In 2016, for the second year in a row, Entrepreneur partnered with CultureIQ to seek out the best company cultures in America. The result was a list of 153 companies — small, medium, and large — worth holding the title of "award-winning company culture."
Entrepreneur had their own criteria to determine who made the list, but we wanted to know more. What exactly is it about these winning cultures that earned them a spot on Entrepreneur’s exclusive list? And what do they have that other companies don't?
In an effort to get some answers, we looked to the top 15 best company cultures in America. Here's what we found.
Culture Starts With the CEO
The top 15 companies (or the top five from each category) are a diverse group. They’re sprawled across the United States, from San Diego to New York City. Some of them work in real estate, others in IT. But there's one thing they all have in common: The original founder is still leading the company.
Additionally, seven of the 15 companies were co-founded. And, in these cases, the co-founder is still with the company as well.
If you're doubting the sustainability of a co-founded business partnership, TSheets CEO Matt Rissell might change your mind. But if you're doubting the impact a CEO really has on a company culture, think again.
A winning company culture can’t be fabricated, it has to be in your DNA from the start.– Matt Rissell,
One Commonality? Core Values.
All 15 top company cultures proudly boast a list of core values that determine who they hire, who they fire, and how they operate as a team. Those values range from quirky to biblical, but there are common themes, like humility and excellence.
This suggests that companies who seek to employ dedicated, talented, and humble employees are more likely to build and maintain a winning culture.
You Don’t Have to Be From Silicon Valley
Surprisingly, only two of the 15 top company cultures operate in California — a notorious tech hub (and home to notable culture empires like Google and Facebook). In fact, less than half of the top 15 companies are located in metropolitan areas.
The majority of the top 15 companies are located in cities with fewer than 500,000 people — and two of those are located in cities with fewer than 10,000 people.
I made the decision to consider quality of life when choosing the location for my company, and it's a decision that has impacted our company culture for the best.– Matt Rissell,
The idea that businesses can't thrive outside of Silicon Valley is an outdated one. More and more CEOs are looking to "rural" America to plant their roots. And it seems to be paying off in big ways.
How Does Social Media Impact Company Culture?
A strong company culture shines through in every aspect of your business. Happy employees are more likely to work harder and go the extra mile for your clients. In turn, your clients are more likely to tout your services or refer you to their friends, colleagues, and professional partners. And this is especially true when it comes to social media.
All 15 top company cultures not only have a presence on social media, but they've got a positive presence. Consistent negative comments or mentions are a good sign that something's gone wrong within a company. But winning company cultures tend to have more positive social engagement within their company and with their customers.
The Truth About an Open Office Space
Several business owners agree that the open space is an integral component of their culture. They believe the open layout fosters collaboration and open communication — two important ingredients when it comes to maintaining a winning company culture.
"While an open office plan can have its caveats,” said Erin O’Neill, People and Culture Manager of The Penny Hoarder, in an interview with TSheets, “it also encourages collaboration and communication. Distractions happen, but so does laughter, discoveries about each other and our work, impromptu dance breakouts, and continual FaceTime with the people you spend quite a bit of your time with."
Collaboration between members of our team is our lifeblood. We built our new office around a giant kitchen that is the central gathering place for our team. As a result, we have a team of 50 people who have genuinely meaningful relationships.– Mike Harris President,
Why Tech Companies Tend to Have Stronger Cultures
Of the top 15 company cultures, six of them are SaaS companies. Another two work in IT and tech security, and three in media and PR.
Why so many tech companies?
There are a few prevailing theories:
Many tech companies are younger companies, and younger companies are laser focused on company culture. In fact, "culture" was the most popular word of the year in 2014, according to Merriam Webster. From "celebrity culture" to "company culture," "culture" had the most lookups and made the most headlines in 2014.
Tech companies are early adopters of the "fun" office space. They're ditching the cubicles and opting for a more colorful, open office. This inspires creativity and collaboration among employees.
Technology has given employees more power. Social sites like Glassdoor and Indeed allow employees to rate their employers anonymously. If tech companies hope to recruit the very best employees, they've gotta focus on culture.
Culture First, Skills Second
All 15 companies agree the secret to creating and maintaining a winning corporate culture begins and ends with the employees. More specifically, hiring the right employees from the start and promoting from within.
It is critical that you set and hold the bar high for your leadership team. These are the individuals that you are spotlighting as the shining examples of your culture, whether you realize it or not. The right people lead with their people’s best interests in mind while setting the right example themselves.– Duane Hixon,
CEO N2 Publishing
"Certainly, attracting team members who are excited about growing with the organization is a huge benefit," Duane Hixon, CEO of N2 Publishing, told TSheets. "But there’s a less obvious advantage to internal promotions: We’re encouraging our people to lead by example. The key is not only promoting from within, but also promoting the right people. When you have an already strong culture, you will find that, the majority of the time, the right people are attracted to leadership for the right reasons.
“It is critical though, that you set and hold the bar high for your leadership team. These are the individuals that you are spotlighting as the shining examples of your culture, whether you realize it or not. The right people lead with their people's best interests in mind while setting the right example themselves. The example they set has a tremendous amount of influence on the people they lead and the next generation of leaders. This is how you build a culture that will stand the test of time."
Younger Companies Put Culture First
Eleven of the top 15 company cultures are less than 10 years old. In fact, only one company was established in the 1990s — the only company older than 15 years.
Does this mean that older companies tend to lose focus on their culture the longer they're in business? Not necessarily.
A more reasonable explanation is that this focus on company culture is a relatively new trend. Companies that formed before the 21st century did so without culture in mind. And because a truly successful company culture is ingrained in the company's DNA from the very start, these companies have a hard time forming a culture after the fact.
But that's not to say it can't be done.
We've given you the recipe, now it's up to you to create a winning corporate culture.