Quick Studies

What You Can Learn From More Than 30 Culture Decks and Employee Handbooks

As more organizations understand culture as the competitive tool it is, they’re openly sharing “culture decks” or employee handbooks to attract like-minded employees and customers.

New technologies spread faster than ever before. Consumer expectations leap from one category to another at ever-quicker speeds. And as more industries become digitized, the barrier to entry for competition falls. In this era, culture is your company’s only truly sustainable competitive advantage. No one can steal it or copy it, because culture is the sum total of your individual behaviors, values, attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions. Moreover, employees consistently cite culture as one of their prime reasons to join and stay with a company. In short, culture is the most effective and defensible tool to win with both customers and employees.

What’s in a culture deck?

Just like companies, no two handbooks or culture decks are alike; they look different, use different formats, and cover different topics. Some are only two pages, others are 120+ slides; some are updated regularly; others are one-time deals. But common features include:

  • A history of the company and its plans for growth

  • A description of their products and/or business model

  • A look into how the company works, especially what sets it apart

  • A set of shared values and what those values demand from employees

Our team has compiled and analyzed more than two dozen culture decks, presented in alphabetical order below. We’ve highlighted our favorite aspects of each deck, but we encourage you to explore on your own. If you’re interested in developing your own team’s culture, contact us.


22squared Atlanta Employee Handbook

This handbook has a clever premise: it was written by a new employee, documenting their first 22 days at the company, and functions as half-handbook, half-journal.This handbook has a clever premise: it was written by a new employee, documenting their first 22 days at the company, and functions as half-handbook, half-journal.

360incentives Culture Book

 Instead of being a prescriptive manual, 360's Culture Book serves as a yearbook, including fun pictures from events of the past year and reflections of what the company's values mean to individuals. The book also serves as a great recruiting tool that supports their designation as the second best workplace in Canada in 2014. Instead of being a prescriptive manual, 360’s Culture Book serves as a yearbook, including fun pictures from events of the past year and reflections of what the company’s values mean to individuals. The book also serves as a great recruiting tool that supports their designation as the second best workplace in Canada in 2014.

Acceleration Partners Culture Deck

 AP's Culture Deck is oriented towards recruiting new team members, with a heavy emphasis on the benefits of working with the company, such as a stimulating working environment, flexible schedules, and continued learning opportunities. In addition, they give clear examples of how their values impact their daily activities, like using values as hiring and promotion criteria. AP’s Culture Deck is oriented towards recruiting new team members, with a heavy emphasis on the benefits of working with the company, such as a stimulating working environment, flexible schedules, and continued learning opportunities. In addition, they give clear examples of how their values impact their daily activities, like using values as hiring and promotion criteria.

Big Spaceship Manual

 Big Spaceship's manual is upfront about its purpose: it helps new employees understand how the team makes decisions, not how to access an internal server. There's a heavy emphasis on being a human at work, and they even include a checklist of things newbies can do to integrate into the team faster. We interviewed leadership at Big Spaceship to learn more; get an inside look at how the manual came together  here . Big Spaceship’s manual is upfront about its purpose: it helps new employees understand how the team makes decisions, not how to access an internal server. There’s a heavy emphasis on being a human at work, and they even include a checklist of things newbies can do to integrate into the team faster. We interviewed leadership at Big Spaceship to learn more; get an inside look at how the manual came together here .

Crispin Porter + Bogusky Employee Handbook

 CP+B's Employee Handbook is clear about its expectations for employees: commit to creating only the best advertising, and aid others when they need help. They also address the company's weaknesses, like meeting deadlines, and ask employees to help. CP+B’s Employee Handbook is clear about its expectations for employees: commit to creating only the best advertising, and aid others when they need help. They also address the company’s weaknesses, like meeting deadlines, and ask employees to help.

Disney Culture Book (1943)

While Disney's Culture Deck is certainly dated, it's notable that the company still made an effort to write and illustrate a book, adding style to what could otherwise be a bland list of rules. Thanks to Michael Quirke for the suggestion.

While Disney’s Culture Deck is certainly dated (and problematic), it’s notable that the company still made an effort to write and illustrate a book, adding style to what could otherwise be a bland list of rules. Thanks to Michael Quirke for the suggestion.

Do Something

 DoSomething's culture book is largely geared towards interns and potential employees, demonstrating how they can make a difference within the company. Several pages are dedicated to employees answering questions like DoSomething’s culture book is largely geared towards interns and potential employees, demonstrating how they can make a difference within the company. Several pages are dedicated to employees answering questions like “What’s your favorite DS memory?” to “What tattoo would you get?”.

Disqus Culture Book

 Disqus spends the first part of its Culture Book explaining its history, the product, and the company's business model. The rest is dedicated to the work itself: how employees work, how to operate within the workspace, and Disqus spends the first part of its Culture Book explaining its history, the product, and the company’s business model. The rest is dedicated to the work itself: how employees work, how to operate within the workspace, and “life,” including time off and work-life balance.

Facebook Employee Handbook

 Ok, we couldn't find the whole document, but here are some images from the mysterious Facebook employee handbook, detailing the company's purpose and approach to work. Ok, we couldn’t find the whole document, but here are some images from the mysterious Facebook employee handbook, detailing the company’s purpose and approach to work.

Fractured Atlas Culture Deck

Fractured Atlas has a site dedicated to how the team works together, and includes a video welcome from the CEO.

Fractured Atlas has a site dedicated to how the team works together, and includes a video welcome from the CEO.

GiveForward Culture Deck

 Everyone talks about mission, vision, and values, but GiveForward's Culture Deck explains the connection between the three, and what they look like in practice. They also include a mantra—their Everyone talks about mission, vision, and values, but GiveForward’s Culture Deck explains the connection between the three, and what they look like in practice. They also include a mantra—their “secret sauce”—and include video examples so people can see it in action.

Handy Culture Deck

 In addition to practical do's and don'ts, home service booking platform Handy provides a discount code for its services directly in its Culture Deck—a clear indication that these decks are powerful marketing tools as well as internal guides. In addition to practical do’s and don’ts, home service booking platform Handy provides a discount code for its services directly in its Culture Deck—a clear indication that these decks are powerful marketing tools as well as internal guides.

Hubspot Culture Code

 As part of its commitment to transparency (and to recruit great people)‚ HubSpot makes its cultural As part of its commitment to transparency (and to recruit great people)‚ HubSpot makes its cultural “operating system” available to all. To better attract and screen potential candidates, one section details the characteristics of a “Hubspotty” individual.

Idea Couture’s Culture Handbook

 As befits a strategic innovation shop, IC's culture is always adapting, but their culture guide maps out their values and what they expect their team to do (and what not to do!). As befits a strategic innovation shop, IC’s culture is always adapting, but their culture guide maps out their values and what they expect their team to do (and what not to do!).

Memoria Visual

 Memoria Visual uses a narrative approach (specifically, an analogy of a mission to Pluto) to explain its purpose and ways of working. Memoria Visual uses a narrative approach (specifically, an analogy of a mission to Pluto) to explain its purpose and ways of working.

Mindvalley Culture

 In addition to an introduction to its company culture, Mindvalley includes a In addition to an introduction to its company culture, Mindvalley includes a “Code of Awesomeness” that summarizes their 10 most important values.

The Motley Fool Rules

 The Motley Fool's Interactive handbook incorporates video (an increasing trend) and additional links so employees can dig deeper into important topics. The Motley Fool’s Interactive handbook incorporates video (an increasing trend) and additional links so employees can dig deeper into important topics.

NASA Safety Culture Handbook

 NASA's handbook is more cut-and-dry as befits a government organization, but still covers important topics like the NASA’s handbook is more cut-and-dry as befits a government organization, but still covers important topics like the “Lessons Learned System” and “Engaged Culture.”

Netflix Culture

 The Netflix Culture Deck was one of the first to be widely shared, and now has well over 14 million views. Despite its simple design, it's gone on to inspire many of the other decks seen here. The Netflix Culture Deck was one of the first to be widely shared, and now has well over 14 million views. Despite its simple design, it’s gone on to inspire many of the other decks seen here.

Nordstrom Employee Handbook

 Nordstrom's Handbook gets right to the point: there's only one rule. This is page two of a two page Nordstrom’s Handbook gets right to the point: there’s only one rule. This is page two of a two page “document.”

Paessler Culture Deck

 Paessler's Culture Deck is minimal, but it makes an effort to explain how they have arrived at each value. Paessler’s Culture Deck is minimal, but it makes an effort to explain how they have arrived at each value.

Patreon’s “Cheat Codes”

Patreon not only created a deck to explain their values, they had them illustrated and displayed in their employee cafe as a regular reminder.

Patreon not only created a deck to explain their values, they had them illustrated and displayed in their employee cafe as a regular reminder.

Possible Health Culture Code

 Possible's Culture Code breaks down its 11 values and gives people clear examples so they understand what those values look like in practice. Possible’s Culture Code breaks down its 11 values and gives people clear examples so they understand what those values look like in practice.

Spotify Engineering Culture

 Who says an employee handbook has to be a book? Spotify's video (the first of two parts) breaks down their engineering culture and has a handy graphic that can be easily referred to. Who says an employee handbook has to be a book? Spotify’s video (the first of two parts) breaks down their engineering culture and has a handy graphic that can be easily referred to.

Thoughtbot Playbook

 Thoughbot's handbook is a Thoughbot’s handbook is a “living document” that employees can edit in GitHub. It’s laid out in a clear, step-by-step manner, from the Design Sprint to Measuring, making it easy for anyone to understand the entire process. We love seeing a company put their culture deck not only online, but in a form that those inside and outside the company can iterate upon.

Trello Employee Manual Board

 Trello created a kanban board to capture its policies, making it easier to find the specific policy or topic the reader is interested in. Trello created a kanban board to capture its policies, making it easier to find the specific policy or topic the reader is interested in.

Valve Handbook

 One of the most comprehensive handbooks available, Valve's explains One of the most comprehensive handbooks available, Valve’s explains “the choices you’re going to be making and how to think about them.” This can be as high-level as their approach to serving clients, to the mundane, like moving a desk.

Wealthsimple Culture Manual

 Wealthsimple’s Culture Manual lays out the company’s vision, values, and ways of working, like “Forever in Beta.” In addition to sharing what the company stands for with the general public, it’s also used in onboarding. Wealthsimple’s Culture Manual lays out the company’s vision, values, and ways of working, like “Forever in Beta.” In addition to sharing what the company stands for with the general public, it’s also used in onboarding.

Whiteboard Culture Book

Whiteboard's culture book infuses information about their work practices with their own personal style. It also includes resources like an office map and glossary of commonly used words like "wireframes."Whiteboard’s culture book infuses information about their work practices with their own personal style. It also includes resources like an office map and glossary of commonly used words like “wireframes.”

Zaarly Employee Handbook

 Zaarly puts a greater emphasis on internal communication and structure, leaving values for last. Zaarly’s handbook puts a greater emphasis on internal communication and structure, leaving values for last.

Zappos Culture Book (2014)

 One of the most famous culture books; it includes contributions from all its team members. One of the most famous culture books; it includes contributions from all its team members.

ZGM Employee Handbook

 ZGM's handbook lays out expectations for how the new employee will interact with the rest of the team and responsibilities to clients. ZGM’s handbook lays out expectations for how the new employee will interact with the rest of the team and responsibilities to clients.

Wait, where’s my culture deck?

Does your team or organization have a culture deck that we haven’t included here? Do let us know!

Published September 11, 2016