The Ultimate Guide to Company Culture Part One: The Art of Building Great Company Culture

The Ultimate Guide to Company Culture Part One: The Art of Building Great Company Culture

The team here at Kicksaw has shed our fair share of blood, sweat, and tears over the course of the last six years to create a culture that defines us in a unique, effective, and powerful way. The lived experience of this process was an arduous journey, with bumps, mistakes, and lessons learned. It was simple, but definitely not easy. Simple because we just built the thing that felt right — but with no single correct path to follow and no guarantees of success, it was certainly challenging (and still is!).

All the hard work was absolutely worthwhile, because the culture we have now empowers us to truly do business the way that we want to do it. Our culture is the supercharger on our business, allowing us to attract and retain the team members we know align with our values, deliver outsized success for our customers, and make headway on our path to truly transform consulting.

We say all this not to brag, but with pride and the hope to offer inspiration. With the right mindset and motivation, any business can build a world-class culture that employees dream of. And when you nail that company culture, you will attract the best employees, see less turnover, and be rewarded with happier customers who see better outcomes — it’s truly an enormous, if underappreciated, differentiator.

In this first installment of our four-part ultimate guide to company culture, we’re going to take a look at what it means to approach culture building as an art form, rather than as a box to be checked. 

A company culture can feel a lot like a sand castle, constantly at risk of being destroyed by the elements. No matter how good your culture is at any given moment, it’s perishable, and it will require constant maintenance. We’ve done enough work on our ‘sand castle’ that we’re now seeing some big dividends, and we feel that it’s our responsibility to share what we’ve learned and wished we had known six years ago — that’s why we’re launching this series. 

Let’s dive in.

Culture, defined

A company’s ethos is what makes or breaks its success. Though a healthy culture is difficult to describe, you know it when you see it, and more importantly, you know it when you don’t. 

Without a strong company culture as your foundation, your business is a house of cards and will not succeed in the long run. So, what is company culture? 

At its heart, company culture is an informal code of beliefs and behaviors that guides employees on how to act in accordance with the company's stated values. That said, cultures are not necessarily negative or positive environments — they are ultimately a reflection of what leaders tolerate. A healthy culture should bolster the likelihood of achieving the business’ desired outcomes. Kicksaw’s culture is one of inclusivity and support, because we believe that’s our best shot at transforming consulting and building a place where people can live and work well. But cultures run the gamut. 

For example, there are plenty of company cultures that are competitive, cutthroat, or toxic, and it all starts with leadership. Leaders who backbite or cut down others to advance their own position will find a culture that fosters the same. Leaders who give autonomy and trust team members but allow toxic individuals to remain may find themselves saddled with an equally toxic culture. All cultures have the potential to generate profits and 'success,' but we firmly believe that a positively-oriented company culture with a sense of shared purpose will outperform the alternative.

You’ll know your culture is strong when your team has internalized and accepted it. At Kicksaw you’ll hear employees use language like, “I’m gonna own this task,” or, “Let’s work together to come up with a better plan,” which are phrases taken directly from our core values. Kicksaw’s leaders don’t have to enforce adherence to our culture, it happens naturally. People inherently trust each other and feel trusted. This trust enables us to concentrate on the important aspects of our work. 

Instead of executives nitpicking slide decks or shadowing calls out of fear, they utilize their time to aim higher and wider, focusing on the actions they/we need to take today to evolve into a better company tomorrow. 

Additionally, our culture acts as an immune system for the business. Employees who are resistant or destructive to a culture of inclusivity and supporting others to do their best work don’t last long here.

One of the most significant culture-building steps we’ve taken as a business was to define our core values (which we've blogged about in detail). Read the linked blog post to learn more about that process, but suffice it to say, it's well worth your time as a leader to put words to the values that should guide every decision employees make. This allows you to take a step back and trust that the team can make the right decisions without you looking over their shoulder.

Company culture as an art

Kicksaw Co-founder Kyle Morris views building a company culture not as following a recipe or set of instructions, but more as a form of art, emphasizing creativity and intuition over rigid guidelines.

“When you’re building a company, you are inevitably creating a culture alongside it. In order to do both well, you have to know yourself and resist the forces that pull you away from staying true to who you are. Just like an artist trying to bring something unique into the world, we’re not out here trying to create the ‘elevator music’ version of a company culture — we’re trying to create the version that is us. When developing our culture, I try not to pay much attention to  what others have done. What has worked for other teams is not relevant to me, or to Kicksaw. Our culture is unique to us, and is also more than just me; it’s a reflection of everyone here — that’s what makes it so strong.”


When it comes to company culture ethos, at Kicksaw, we keep it really simple by adhering to our North Star, which is to do the right thing by our employees and customers. 

Our teammates are individuals and we value their differences — their quirks, strengths, and different perspectives round us out and make us stronger. When they succeed we succeed, so we do our best to give them the resources they need and get out of their way. 

Aside from offering attractive perks like unlimited PTO, profit sharing, tech stipends, and the like, adhering to our commitment to do right by our people really boils down to staying consistent. Owning our positions on workplace policies, performance expectations, work-life balance, and other considerations earns respect for Kicksaw leadership. Our leaders, in turn, respect those folks we’ve decided to bring onto the team by leading with honesty. Even when that’s hard. 

Kyle shares this story about leading with honesty: 

“Early in Kicksaw's journey, we were growing quickly, with cohorts of new hires starting almost weekly. We were pushing the envelope, confident in our ability to balance the flow of money coming into and going out of the Kicksaw. Unfortunately, one of our customers decided to stiff us on the largest invoice we had ever sent. Nearly three weeks worth of runway was gone in a flash, and payroll was coming due. My co-founder Kenny and I realized that we'd have to stop paying ourselves for the foreseeable future while we worked to shore up the company's reserves. 

“For a few tense weeks, we and the rest of the team scrambled to get customers to pay early and pre-purchase hours they knew would be consumed. And although payroll was never missed, there was a time that that was in question. But Kenny and I fully believe that leaders eat last, and that it isn't fair to ask the team to do something we wouldn't do ourselves — that was the culture we wanted for Kicksaw, and we stuck to it even when the going got tough.” 

One of the many phrases often shared at Kicksaw is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Kicksaw lives this value out by sharing stakes with our employees. Programs like profit sharing and phantom equity show our teammates that we trust them with this business and that we truly value their contributions. 

Our commitment to do right by people extends to our customers as well, of course, and for obvious reasons. Our customers rely on us. Each and every day they entrust us with the success of their business. The stakes couldn’t really be higher for them, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. Despite that pressure, and because we strive to always do the right thing for them, it’s hard for us to truly go wrong — and we know what we’re doing is working because we have a long list of happy clients who regularly refer us to others.  


If doing right by people is our North Star…being told to do something a certain way just because 'that’s how it’s done' is our South Star. 

“Because I’m the type of person that needs to figure things out my own way, I don't take what has worked for others as gospel,” says Kyle. “Jimi Hendrix wasn’t trying to sound like The Beatles or Elvis. And Kicksaw shouldn’t try to be like our competitors.”

We’re not espousing rebellion for rebellion’s sake, of course — we’re saying that it’s important to be yourself, even if that bucks the status quo. It will be difficult, and others will question you along the way, but that’s how innovation happens.

The traditional method of running Salesforce implementations didn’t sit well with Kicksaw CEO and Co-founder Kenny Goldman, back when Kicksaw was just a side hustle. The birth of Fractional Operations, which is the bedrock of what makes Kicksaw operationally unique, came from a sense of frustration with 'how it was done.'

Neither Kenny nor Kyle had ever worked for a consulting firm prior to starting Kicksaw — they just knew that none of the options out there were solving the problems they were experiencing. So, rather than accepting what the existing consulting firms were offering, they came up with a different option. A better option, informed by their own needs and the belief that there had to be a better way. 

By owning their sense that there was a better way of running implementations, our founders stayed true to the nascent culture that was slowly but surely taking shape. If that hadn’t happened, Kicksaw simply wouldn’t be what it is today, and neither would our culture.

Fractional Operations, AKA an adaptive way of solving a customer’s problems, was informed by our company culture, and it sets us apart in a massive way. You’ll never hear an employee say, “Working at Kicksaw is just like working at [insert Salesforce consulting firm name].” And we think that’s a very, very good thing. 

Cultivate authenticity

In order to create something great, you have to take risks and be authentic as well as vulnerable. You may fall flat on your face, but that’s ok. 

If your method of creating something special is essentially copying someone else, folks will feel that. And they won’t connect with it. Employees will respect and connect with authentic leaders who own mistakes — everyone recognizes and values authenticity, whether that’s in a song or in the workplace.  

Establishing authenticity will take time. There are no shortcuts, so you have to really believe in what you’re doing and be in it for the long haul. 

In the immortal words of Will Smith, “You don’t say, ‘I'm going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that's ever been built.' You don't start there. You say, 'I'm going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’”

Building a solid brick wall of authenticity requires that you be consistent over time, and that you say what you do and do what you say. It can be really hard to stay the course, but even one little misstep can cost you. Trust, once lost, is often impossible to regain. 

Bear in mind that no two individuals will have the same interpretation of your company's culture. For example, both Kenny and Kyle will use wildly different stories to explain why Keep It Simple is one of the Kicksaw core values. However, if you allow for that flexibility, more folks will adopt the culture, because it will feel more personal to them. If instead you tell them to memorize a set of core values or a mission statement word for word, you'll only get halfhearted acceptance. Culture shouldn’t be dogma.

If this all feels impossible or unreasonably difficult, it should. Creating something special is difficult, and there are no guarantees of success. But the juice is very much worth the squeeze.  

In the next installment in our ultimate guide to company culture, we’re going to dive deep into modern vs. outdated approaches to culture, and business in general. The best way to know when that post is published is to follow us on LinkedIn. And in the meanwhile, if you want to talk about the art of company culture or authenticity in leadership further, check out some of Kyle’s more recent blog posts, and feel free to reach out to him on LinkedIn as well — talking about company culture is one of his favorite pastimes, and he’d love to connect with you.

Ready for more thought-provoking company culture blog posts? Check out the other posts in this series: 

No items found.
No items found.