“Corporate culture” is a term that is used by executives, employees, candidates, and recruiters to describe the vibe of an office. While the home office of my global agency, The Cline Group, is in Philadelphia, I incorporate “Israeli” attitudes into our corporate culture because that style is often best-suited to companies regardless of where they are in the world.

So, what is “Israeli” company culture? First, you need to understand the context. While large corporations and enterprise operations are common in the United States, a lot of companies in the “Startup Nation” are, well, small startups. As a result, they develop into close-knit “families” because that attitude is what these small, understaffed businesses need to excel under the stresses of startup life.  In Israel, companies try to keep this culture as they grow to be large international companies and become fully staffed. Unfortunately, too many corporations view employees and numbers and “widgets” – Israeli startups  and enterprises celebrate the value that each individual brings and work to instill a sense of belonging.

To explain this “family-oriented” culture further, I will list what I have learned from my time living and working in Israel and then continuing to work with the various Israel companies that are some of the clients of The Cline Group:

  1. Place family first. It boggles my mind that this is not always a no-brainer. When should family ever not be first? Of course, many companies say that this is true – but the reality is whether this is put into practice. Are there flexible hours? Can people go to doctor’s office or go see their kids’ school plays? Are working mothers accommodated? Companies that truly provide these options will see more employee happiness and less employee turnover.  However, you need to trust that the work will still get done.
  2. Make the office fun. True, this can be challenging. One thing that we do is allow the staff to make suggestions. We have had contests in the office – the winner of the last one will come with me to our Israel office on one of my next business trips. The next one, for example, will be a contest for new business. We also do a drawing every month for an item the office wants – it might be Sodastream, company fleeces, a treadmill desk, beta fish at each desk, a massage chair, or a popcorn machine. (Treadmill desks and company fleeces have already been picked.)
  3. Have office outings. Make it a monthly occasion to go out for happy hour or an event outside the office. Go out to lunch or have it delivered once in a while. This is important for team building so that everyone’s views themselves as a single team – for example, do employees say “I” and “me” or “we” and us”? Bonding rituals for new staffers can help to integrate them quickly (but don’t use university-style hazing, of course!).
  4. Keep your door open and include everyone at all times. Get to know your staffers, what makes them happy, and what drives them. (The importance of this cannot be overstated!) Value your staff’s opinions – no one, not even the CEO, is correct all of the time. Solicit input from everyone before implementing any major changes, and do as little as possible unilaterally. Employees should also take part in culture-related discussions from the beginning – how do they envision the company, and what environment do they want to have?
  5. Use open office spaces. In our workplace, most of the junior staffers work together in a single room without cubicles and dividers. It’s an open area that allows them to talk with, help, and bounce ideas off of each other. These employees are on the front lines of much of the work that we do for clients, and I always want them to feel as though they are not alone.

While a lot of these changes may seem easy to implement, one of the key – and very challenging – parts of creating and maintaining such a culture is hiring people who fit. Sometimes it takes months to see a person’s true personality and attitude. In the marketing industry – or, in fact, any field – people who are all about themselves and who backstab others are no good. Those who try to build cliques are no good. As I wrote in a post on LinkedIn Today, one bad hire can destroy a painstakingly-built culture and cause good staff to leave.

Another challenge of having such a “family” culture is when you need to let someone go who you have known for years. You love and care about the person’s family, but he or she is no longer a fit. How do you deal with that? Like grown-ups, obviously – but it still hurts. But the benefit to me of having such a close-knit workplace far outweighs the few negative aspects.

Now, I am describing only the culture of my company’s office. Every business is unique and may need a different culture that is better suited to its business goals. Whatever your target culture, AIIR Consulting CEO Jonathan Kirschner recommends these five steps to develop your desired workplace attitude:

  1. Assess: Anything that is going to be changed must first be understood, and culture is no exception. Utilizing formal assessment methods or simply focused reflection, we must uncover the rudimentary elements that make up a given culture.
  2. Vision: The next step is becoming clear about your vision for a desired culture. Ask questions like, “What does my organization look like on a typical Monday five years from now?” Get granular with questions such as, “What are employees wearing and what do their workspaces look like? How are people feeling? How are customers feeling? What are customers saying about your company to their peers and network?”
  3. Measure: To know what needs altering, engage a simple gap-analysis between your current culture and desired state.
  4. Strategize: With a gap analysis complete, identify targeted strategies and actions that will grow your culture in the areas required, and weaken areas that are dragging your culture down. Write these down and create a Strategic Culture Plan.
  5. Mobilize: Share the strategic plan and mobilize yourself, your team, and your employees for execution. Leverage formal meetings and informal check-ins to keep the plan from collecting dust. Align your talent by rewarding your Culture Builders and course correct or remove Culture Drainers. Stay the course and continuously address obstacles to the successful execution of your culture strategy.

The culture that I described earlier is what occurs in our home office in Philadelphia. However, it is difficult to do a hypothetical “step six” in Kirschner’s process to implement the same culture on a global basis. As The Cline Group continues to expand worldwide, I’m still trying to figure this out myself. I hope to tell that next part of the story in a future post!