Company Culture
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Show, don’t tell: For company culture that feels genuine, executives must lead by example

Your culture should be evident in the practice of your workplace — not in the words used to describe it, said some of Philly's industry leaders.

Millennials at work. (Photo via Pexels user Fox, used via a Creative Commons license)
If you’ve job hunted, worked in human resources, or just generally paid attention to workforce-related news in the last few years, you’ve probably heard the term “company culture.”

It’s not always tangible, but the term points to the character, feel and policies in place that make up the attitudes of a workplace. We hear it a lot when covering startup culture, but the idea spans far beyond open floorplans and catered lunches.

Recruiters have even started to say that aspects of a company like its culture, benefits and perks have become increasingly important to employees in getting them to stick around — sometimes even more so than salary.

Last month, before Super Meetup, we gathered a group of industry stakeholders to chat about the state of Philly’s tech industry, and talked about the idea of company culture. So what is, it, exactly? How important is it? And how do you get it to feel genuine?

Karissa Justice, the manager of people operations at geospatial technology company Azavea, said she thinks company culture is defined by how a company demonstrates its values.

If a company says that it’s a parent-friendly environment, for example, executives need to lead by example and show that it’s ok to take time off to make a soccer game or doctor’s appointment.

Cultures are “set by people in power,” Justice said. “That’s what defines who’s hired, promoted and who sets the rules.”

Sally Guzik, the site director for the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) in University City, explained that her team looks for certain characteristics in potential employers that would add to the organization’s existing positive culture. This can go hand in hand with an interviewee’s work-specific skills.

“We look for people that are kind, happy to help and interested in making the world a better place,” she said. “We take time to get to know people. But we would rather take a risk on someone who wants to help someone, and excel their skills, but might not have the exact qualifications.”

“Those are the things that can be learned,” she added.

Each person who spoke on the topic at our stakeholder meeting agreed that having a successful company culture that employees buy into comes down to showing, not telling: Companies that plaster messages about their culture all over their website and talk about it constantly at events are probably the ones out of touch with what their employees see as priorities, a few attendees said.

“The more you talk about your culture, the less you probably have,” said Gloria Bell, events and marketing manager of TechGirlz and cofounder of the Women in Tech Summit.

Essentially, you shouldn’t need to talk about what your culture is all day long, Bell said. It should be evident in the practice of your workplace.

Company culture can go wrong by not asking employees what is essential to them, she added. The feel of a company has to align with the people in it.

So, can bad company culture be fixed?

Again, our stakeholders agreed that to do so, company leadership would need to be the ones to course correct.

“When you talk about fixing a bad culture, you have to look at not whatever you say is your values, but their behavior,” Justice said. “It’s in the socialized behaviors of the employees.”

Companies: Azavea / TechGirlz

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