Work Happy: Creating A Positive Company Culture

Business advice Workplace wellness
Estimated read time: 10 mins
Published: 20/05/2019

On 17th May, we held the fourth event in our Work Happy event series, this time honing in on how to go about creating a positive company culture.

Work.Life’s mission is to be the UK leaders in workplace happiness and in our Work Happy event series, we hear from experts in the happiness field who make it their mission to help people find their best work and life selves.

So far, we’ve heard from Henry Stewart of Happy Ltd. on empowering your people and owning up to your mistakes, Sally Lovett on how what you eat at lunch might ruin your day (a hard one to swallow), Jodie Carriss on mental health at work and making the unsaid said, plus, a whole host of other clever humans on the highs and lows of engaging the future workforce.

This month, our speaker was Tony McGaharan. Tony works in People Operations at Google and is currently responsible for hiring Product Managers in London. Passionate about people development at all levels, Tony finds and nurtures the best tech talent and ensures leaders at Google get the most out of their teams.

Positive Company Culture: Definition

Company culture is defined as the personality of a business. Every company has a culture in some form – it includes a range of elements like work environment, core values, ethics and the company’s mission.

But what makes a positive company culture? A positive company culture is a workplace culture which encourages employee engagement, creates enthusiasm and boosts productivity. For these reasons, it’s widely accepted that having a positive company culture has benefits for recruitment, employee retention, branding and ROI.

So how do businesses go about creating a positive company culture? Let’s find out..

Creating A Positive Company Culture: Guide


What we learned:


Tony started off addressing the buzzword that is, culture. He explained that a culture is dynamic and the sum of its parts, it can’t be influenced by just one person”.

Google employs close to 100,000 people worldwide, with offices in 60 countries and 150 cities. Tony explained that Google’s mission is to “organise the world’s information, making it accessible and useful”. This mission has remained constant from the get go, all ‘Googlers’ know it and put it at the forefront of what they do.

In order to embed the culture in thousands of teams across the world, Tony explained that a company’s internal operating principles must be the same. At Google, those principals are mission, transparency and voice.  

Transparency comes into play every week at Google’s TGIF (Thank Google It’s Friday) meetings. The entire global team get together each week and share information about product launches and hear stories about the business from around the globe.

Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are still very much in touch with the people on the ground and answer questions from anyone in the company.


Tony also said that Google take their Annual Employee Survey seriously, as do team members, “There’s a 90% response rate across the company and that’s because employees see change from them”.

Google have established a clear OKR (objectives and key results) structure where any employee can access their own and others’ OKR’s online and senior leaders are expected to report back on theirs. The idea is that there are stretch targets, “you’re not necessarily expected to hit them all and this creates a great environment for not being afraid to fail and a good tolerance for risk”.

“We can’t set the culture, we can only influence it”

Tony touched on how Google addresses the diversity of cultures across their offices worldwide. Creating a positive company culture that transcends the barriers which might emerge through difference in language and culture is no mean feat. Tony said that you can’t ask people to ditch their national culture at the door, “personally, I’m always amazed that everywhere I go, there’s buy in to the Google culture. We maintain consistency across the globe because the brand is very strong”.

Tony’s experience dictates that even when the physical spaces are different or the roles people do do not relate to each other, the company culture can stay the same so long as everyone shares and understands the same mission.

“Our secret sauce is our people”

Tony’s job is centred around finding the right people for the job, but he explained that they don’t rely on simply finding the person with the technical skill to do the job best.

Google have a thorough interviewing process which is designed to assess people based on a range of attributes, only one being their ability to perform the tasks of the role.

Although it’s vital that an employee is technically able to perform, if they score extremely highly elsewhere in the process, this may carry them through, “We ask, can you do it? And if not, can we train you to do it?”.

All prospective Googlers are also rated on leadership (Do you work well in a team, do you challenge the status quo?), Googleyness (Will you be effective in the Google culture?), passion (Do you love the mission?) and ownership (Do you have an element of humility, can you make good decisions that have impact?).


Google follow the traditional structured (“they give a much better review of performance than unstructured”) interview process which includes phone and face to face interviews, but also include a final step of enlisting a hiring committee, “this is a group of senior leaders who objectively review all of the interview feedback so we can be sure a good decision is made”.

Tony explained that Google is, by nature, extremely data driven and that their interview process is no different.

Their data analysts have determined that once you’ve completed four interviews, you can statistically have 84% confidence that you’ll make the right decision.

Despite their data driven approach, Tony explained the process is still very human, “We’re People Operations not HR […] After we’ve hired, it’s important to focus on how we’ll care for the people, make it easy for them to do their job and look after them for the entire lifecycle”.

“Set your people up for success”

Tony (a keen sportsman!) then brought our attention to ‘pre-season’, otherwise known as employee on-boarding.

Tony believes a structured and thorough onboarding process can have serious impact: “It matters. We set up an experiment with a control group and a group where managers were nudged to ensure specific parts of the on-boarding process were complete. Those that were nudged were fully effective 25% faster”.

Armed with data, the People team at Google have found that supporting and developing their managers to become good coaches for their team is the most important influencer on workplace happiness: “We want managers who empower their team and care about their team’s successes and wellbeing”.

Competencies such as having a focus on career development, having technical skills to up-skill their team, plus, being a strong communicator and decision maker are all rated at Google as necessary skills for managerial positions.

Tony also explained that being able and excited to collaborate across the company is a more recent addition to the list, “When we’re growing so fast, different product areas often become siloed. We’re in a much better place now that we’ve recognised this”.

Tony’s top tips for creating a positive company culture

  • Psychological safety.
    • Remove the fear of failure, allow your people to be vulnerable without the fear of repercussions.
  • Dependability.
    • Trust on both sides. Be able to rely on your employees and managers to complete work well.
  • Structure and Clarity.
    • Is everyone clear on what they’re trying to achieve? If not, is everyone clear on how to get there?
  • Meaning.
    • Does our work have meaning? Are we connected to the fact that this is important?
  • Impact.
    • Does the work we’re doing have an actual impact on the mission?
  • Care for your people.
    • Are there systems in place to support our team’s wellness?
  • Focus on inclusion.
    • Is our workplace an inclusive environment? Are people able to benefit from the joy of diversity?


Panel Discussion:


For our panellist discussion, Tony was joined by Sarah Penney (Tide) and Rochelle Bray (Work.Life), as our host Angelica Malin, Editor in Chief of About Time Magazine, probed the trio on how we can take action to build a happier work culture.

Sarah is the PR and Communications Manager at business banking platform, Tide. As the first hire in the PR and Communications team she is currently focussed on setting up much of the communications infrastructure at Tide.

Sarah has developed the internal communications channels at the company and is working to embed refreshed business values and behaviours, as well as building their profile as a brilliant place to work.

Rochelle Bray is the Team Engagement Officer at Work.Life. Rochelle looks after all of the recruitment, HR and engagement for 50+ Work.Life employees, in all 9 locations spread across London, Reading and Manchester. 

Angelica kicked off by asking the group for their golden rule in creating a positive work culture. Rochelle stated for her it’s having a shared purpose, “There needs to be a clear mission across the team. We live our values so that we employ the right people from the get go. Transparency is also important for us, sharing all parts of the business with the team”.

She said that keeping people updated on how the business is doing maximises productivity, “if every single day you work very hard and see no movement, then you’re less likely to be passionate about the work you’re doing”.

Sarah agreed that having a shared mission and purpose is foundational and that Tide are going through the process of updating their values to fit where the company is at now, “In two years the company has grown to over 150 people and the old values don’t work anymore. We held workshops where everyone across the business was encouraged to be involved in developing new values- even our team in Bulgaria were involved! We also made sure the executive team were there in every workshop so they could hear what the business means to its employees”.

Tony said the big thing for him is inclusion, “Try not to cater to a specific type of individual. For example, we know we have a lot of parents at Google so every office has a safe area for kids to play”.

Minimising the fallout from a bad hire

All of our panelists agreed on the costliness of a bad hire to your company culture. “You’ve got to get it right”, said Tony, “it’s important to take your time to mitigate the risk of hiring someone who could be cancerous to your culture”. He said that he’s heard of lots of the most technically talented applicants getting to the final stage and not getting the role based on culture fit, “you cannot compromise when it comes to humility and respect”.

Sarah said that Tide always include a member of the team who has nothing to do with the applicant’s role as a type of ‘culture interviewer’, “their only job is to see if the person will fit in with the company or not”.

As Tony pointed out, “small companies don’t have the luxury of absorbing a bad hire” and Sarah agreed that it’s imperative to strike the balance between skill and culture, “a startup can’t absorb lack of skill or a bad culture fit”.

Diversity in Culture

When Angelica asked whether an introverted person is able to get across their social fit in a one hour interview slot, Tony noted that “culture isn’t an excuse for not hiring someone you don’t like”.

Google’s research found that employees who felt their teams were more diverse and inclusive, also felt they were most capable of innovation, “if you want to innovate, grow and be competitive, think about hiring a diverse team”.

Rochelle added that if someone is more introverted, you should ensure they’re interviewed by someone with a similar personality type.

Angelica also asked about neurodiversity and Tony said that it’s about “changing the interview process to make it nurturing for everyone, not lowering the bar”.

Cost-effective Team Bonding

Rochelle said that Work.Life allocate every team member £25 per month of ‘team joy’, where you must spend the money enjoying yourself with any of your colleagues. This helps us with creating a positive company culture that everyone can benefit from.

At Tide, they hold a new joiners breakfast, “Managers introduce the new hire and the new employee then gives two facts and a lie about themselves! It’s a nice way to get to know everyone informally and have food together”.

Tony pointed out that team bonding can often revolve around the pub but that “we need to be inclusive of everyone”.

He’s found that forced outdoor fun is a thrifty and simple way to have fun outside the office with your team, “it’s good to have a leader who say’s ‘Lets go to the park!’ You’ve got to balance the formal and the informal”.

What are the new workforce looking for from their work?

Sarah, Tony and Rochelle have all found people are increasingly looking for purpose and an opportunity to develop.

It’s obvious that workplaces must adapt to meet this desire. Tony said, “As a business, if you want to be successful then it’s in your best interest to support your team and to help understand and marry their purpose with their role”.

He said that although it’s on an employee to own their career, companies should create an ecosystem of support. Google have a “grass-roots led” learning management system where you can learn skills from your colleagues, everything from coding to public speaking.


Measuring success

At Work.Life, every member of staff has personal ‘rocks’ to complete quarterly. The company also has shared ‘team rocks’ which every individual in the company is bonused around.

This is similar to Google’s OKR system, and Tony reminded us that it shouldn’t be cut and dry, “it’s important to note that there is the ‘What did you achieve?’ hard metrics and the ‘How did you get there?’ question”. Remembering that not achieving all of the OKR’s does not necessarily constitute failure, it’s important for keeping teams motivated.

Work.Life is focused on providing happy workspaces and we hope that this event series will help others to understand how better to promote happiness and create a positive company culture in their workplace!

Next in the series, we have Work Happy: The Effect of Flexibility and Trust on Happiness at Work with experts from Charlie HR and Slack, which takes place in our Fitzrovia space on June 12th.

Thanks to everyone who made our fourth Work Happy event so great and we hope to see you all at the next one – take a look at our events page for more details!


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