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Cover Culture Decks Decoded

Book Review: ‘Culture Decks Decoded’ by Bretton Putter

High growth startups don’t succeed by luck, and it takes a whole lot more than funding to keep them aloft. Culture Decks Decoded: Transform Your Culture Into a Visible, Conscious, and Tangible Asset (CCF Publishing, November 2018), is a great new book by company culture expert Bretton Putter that lays it all out.

As Putter shows, a company’s success depends on a workforce that’s engaged and motivated to get behind the company, do their very best, and most of all, stay. To do that, they need to know the company culture — and not just as a buzz phrase, but as a clear, compelling, and evolving reality they live and work by — every day.

A culture deck is the latest secret weapon for many of today’s most-loved firms. It’s designed to enable employees to really understand the company mission and the message, and not only grasp but embrace the company’s value.

Companies like Netflix excel in this — and we know that, because they’re always top of the heap. When they rolled out their culture deck some years ago — a benchmark moment highlighted in Putter’s book — it shook up the way companies present themselves and think of themselves. As Putter notes, that’s for the better.

A culture deck is often a visually appealing, punchy, heartfelt slide sequence that conveys everything there is to know about a company. “Culture” in this sense is actually a well-clarified combination plate of values, mission, history, how the company works, how and why its people work, and a range of other topics — transparency, feedback, benefits, diversity, what kind of person is the ideal fit for the company, what kind of person isn’t.

There may be slides on how people can grow and excel, and slides addressing why they wouldn’t. There may be photographs or clever graphics, as well as sophisticated type treatments or utterly simple ones. The presentation should match the organization, and just like no two companies are the same, no two decks are alike.

Putter has gathered stellar examples of culture decks that can be used as models for any company looking to create their own , and leads the reader through the deck’s unique strengths and approaches. There’s a slide from Netflix’s deck on the nine behaviors and skills the company values in its people (judgment, productivity, creativity, intelligence, honesty, communication, selflessness, reliability, and passion).

Putter writes, “Netflix communicates in clear and simple language how living the values, the actual behaviors, and the skills that are demonstrated by fellow employees will all help to get a new employee rewarded and promoted (or fired, if he or she fails to live up to the values).” In other words, employees should take the content of a culture deck to heart.
cover Culture Decks Decodeded
That would be reassuring to those at Soundstripe, another company featured, where failure is considered an inevitable part of the work process — so long as people can “fail quickly and cheaply.” Again, that’s way more than just a slogan — it’s a belief built right into the business: we want you to be innovative, but careful. As Putter notes, “The Soundstripe team member should give the potential for failure some thought before making a move.” It’s a compelling instance of encouraging certain behaviors to serve the interests of this particular business.

It’s tempting to argue that what Putter calls decoding is more akin to translating — and, at times, justifying — the company-speak that many of these decks feature. Patreon doesn’t like the term “culture fit,” it explains in its deck. It prefers the terms “culture add” and “core behavior fit.”

Putter observes that this distinction reflects a company that has done some deep thinking, and they expect their people to take note. “You don’t get the choice of opting out of “adhering” to their core behaviors and values. You have to follow them if you’re going to stay part of the company,” Putter writes.

The value of a culture deck isn’t just the deck itself. In an era when culture has becoming a prevailing concern for many an organization, we’re all looking for a way to identify our own. When the process involves not just a small high level term but a broader range of the organization, it can drive a sense of mission and engagement. What companies want from their people is a sense of commitment, after all — and that is often inspired by the experience on working on a great project, a key strategy, or an exciting initiative.

By deconstructing slides from so many decks, Putter creates a roadmap filled with tips and tactics that any company can use. He discusses everything, from tone to the selection of photographs, from typography to humor — all in the context of having a document that faces inward as well as out. Particularly for startups looking for a way to vault over their own growing pains and stay centered around their own vision, this seems like a vital, and indeed necessary step.

Highly effective cultures that address all aspects of life and work give their people all the references and guidance they need. But they also act as a tool in the hiring process: potential applicants may well do their own due diligence and find an organization’s culture deck in order to decide to go for a job or not. It’s possible they self-select to opt out in the face of certain statements.

Which is fine: In this day and age of intensely competitive talent markets and high turnover, you want to attract the right people, whether you call it culture fit or not. Which, of course, depends on the company.

To learn more about Bretton Putter, visit his website.

About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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