Talent Management

What is Company Culture? 4 Things We’ve Noticed About Culture in 2021

22 April 2021

6 min

Company culture – what is it exactly and how is this hard-to-define concept evolving in 2021? What’s important to consider when trying to build a strong corporate culture and how are innovative companies doing it in 2021?

If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re in the right place! Scroll down to discover the what, why and how of corporate culture. We also share some key observations we’ve picked up on this topic from some of our recent conversations on our podcast, The Ins and Outs of Work!

Table of contents

  1. How do you define corporate culture?
  2. Why is corporate culture important?
  3. The Ins and Outs of Work: 3 recent episodes on Company Culture
  4. 4 things we’ve noticed about company culture in 2021


How do you define corporate culture?

Culture can feel like quite an intangible concept. It’s a common term in HR and the workplace, but one that still is difficult to define.

SHRM defines it this way: “An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors, and understanding. Organizational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does.”

To complement that, we like what Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia, has to say about culture: “Culture is a texture. It’s a vibe. A feel. And culture is alive. It’s definitely not one or two-dimensional—I think culture is very three-dimensional. Culture is, in a nutshell, the heartbeat for me. It is something that absolutely lights up an entire system — if it is in place, and if it is thriving.”

Why is corporate culture important?

Based on the definitions above, it should be pretty clear why culture is important. As the heartbeat, the texture and the living force that permeates an organization, it sets the tone for the day-to-day interactions in the business. Here’s why creating a strong company culture is important:

  • Engagement: Time and time again it’s been shown that a positive company culture leads to better engaged employees. A study by Denison Consulting found that companies with winning organizational cultures have 72% higher employee engagement ratings than organizations with weak cultures.
  • Retention: But why is employee engagement important, you might ask? Among other things, engagement is directly linked to retention and employee turnover. A survey by Glassdoor in 2019 found that 65% of employees say that their company’s culture is a key factor when deciding to stay at their job.
  • Productivity: If that wasn’t already enough to convince you of the importance of company culture, happy employees are 12% more productive, while those who are not satisfied with their work and the culture of the organization are 10% less productive.
  • Recruitment: The same study by Glassdoor also found that more than three-quarters (77%) of adults would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there. A strong and positive work culture is a prerequisite for most people today, when on the hunt for a new job.

The Ins and Outs of Work: 3 recent episodes on Company Culture

We recently published a 3-episode ‘mini-series’ on company culture on our podcast, The Ins and Outs of Work.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite network:

Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon Music,
Acast, TuneInPocket CastsDeezerBreakerStitcher


Episode 4: Dena Upton (Chief People Officer at Drift) on Company Culture & Going Digital-First

Drift is a Boston-based scale up, officially going ‘Digital First’. This episode explores why they made this decision, why a hybrid office-remote setup wasn’t an option for them and what they’re doing to retain and continue to build their company culture.

Episode 5: Ozlem Sariouglu (Founder at SparkUs) on Creating a Learning Culture

In this episode we take a deeper look at creating a learning culture within your organization. What does it mean to have a culture of learning? What would it look like in practice? Does your organization have a culture of learning? And why 2021 is the year for organizations to double down on learning, training and upskilling.


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Episode 6: Saskia Bille (Head of Culture at sennder) on Culture at a High-Growth Scale-Up

As Europe’s leading freight forwarder, sennder offers shippers access to their connected fleet of thousands of trucks. And they’ve undergone a meteoric rise. To give you an idea of scale and success, since being founded in 2015, sennder has raised more than $260 million, and is now valued at over $1 billion. Mergers and Acquisitions have been a major lever in their growth, and in this episode we discuss the implications of these on their company culture – in June 2020 sennder merged with French competitor Everoad, and acquired Uber Freight’s European business last September as well.


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4 things we’ve noticed about Company Culture in 2021

1. Culture needs redefining

The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on workplaces have made one thing clear: a strong company culture can’t rely on having employees all together physically in an office. With remote work becoming more widely adopted and hybrid work models here to stay, even at companies who wouldn’t have offered the possibility to work remotely before the pandemic, culture must have its foundations in more than the in-office experience.

It’s time to re-examine what culture means to your organization. What are some ways to “set the context” and regularly communicate the values of your organization, that go beyond needing everyone under one roof?

Coming back to the definition at the start of this article is a good first step. If culture is the “shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods”, what methods make sense today’s context?

2. Culture is constantly evolving

Culture is not fixed. It’s an ever-evolving thing and smart businesses understand this. While it’s tempting to see culture as something to be preserved and maintained, especially given the disruption caused by the pandemic, forward-thinking organizations are committed to constantly growing and adapting their cultures.

…for me culture is not there to be kept, it’s not there to be perfectly preserved in the way that it is…I think you need to be open to that change that comes with it while obviously it’s important to always actively articulate the most important things, the most important parts, the core. But naturally that change is going to come with new employees, with new leaders and to beopen and mindful of that is super important.

Saskia Bille, Head of Culture at sender

3. Culture and engagement go hand-in-hand

A great company culture isn’t just about warm, fuzzy feelings. It also drives long-term success for the business. A positive company culture has a strong link to improved employee engagement, which in turn has benefits for productivity and revenue growth. A meta-analysis from Gallup a few years back found that organizations or departments scoring the highest on employee engagement also enjoyed 21% higher levels of profitability, compared to their counterparts in the lower quartile.

4. Growing culture requires practical steps

Culture doesn’t grow by itself. It takes practical and planned steps to cultivate and cement culture. During episode 4 of our podcast, Dena Upton, Chief People Officer at Drift, shared with us the importance of rituals:

Rituals are really important. I think that’s been a key pillar for how we’ve successfully been able to go digital first. But we have pretty strong rituals at Drift. We start the week and end the week all together in two town halls.

Dena spoke to us more in detail about these rituals – the two most important being Monday Metrics and Friday Show & Tell. Monday Metrics is a quick 20 minute catch up focused on the major business metrics – sales opportunities, marketing campaigns, and product launches. The week closes with Friday Show & Tell where someone within the business shares a story of a problem they worked to solve, mistakes they might have made, and what they learned. These are two great examples of weekly rituals that reinforce important values around transparency, openness, and collaboration at Drift.

What can you do today to start building, or rebuilding, your company culture?

Read over our checklist, “The 5 Pillars of Company Culture” for insights from HR professionals who are excelling at cultivating an authentic and engaging culture within their organizations.

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