What makes a company’s culture strong? Many organizations struggle to create a memorable and magnetic workplace culture, and it’s no wonder. Organizational culture — the shared values, behaviors and stories that guide people within an organization — can often be tricky to define, not to mention take a lot of time and effort to build.

One thing is clear: strong organizational culture is a powerful talent attractor. It can win you access to the best talent in your industry and be the glue that retains your top employees. In fact, 49% of employees would leave their current jobs for a lower-paying opportunity at an organization with better culture. So how can you turn your culture into one of your strongest assets? 

Let’s look at three examples of organizational culture done well and discuss some steps your organization can take to develop a culture your employees won’t want to leave.

Publix supports employees with ownership and growth opportunities

Florida-based grocery chain Publix Super Markets is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States, employing over 225,000 employees, whom they call associates. 

Publix is an example of an organization with a strong culture. In fact, the company is one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country and has earned a spot on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the last 23 consecutive years. 

So how has Publix done this? Through an employee-centric approach to culture. Once eligible,  Publix employees are able to buy and receive shares of stock in the company, giving them a stake in the company’s success. Publix founder George Jenkins believed this would incentivize employees to take care of the company and work hard to make it better. 

Publix is also invested in their associates’ career development. The Publix career site contains resources such as their job match system, which helps job seekers and current employees find the Publix career path that’s right for them. The company sees the value of promoting from within and encourages employees to pursue opportunities that align with their goals. In fact, Publix’s own CEO and President, Todd Jones, began his career at Publix as a part-time bagger.

Southwest Airlines hires service-minded, fun-loving individuals

Southwest Airlines began flying with just three planes in 1971 and has grown to employ more than 60,000 employees. Its culture is one of its most celebrated assets. Founder Herb Kelleher is credited with instilling the idea that happy employees create happy customers, and profitability follows.

With core values of a “Warrior Spirit,” “Servant’s Heart” and “Fun-LUVing Attitude,” Southwest asks employees to embody hard work, perseverance, proactive customer service and lighthearted fun in everything they do. Managers are encouraged to hire for attitude and train for skill.

Southwest’s culture of service thrives on appreciation, recognition and celebration. Southwest employees take time to recognize one another through formal and informal ways, including internal awards and programs.

Celebrating is something that Southwest is known for — the company history is full of fun and creative events, and employees enjoy annual company-wide celebrations such as parties, chili cookoffs and Southwest Rallies. Southwest employees are often featured in the airline’s commercials, ads and in “Southwest: The Magazine.”

Ramp Agent Supervisor DeAnte Green exemplifies Southwest's organizational culture.
DeAnte Green, Ramp Agent Supervisor at Southwest, exemplifies Southwest's company culture with his service-oriented mindset.

Adobe focuses on fairness, inclusion and creativity in its culture

Adobe, the creativity and multimedia software giant has built a reputation as a business that values quality, creativity and opportunity in everything they do. In fact, they were Indeed’s Top-Rated Workplace of 2019 and have been on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list for 20 years

Adobe creates a strong company culture by offering highly competitive benefits to its employees, such as up to 16 weeks of paid parental leave, as well as paid time off and retirement benefits. Adobe also offers two company-wide breaks each year in the summer and winter where all employees must take time off to rest and recharge. 

Beyond benefits, the company focuses on building diversity, inclusion and fairness into the workplace. Adobe believes that when people feel appreciated and included, they are more innovative and successful. They encourages their employees to appreciate one another for their uniqueness, help one another be heard, consider what people can bring to the table, rethink everyday routines and speak up for what they need. 

Adobe has expressed a strong commitment to fairness and has invested a lot of time and energy into promoting pay parity and opportunity parity across the organization. By working to make sure employees in the same jobs and locations are paid fairly relative to one another and checking to see if promotions and lateral career moves are happening across demographic groups, Adobe seeks to create a culture that recognizes and rewards the contributions of all employees. 

“Adobe’s values — genuine, innovative, involved, and exceptional — are built on the foundation that our people and how we treat one another are what make us a great company,” said Shantanu Narayen, Chairman, President and CEO. “Diversity is about valuing the unique life experience that every employee brings to work every day. Our success is dependent upon it.”

What steps can you take to build a great organizational culture?

Publix Super Markets, Southwest Airlines and Adobe are just some examples of strong organizational culture. While they are now examples of what companies should strive for, they all had to start somewhere. So what are some steps your company can take to develop and improve your organizational culture?

Hire for culture add. 

Hiring for “culture fit” may sound like a good idea, but often, it can leave room for bias — leading to a homogenous culture where employees tend to all think and act alike. Rather than hire for culture fit, try hiring for culture add

Hiring for culture add means considering candidates who will bring new, fresh and different ideas to your team — “adding” something that wasn’t there before. By hiring for cultural add, you’re able to build an organization of individuals who bring different strengths, experiences and perspectives to the table, leading to more innovation and a stronger, better-performing company.  

Prioritize honesty and transparency. 

Employees who feel included and in the loop on important news and decisions are motivated to be more engaged and do their best work. 

In fact, according to a new workplace well-being report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, candor and transparency from senior leaders helps build trust among employees. Being open and vulnerable also helps contribute to a culture of trust. 

And trust is one of the most important contributors to a strong workplace culture that employees don’t want to leave.

Make people feel like they belong

While diversity and inclusion efforts help, belonging takes it a step further. Feelings of safety and belonging among employees can improve communication, collaboration and alignment, which ultimately boosts company revenue. 

Creating an environment of belonging isn’t always easy. In addition to encouraging your employees every day to be themselves, follow their instincts and get involved with the rest of their tribe, you can measure and gauge your efforts through employee engagement surveys. 

Make sure to also design your workspace to be more mindful of belonging, such as having a common area where people can gather. Finally, creating frequent opportunities for employees to connect with one another will help foster a culture of belonging. 

Show you value your employees. 

Finally, showing that you care about your employees will make them more likely to stay at your company. A few ways to do this include paying employees fairly, showing that you’re invested in your employees’ careers and encouraging healthy work habits, such as not overworking


These organizational culture examples show that when companies build a strong organizational culture, they are highly effective in retaining talented employees as well as attracting new candidates. 

These examples of successful organizational cultures aren’t just limited to these companies. Any company, large or small, can take steps to improve their workplace culture by hiring for culture add, prioritizing transparency, creating an environment of belonging and showing they value their employees.

To learn more about how companies build great organizational culture, read our series of interviews with HR leaders:

[Lessons from Disney: How to Build a Workforce that Delivers Magical Experiences]

[From a "No Black Hole" Candidate Experience to Supporting Veterans: Lessons from Enterprise]

["Go Out and Give" — An Interview with Ana Recio, Salesforce's SVP of Global Recruiting]