Culture Book – Two Visions

This kind of publication engages employees, helps to organize company matters and can be a good onboarding tool. There are companies, however, for which the culture book is also worth showing outside the business.
Maciej Przybylski

Maciej Przybylski

Aude Editor, ex-media-worker writing about PR, living in Warsaw yet born close to Szczecin. Managing his life with writing and editing. Likes to look into companies’ communications’ from inside and outside, as well as talk about media and cook. Tries to read all of those Stanislaw Lem’s books, even though this goal seem overwhelming sometimes.

★ 4 minutes czytania

What rules does the company follow? What are its values? Why does it exist? – these are the kind of questions a culture book is trying to provide answers to. If the organization is dynamic, it will create a culture book every year; if the changes are more gradual, the culture book will be created once, and then (if necessity arises) upgraded after a few years.

>> Another year, another culture book for ING Bank Śląski developed by AUDE. Want to take a look inside?

Culture books are not made to put them on the shelf and forget about them. On the contrary, it is a useful internal communication tool. It is the company in a nutshell, a mixture of information about its culture, history, practices and procedures, or about the character of people working at the company. This makes a culture book a good onboarding tool (it is then sometimes called an employee handbook), because it can quickly get a new employee acquainted with the company’s organizational culture. It can also engage long-term employees if they get a chance e.g. to contribute to it.

For some companies, a culture book can become an external communication tool as well. They support employer branding, because they show – in a safe and controlled manner – that the company values good organizational culture. They are also a material that can be interesting to the media or potential candidates. Examples?

Culture first

Polish company Harbingers has built its entire “Career” page based on the content gathered in their culture book.

The coherent look of the publication, the website and the videos posted is surely to make a good impression on the candidate. The materials are also integrated with the company social media, so e.g. the team photo section directs you from the culture book to posts on Facebook, where potential candidates can find further employee description. The job offers are found at the end of the Career page, pointing to the fact that Harbingers first wants to encourage the candidates by presenting its organizational culture, and only then – to show them the job offers.

Casting the fishing rod

Culture books can also be a little mysterious and that’s what companies are also trying to use to their advantage. When such publications are easily accessible, they have little chance to make a splash. But when you need to do something to reach to them – that can be motivating.

I have recently been to Netguru website. They also make their culture book available (they have a special page for it), but they first ask for your basic data (name, email and specialization range and level; necessarily, the company asks mainly about software) and consent to send recruitment information. By showing interest in the culture book you can simultaneously give a signal that you are a potential candidate.

The consent is not obligatory to download the publication. But let’s try to recreate the goal Netguru had in mind: maybe we can pick out a gem?

Be doubtful

Writing about a company’s external communication is always tricky. You never actually know if a given action is a bloomer, or a clever publicity stunt.

The above mentioned aura of mystery around culture books makes them documents that can “leak” to the public. The media would make sensational news (they’re revealing a secret, after all!) out of… the company’s best practices.

In 2012 The Verge website covered the book which Valve – game producer – was said to give to their new employees. The author of the article stated frankly that it was a leak, but he used it to write about interesting things about the company and its organizational culture – it’s worth adding they were all rather positive.

One of the comments was doubtful: “What if the leak was made on purpose to attract new employees?” PCG1 asked. “That was clearly on purpose,” replied someone signed up as tomica. Of course, neither of them could be sure, because that’s the beauty of leaks that show the company in a good light*. What about Valve? Well, today the company makes that very same culture book (the publication date is still 2012) available, but on a generally available website (in several languages, also in Polish).


“Old catch, nobody would believe that today” – you might think. The problem is, in 2020 the media covered a similar story. This time featuring Tesla and Business Insider as the main protagonists.

Two opposite poles of culture books

“It is one of the most important documents ever created by the Silicon Valley,” Sheryl Sandberg, head of operations at Facebook, told QG magazine about Netflix culture book from 2009. The publication had millions of shares, and convinced many companies to describe their organizational culture as a result. But the communication world remembered it not so much for its form (it was actually an average presentation), but for the content, which included a few interesting ideas about managing a company (you can read about the key points in this article by Patty McCord, at that time Chief Talent Officer at Netflix). Another popular culture book often seen in the media has been created for the past several years by Zappos – online shoe store. It is the complete opposite of the Netflix document – a printed book, full of employee photos, a kind of a chronicle.

Netflix and Zappos publications are on two opposite poles, because the main difference between them, apart from the form, seems to be the level of employees engagement in the process of creating the material. Therefore, they can be a reference point for other companies’ culture books, like LinkedIn, Facebook, GetResponse or HubSpot.

With regard to the examples above, Urszula Radzińska, head of AUDE, has rightly pointed out that the idea of creating culture books has been promoted by typically digital organizations. After all, they are known for paying much attention to  organizational culture, which is their way to stand out on the market, and as a result – to attract the best software guys.

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