How to Turn Your Corporate Culture into a Competitive Advantage

"When’s the last time someone stopped to ask you to rate the culture at your company?"

Growing tech companies have a laser focus on revenue growth and burn rates, but developing a healthy culture also should be near the top of their agendas. As more than one high-flying company has been thrust into a harsh spotlight for ethical lapses and poor employee relations recently, tech leaders recognize by their peers’ example that a company’s culture can damage a brand and threaten financial viability.

Silicon Valley Bank brought together corporate and human resources leaders to share ideas on how to talk about and measure culture to motivate awareness and positive behavior inside their companies. Read on to learn advice they have for high-growth technology companies.

 How to Turn Your Corporate Culture into a Competitive Advantage

Know Yourself

Culture is like a personality – while some are dysfunctional, most are neither good nor bad, says Scott Brooks, a partner in OrgVitality, a management consulting firm.  “The definition is elusive. Mine is: stories people tell when you are not in the room.”

"Culture is like a personality – while some are dysfunctional, most are neither good nor bad"

Be proactive about defining your company’s culture and have a strategy for shaping it. Reward the behaviors that you want to see in your company.

Lead the Way

The job of company leader is not just to set the rules, but also to lead by example. When it comes time to talk about culture, it feels a lot more authentic and genuine when the CEO leads the discussion.

Fast-growing companies are typically in a competitive race to hire rapidly, and certain behaviors are adopted unconsciously. That’s why every CEO needs a whisperer, someone who can tell them and other C-suite executives what’s happening on the ground. The whisperer and anyone providing feedback need a safe place where they can share positive news as well as constructive ideas for change. Once executives establish trust with their employees – eliminating fear, for example, that "the messenger may be shot"  they will be well positioned to hear the unfiltered truth.

Seek Help

Not everyone is comfortable talking about culture and the HR side of the business. If you are in that category, seek help. If the HR chief is not already a direct report to the CEO, consider making a change and leverage their knowledge on how to define and create a strong culture. Treat culture as you would financial reporting; set a baseline, have a goal and give it a place on the agenda.

Hire a coach to help the CEO develop a story and encourage people to share their thoughts. Have that coach train others on your executive team and newly promoted managers. And if you already use 360 feedback in the review process, ask your employee to rate you and your team on creating a healthy culture.

Some companies hold regular "chat with the CEO" hours, which works well for a small company and when people feel comfortable speaking out. If that’s not your situation, then find an approach you feel comfortable with. Either way, create channels that allow employees to voice their concerns.

Related Content

Go to part two of this two-part series and learn tips for engaging employees to help build a healthy culture.


This material, including without limitation the statistical information herein, is provided for informational purposes only. The material is based in part upon information from third-party sources that we believe to be reliable, but which has not been independently verified by us and, as such, we do not represent that the information is accurate or complete. You should obtain relevant and specific professional advice before making any investment or other decision. Silicon Valley Bank is not responsible for any cost, claim or loss associated with your use of this material.

About the Author

As the Senior Market Manager for Silicon Valley Bank, Robert oversees all Relationship Management activities for the markets located in the Southwest, MidWest and Southeastern United States. Robert works closely with the teams in the various markets managing the key relationships with clients, VCs, PE Firms and key business partners. Today, Robert and the teams in the markets that he covers works with over 2000 innovative technology clients.

Robert joined SVB in 1999 when he opened the Dallas office for SVB. He worked out of the Dallas office until 2014 holding various roles for the bank. In 2014, he moved to Austin and established himself as a business leader in the technology community and took his current role. Over the years, Robert has served on various technology ecosystem and charitable boards. Prior to joining SVB, Robert was a commercial banker for JPMorgan Chase in Dallas for 13 years including 3 years as their Dallas Tech practice lead. In his spare time, Robert enjoys running in Austin and hanging out with his wife Cory and his two daughters that are in college at the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma which makes for an interesting family dynamic college football season.