employees: ~1,200
     
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    Mission

    Empower organizations to turn messages into meaningful relationships.

    Core values

    Lead with Humility
    Grit in All We Do
    Build a Better Way
    Passion for Customer Success

  • Disqus logo

    Disqus

    Founded: 2007
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~50
     

    Mission

    Enable great online communities.

    Core values

    Entrepreneurial - Don't wait for someone else to build it. Inventive - Be bold, be beautiful. Build things that last. Generous - Sharing is caring. Give more than you get. Impactful - You don't need to have a lot to make a big impact. Humble - We do great work and are dam proud of it.
  • Netflix logo

    Netflix

    Founded: 1997
    Location: Los Gatos, CA
    Employees: ~3,100
     
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    Core values

    Judgement
    Communication
    Impact
    Curiosity
    Innovation
    Courage
    Passion
    Honesty
    Selflessness

  • Grammarly logo

    Grammarly

    Founded: 2008
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~100
     
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    Mission

    Help everyone succeed through better communication

    Core values

    E.A.G.E.R.
    Ethical
    Adaptable
    Gritty
    Empathetic
    Remarkable

  • Github logo

    Github

    Founded: 2008
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Employees: ~600
     
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    More details:

    Note bene: This presentation was published in 2011 by Zach Holman. According to Zach's site, "GitHub no longer works like this, electing instead to institute a hierarchical, manager-driven, top-down, geocentric organization." We included Zach's presentation on the site anyways for inspiration of how a how good technical companies can be run when starting out.

  • Google logo

    Google

    Founded: 1998
    Location: Mountain View, CA
    Employees: ~90,000
     
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  • The Motley Fool logo

    The Motley Fool

    Founded: 1993
    Location: Alexandria, VA
    Employees: ~450
     
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    Mission

    “To Help The World Invest - Better.” Why each word matters: To Help: There are many ways to help. Some active, some passive. Teaching, leading, listening, collaborating, competing, etc. The World: We’re aiming high. This inspires us to serve as many people as possible and compels us to pursue global services. Invest: When we talk about investing, we’re not limited to stocks. Any resource spent, any future planned for. Better: Whatever we do, we should do it better than our competitors, and better than we’ve done in the past. Ever higher!

    Core values

    Be Foolish:
    Collaborative - Do great things together.
    Innovative - Search for a better solution. Then top it.
    Honest - Make us proud.
    Competitive - Play fair, play hard, play to win.
    Fun - Revel in your work.
    Motley - Make Foolishness your own!

    More details:

  • Nasa logo

    Nasa

    Founded: 1958
    Location: Washington, DC
    Employees: ~17,000
     

    Mission

    Pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.

    Core values

    Safety - NASA’s constant attention to safety is the cornerstone upon which we build mission success. We are committed, individually and as a team, to protecting the safety and health of the public, our team members, and those assets that the Nation entrusts to the Agency. Excellence - To achieve the highest standards in engineering, research, operations, and management in support of mission success, NASA is committed to nurturing an organizational culture in which individuals make full use of their time, talent, and opportunities to pursue excellence in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Teamwork - NASA’s most powerful tool for achieving mission success is a multi-disciplinary team of diverse competent people across all NASA Centers. Our approach to teamwork is based on a philosophy that each team member brings unique experience and important expertise to project issues. Recognition of and openness to that insight improves the likelihood of identifying and resolving challenges to safety and mission success. We are committed to creating an environment that fosters teamwork and processes that support equal opportunity, collaboration, continuous learning, and openness to innovation and new ideas. Integrity - NASA is committed to maintaining an environment of trust, built upon honesty, ethical behavior, respect, and candor. Our leaders enable this environment by encouraging and rewarding a vigorous, open flow of communication on all issues, in all directions, among all employees without fear of reprisal. Building trust through ethical conduct as individuals and as an organization is a necessary component of mission success.
  • Lululemon logo

    Lululemon

    Founded: 1998
    Location: Vancouver, BC
    Employees: ~2,900
     

    Mission

    Provide people with the components to live a longer, healthier and more fun life.

    Core values

    We promote a set of core values in our business, which include developing the highest quality products, operating with integrity, leading a healthy balanced life, and training our employees in self responsibility and goal setting.
  • Nordstrom logo

    Nordstrom

    Founded: 1901
    Location: Seattle, WA
    Employees: ~28,000
     
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  • Dell logo

    Dell

    Founded: 1984
    Location: Round Rock, TX
    Employees: ~140,000
     
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    Mission

    We create technologies that drive human progress.

    Core values

    Customers: We believe our relationships with customers are the ultimate differentiator and the foundation for our success.
    Winning together: We believe in and value our people. We perform better, are smarter, and have more fun working as a team than as individuals.
    Innovation: We believe our ability to innovate and cultivate breakthrough thinking is an engine for growth, success and progress.
    Results: We believe in being accountable to an exceptional standard of excellence and performance.
    Integrity: We believe integrity must always govern our fierce desire to win.

  • Percolate logo

    Percolate

    Founded: 2011
    Location: New York, NY
    Employees: ~250
     
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    Core values

    1. Growing
    2. Thoughtful by design
    3. Judge Percolate against Percolate
    4. Shipping > Not shipping
    5. Ownership
    6. Constant questioning
    7. Focused on scale, but willing to do things that don't
    8. Led by product
    9. Not just a job
    10. Just

  • RedMart logo

    RedMart

    Founded: 2011
    Location: Singapore
    Employees: ~250
     
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    Mission

    Save you time and money spent shopping for groceries and household essentials, so you can focus on the important things in life.

    Core values

    1. We put customers first and are customers ourselves.
    2. We innovate and always question the status quoa.
    3. we do more with less.
    4. We develop our people and give them autonomy.
    5. We value diversity. Be yourself and respect others!
    6. We take risks and believe in rapid experimentation. Fail fast, learn faster.
    7. We never, never, never give up!
    8. We are results-oriented.
    9. We are optimistic & crazily ambitious.
    10. We love what we do!

  • Robin logo

    Robin

    Founded: 2014
    Location: Boston, MA
    Employees: ~25
     
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  • Double Dutch logo

    Double Dutch

    Founded: 2011
    Location: New York, NY
    Employees: ~300
     
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    Core values

    Be a pioneer
    Be transparent
    Be fearless
    Be curious
    Be passionate
    Be remarkable
    ... and no assholes allowed.

  • Etsy logo

    Etsy

    Founded: 2005
    Location: Brooklyn, NY
    Employees: ~2,500
     
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    Mission

    Reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.

    Core values

    - We are a mindful, transparent, and humane business.
    - We plan and build for the long term.
    - We value craftsmanship in all we make.
    - We believe fun should be part of everything we do.
    - We keep it real, always.

  • UberFlip logo

    UberFlip

    Founded: 2008
    Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
    Employees: ~75
     
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    Core values

    1. We are H.U.S.T.L.E.
    2. Culture > Product > Revenue
    3. Communicate openly and with transparency
    4. Create great experience
    5. Be valuable, relevant and consistent
    6. Give back

  • Baremetrics logo

    Baremetrics

    Founded: 2013
    Location: Remote
    Employees: ~10
     

    Mission

    Our mission is to equip businesses with the tools they need to grow.

    Core values

    Be entrepreneurial -- Think like an entrepreneur. Make decisions like an entrepreneur. Constraints bring out creativity -- Whether it's deadlines, money or technology, we embrace constraints and use them to fuel creative decisions. High bar for quality -- We sweat the details. Our bar for quality borders perfectionism. The result of obsessing over the small parts is the whole becomes exponentially stronger. Relentless focus on success -- The only way the businesses we serve can succeed is if we succeed. Strong sense of purpose -- We're here to make a difference and that purpose drives us each day to make a better product and a better place to work.
  • Nanigans logo

    Nanigans

    Founded: 2010
    Location: Boston, MA
    Employees: ~200
     
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    Mission

    Arm marketing teams with the best software to manage their digital advertising in-house.

    Core values

    Willing
    Invested
    Impressive
    Unfiltered
    Caring
    Fun

  • LinkedIn logo

    LinkedIn

    Founded: 2003
    Location: Mountain View, CA
    Employees: ~12,000
     
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    Mission

    Empower the world's professionals.

    Core values

    LinkedIn has a culture centered around 5 dimensions (transformation / results / integrity / collaboration / humor) and 6 core values:
    1. Our Members Come First: We encourage employees to know and understand our members and to ensure that we foster the long-term vitality of the LinkedIn ecosystem.
    2. Relationships Matter: By fostering trust with colleagues and partners, we all succeed. We fundamentally believe that doing what is right is more important than being right. We manage compassionately by recognizing that people have experiences and perspectives that may differ from our own. We put ourselves in the shoes of others before drawing conclusions.
    3. Be Open, Honest and Constructive: We expect our employees to communicate with clarity and provide feedback with consistency in a constructive way.
    4. Demand Excellence: Our employees are encouraged to lead by example, seek to solve big challenges, set measurable and actionable goals, and continuously learn, iterate and improve.
    5. Take Intelligent Risks: Taking intelligent risks has been paramount in building the company to date. No matter how large we become we strive to never lose our startup mentality.
    6. Act Like an Owner: Talent is our most important asset. We expect our employees to act as an owner in each decision they make, no matter how big or small.

  • Handy logo

    Handy

    Founded: 2012
    Location: Manhattan, New York
    Employees: ~400
     
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    Mission

    Deliver and amazing service experience to everyone by consistently delighting and empowering people around the world.

    Core values

    - Embrace challenges
    - Support smart & passionate people
    - Today not tomorrow
    - Build for love
    - Growth always
    - Data beats opinion
    - Do more with less
    - Enjoy the journey

  • IDEO logo

    IDEO

    Founded: 1991
    Location: Palo Alto, CA
    Employees: ~600
     
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    Core values

    - Be optimistic
    - Collaborate
    - Embrace Ambiguity
    - Learn from Failure
    - Make Others Successful
    - Take Ownership
    - Talk less, do more

How can you build an amazing culture deck?

Ambitious as it may sound, creating a culture deck is achievable for even the smallest and largest teams. For example, the world-famous design team, IDEO, created their culture deck decades after they started.

To make a culture deck, you need to be willing to dig deep and be thoughtful about what makes your business unique. You also need to think about what your goals are, and what you believe in when it comes to business.

Every culture deck will be customized to the business, but they share some core attributes, so you can follow this process, no matter your business’s size, industry, or culture.

1. Center on your mission

At the core of your culture deck should be your company’s mission. This is the explanation of what you’re trying to accomplish and why you’re doing it. That will likely involve defining your customers or clients, so be sure to include what you see as your duty to them.

This is also where you should briefly sum up your company’s history to date. Even if your business recently started, it’s good to make mention of your origin story so that you and your employees can keep the business’s roots in mind as you grow.

If your business already has a motto or a North Star philosophy, the first few slides are the perfect place to include them. This isn’t the place for a lot of industry jargon. Instead, explain the motto or philosophy in a way that someone who has never heard of your company will understand.

Task list tool Asana does a particularly good job of this in their culture deck. On the fourth slide, they plainly state their mission, which is “to help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”

They also explain why they’re sharing their mission: to make sure everyone at the company is aligned around the same goal. Asana knows that they’re hiring smart, savvy people, so they’re transparent with them about the purpose of their culture deck from the very start.

Questions to consider:

  • What is your company hoping to achieve?
  • What’s your philosophy on your industry?
  • What is the core problem your company wants to solve?
  • How did your business begin?

2. Build in your values

Your mission is about what you’re trying to do. Your values are about how you work towards that mission, as well as the way you conduct yourself along the way.

Values might be as simple as two or three sentences describing what you see as important in running an ethical business. Or they may be a complex network of quotes and examples of the way you want your employees to view the world.

One interesting approach is the one taken by women’s activewear company, Lululemon. Their culture deck is a single page, but packed edge to edge with philosophies, phrases, and ideas that sum up what the company is all about.

While any one of these phrases in isolation may not express a company’s values very well, taken together, you can see the picture of a positive, athletic, idealistic group of people. Even the design contributes to the idea of a dynamic company culture that cares about creativity and an out-of-the-box approach to work.

When including your company’s values in your culture deck, think about what a thriving company looks like to you. How do you hope your employees see and treat one another? If your concept is nebulous at first, don’t be afraid to include charts, images, and quotes that express the idea for you.

Questions to consider:

  • What does a leader look like at your company?
  • What qualities are you seeking in new talent?
  • What does ideal teamwork look like?
  • If failures happen, what comes next?

3. Make your processes as transparent as possible

Excellent culture decks are transparent. That doesn’t mean you have to share all of your business’s financial details or upper-level strategies, but it does mean being open about what matters to your company.

You should make it clear how you define success, and how you define failure. You should also be open about what sorts of ideas, behaviors, and results will add up to an employee moving up in your company, as well as the behaviors that won’t be tolerated. Help people understand what these behaviors look like in practice. This makes it far easier for employees to engage in the way you’d like.

Music app, Spotify, defines success very clearly in their engineering team’s culture deck.

Spotify doesn’t leave any room for confusion or debate in what’s most important to them. They outline success for everyone from new hires to team leaders and lay it out in a way that’s easy to understand and reference. Spotify also breaks down each of these headings into a few slides to examine them in further depth.

Questions to consider:

  • What does success mean for you?
  • What outcomes or behaviors result in promotion?
  • What outcomes or behaviors call for corrective action, and what does that look like?

4. Get your whole team involved (but also choose a “DRI”)

Seeking varied perspectives will help you create a strong culture deck, (and will increase buy-in.) That said, you need a DRI, (“Directly Responsible Individual”) or collection of individuals. Given that many people may feel a sense of ownership over the team culture, it’s particularly important to identify the DRI.

The DRI needs to know that he or she has the entire company’s permission and backing throughout the process. On the flip side, the team needs to realize that the DRI is empowered to make tough choices, should there be misalignment between different perspectives.

Your DRI might be a founder, a CEO, an HR leader, a Brand executive, or a Communications leader. This person isn’t making all the decisions; he or she is curating input from many sources to come up with the best possible decision and deck.

Once you’ve pinpointed your DRI, get everyone involved. It’s one thing to create a slideshow full of ideals. But if those ideals don’t reflect the feel of your company, they’ll never be fully integrated into the business. You can make sure your culture deck reflects reality by finding out what employees have to say about the culture.

One way to do this is by interviewing your employees. Do they often find themselves referring to your current mission statement? Do they feel like it applies to the work they’re doing? You can also set up an anonymous survey and collect responses that way, which may generate more candid input than in-person interviews.

Involving your employees helps create more buy-in for your culture deck and advocacy for the culture itself. And employees who buy into the culture are more likely to stick around and help your company grow. Furthermore, employees who contributed their perspectives are more likely to uphold and advocate for your company values over the long haul.

Make sure to involve people who have a different perspective, such as field reps or newer hires. You may find they’re better able to see the forest, rather than getting lost in the trees. The people out in the trenches might pinpoint cultural norms in a clearer way than those who are there in the office every day. The more contributions you get, the more well-rounded your culture deck will become.

Once you get a broad perspective on how people perceive the culture, use it to make your culture deck stronger. This could be as big as altering your values or mission statement, or as simple (but meaningful) as shifting the language you use to express those ideals.

Crafts and vintage e-commerce site Etsy has a culture deck that’s full of personality and features several products that actively reflect their culture.

All of Etsy’s values are phrased for the collective:

“We are a mindful, transparent, and humane business.

We plan and build for the long term.

We value craftsmanship in all we make.

We believe fun should be part of everything we do.

We keep it real, always.”

Etsy uses “we” statements so that their employees feel included from the moment they’re hired. This is a simple change you can make to help your culture feel more relatable, and make your deck integrated as soon as it’s introduced.

Questions to consider:

  • Who has enough comfort with the team to solicit broad input but also has the confidence to make hard decisions, should they arise?
  • Who are the stars at your company? What traits do they have in common?
  • Whose voices haven’t you heard in discussions of company culture?

5. Weave your culture deck into daily operations

In the end, it doesn’t matter how you design your culture deck, as long as it’s being used. The trick is creating a deck that contains useful information, is easy to reference, and really ties into what your employees do each day.

Video game company Valve created their culture deck in the style of an old-fashioned employee handbook, with a twist. They use illustrations of characters from their games, sprinkling in annotations to give it a playful style that suits a game company.

The handbook is full of important information that helps people acclimate to the team and do their jobs better. They include both philosophical, as well as actionable information like definitions of team structures, why they’re built as they are, and how to get involved with new projects.

The result is an engaging document that’s easy to reference and read through without employees’ eyes glazing over before they absorb important information. By making the deck reflect their own laid-back, fun culture, Valve has made it far easier and more engaging for employees to reference.

You can help employees apply the culture to their daily work by weaving it into both strategy and projects. Find ways to tie every new project back to your company’s mission and values in some way.

A final element to keep in mind is that your culture deck should be a living document. Your company will grow and change, and your culture will change with it. Be ready to make adjustments to your culture deck to reflect these changes, and broadcast the updates to the company. Sharing updates helps to instill trust that you’re flexible and upfront with your team.

Questions to consider:

  • What’s the best way to make your culture deck accessible for your team?
  • How can you tie in projects to your central mission?
  • What aspects of the company should you monitor for changes?

What should we do with our culture deck?

Once you’ve done the hard work of creating the deck, make it broadly available. If it’s easily accessible, team members are more likely to leverage it in the daily work they’re doing. A knowledge management tool like Tettra is a great home for your culture deck, so people can add questions or comments. Putting it in Tettra also helps teams that use Slack, since people will see a Slack notification whenever you make edits to the deck.

It’s also worth considering whether you want to make your deck available to the outside world. Doing so may benefit your recruiting and hiring processes, since candidates can more easily determine whether they align with the team culture.

You may find that customers appreciate the opportunity to read about the company with whom they do business. Sharing your values can help create an even stronger bond with your brand enthusiasts, assuming they share the same values.

Creating a thoughtful, intentional culture deck is central to helping your company thrive. But building one takes nothing more than an understanding of your business and a desire to help it be its best.

Check out Tettra’s culture deck collection for more inspiration from amazing companies.