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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Culture is what happens when you’re not in the room

Culture is how things fall in place organically, without anyone consciously directing it, when you’re all immersed in a shared vision and the day-to-day task at hand.

Culture is what happens when you’re not in the room
[WavebreakMediaMicro / AdobeStock]

“Company culture” is an interesting term. On the one hand, it’s a vague buzz phrase––the kind of thing employers pay lip service to without really thinking about what it means. On the other hand, it’s everything: the spirit at the core of your business that affects how every part of it runs.

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The reason culture is so difficult to nail down is that it’s not a discrete thing. You can’t just wake up one morning, decide your company culture is lacking, and hunker down to fix it. A company is made up of human beings. The way those people see the world––and the way they see your business––is your company culture. You can’t change that overnight.

What you can do is work intentionally, from the start, to find and cultivate employees who share your values and vision. If the team brings these values to life through each new decision, a worthy company culture can naturally follow.

FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE

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Of course, some decisions matter more than others––and hiring decisions are right near the top. In my experience, there is one central quality leaders should be seeking in their team members. That quality is dedication.

From a leader’s perspective, you should be seeking out people who care about your mission and vision just as much as you do. People who are passionate even when you’re not in the room. People who are driven not by a desire to simply please their supervisor but by what you’re building together.

The work isn’t always going to be fun—or easy. There will be false starts, dead-ends, missteps; there always are. Overcoming those obstacles and getting a business to the next level requires a belief that the mission is worth it and that your shared project actually matters.

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It can be hard to determine these qualities during the hiring process. But just remember that it’s not about finding people with precisely your interests or your background. It’s about finding people who are motivated and excited by what you’re trying to accomplish together.

GIVING YOUR PEOPLE SPACE

Once you’ve found those employees, you have to give them room to create and build.

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A lot of companies talk about the importance of exploration and letting employees maneuver off the track in the service of innovation. But in the day-to-day, it can be easy to lose track of that ambition.

For that reason, it’s essential for your company culture to let your employees veer off-script from time to time. It might not always breed results, but more often than not, with the right people in place, it will. And just as importantly, it can foster the trust and creativity that are central to any thriving company culture.

IN-PERSON OR REMOTE? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT

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If your employees are passionate about your mission and empowered to bring it to life, does it matter where they do it? Many would argue yes—that company culture can only exist inside of four walls, and if you can’t take in company culture by physically walking around a room, you may as well not have one.

I beg to differ. In-person work can absolutely yield excellent results, but I believe flexibility—meeting employees where they are—is what matters. Anyone who thinks you can’t have a strong company culture without an office should probably rethink their definition of company culture.

If I had to offer a definition of my own, it would go something like this: company culture is the byproduct of a workplace—in-person, remote, or both—in which people dedicated to a mission feel empowered to take that mission forward. Culture is how things fall in place organically, without anyone consciously directing it, when you’re all immersed in a shared vision and the day-to-day task at hand.

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Nadav Shoval is the co-founder and CEO of OpenWeb, the premium audience relationship platform.

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