Amazon's 2016 shareholder letter from Founder & CEO Jeff Bezos was released last week and quickly circulated the Internet. Last year, the company came under fire for its tough corporate culture, but Bezos didn't shy away from the topic in his letter; in fact, he mentioned the word "culture" 12 times.
Whether you agree with Amazon's workplace philosophies or not, Bezos did make some really interesting points about company culture:
"A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore. If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove."
Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp, has made similar remarks about culture not being something you can create with force. Back in 2008, he wrote a blog post called You don't create a culture, in which he wrote the following:
"You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behavior. If you encourage people to share, and you give them the freedom to share, then sharing will be built into your culture. If you reward trust then trust will be built into your culture."
They're essentially saying the same thing. While developing a formal values system and mission statement can help guide things like internal communications, policy, and benefits, true culture is something that forms organically through the human dynamics within an organization.
Another statement Bezos made in his letter was that any given culture is not necessarily better or worse than another; it's simply unique in nature, and will, in time, attract people accordingly:
"The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one – just that it’s ours – and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful."
The unanimous takeaway seems to be that if you lead your company in a way that's authentic to your beliefs, philosophies and aspirations, then over time, your culture will evolve organically as you attract people who consider your company just the right fit.