How Top Brands like Virgin Build Company Culture

ID 123911246 © Artur Szczybylo |

How Top Brands like Virgin Build Company Culture

You can teach employees a slogan or a marketing soundbite, but what company culture truly is beneath the polish is the foundation upon which the company soars, or falls. It is what people feel about a company and how they talk about it when the cameras are off. It goes beyond the superficial, easily measurable items like work space, physical tools and pay.

“If you don’t take the time to thoughtfully and accurately differentiate and define your culture you run the risk of being just another open floor plan with a ping-pong table.”
– Colleen Finnegan, Recruitment Marketing at Squarespace

“2018 Global Brand Health Report” – Hired

So What is Company Culture Then?

“Culture is really the small set of values that determine how you do things in your organization on a daily basis. These values should drive the three main buckets of business behavior: how you communicate, what you prioritize and what gets rewarded.”

“Defining Company Culture” – Forbes

For proof of the power of company culture you only have to look to the top brands – the companies who are knocking it out of the park because of their culture. Virgin is a great example of this. Sir Richard Branson is well-known not only for his entrepreneurial drive and business acumen, but also for a human focused business culture. The success of Virgin across so many platforms is a credit to this approach…and being worth $5 billion is a pretty good metric too.

Employees First

“Indeed, Branson himself said that by taking care of employees at Virgin that everything else will take care of itself, and with a net worth of approximately $5 billion, it’s hard to argue with him.”

“Sir Richard Branson’s Five Billion Reasons To Make Your Employees And Candidates Happy” – Forbes

Branson puts employees first rather than clients. He understands that in order to give clients the best experience, employees need to be at their best. It’s hard to be at your best when you only have a vague idea of how to do your job.


An underserved customer is often the result of an underserved employee.

On the job training often means being thrown to the wolves. A manager or trainer may be present, but there is little time for questions. The day is just a scramble of trying to keep things going.

This results in stress, gaps in knowledge and a slowed preparation process that spills out onto customer experience.

When training is poor what is being communicated is a lack of value in both the employee and the business. If just getting it done is the focus rather than how it is getting done what is being prioritized is mediocrity not excellence. When the only reward is basic pay or a commission for how much is

“If You Look After Your Staff, They’ll Look After Your Customers. It’s That Simple.” – Richard Branson

“Look After your Staff” – Virgin


ID 62088254 © Norbert Buchholz | Advancement as part of company culture

Business isn’t static so training can’t be ‘one and done’ and remain effective. Workers also value the opportunity for advancement:

“Indeed, a 2015 study found that 69% of employees under 40 say that training opportunities play an important part in deciding whether or not to stay at a job, while a 2016 Gallup report found that 87% of millennials say professional development is important to them in a job.”

“Why So Many companies Get Training Wrong” – BBC

However, more responsibility and greater skill need to mean more than a change of job title to build a strong company culture. When layoffs result in remaining workers getting a double workload without pay increase, for example, the message is to accept it quietly or be axed too.

Sounds like an abusive relationship. What does that build?

This Zendesk article has a great quote from Brené Brown and a follow up food for thought from writer, Mark Smith:

“As Brown argues, “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.” If that sounds a bit touchy-feely, then consider this: have you ever worked in an environment in which the primary motivating factor was fear? And how did that work out?”

“Brené Brown makes the case for vulnerability in Dare To Lead” – Zendesk Relate


It’s almost comical how some companies call free snacks a work perk or even an employee benefit. Providing food in the workplace is surely a plus, but no amount of coffee or doughnuts is going to make up for being treated like a cog in a machine.

Creating a physical and mental environment that is positive benefits all. On the physical end this includes lighting and work stations that reduce fatigue, clean air, and surroundings that make working a great experience.

Virgin believes so strongly in employee well-being they have created Virgin Pulse and work with other companies to implement that into their company cultures too. From one of their case studies with Finish Line:

“The way we’ve measured the success of the program is the shift in culture here at Finish Line. We are more about well-being and we weren’t as focused on that before. It’s infectious when
you hear people talking in the hall about doing challenges; there’s more energy and people are excited about coming to work.”
– Kim Kurtz, Finish Line Benefits Manager

“Case Study: Finish Line” – Virgin Pulse


Having the right software and other basic tools easily accessible also enables workers to be and do their best.

Many companies are still stuck in the last century conducting business as usual:

  • unintegrated or outdated software
  • noisy open floor plans
  • workplaces without windows
  • dirty ventilation systems
  • rigid work schedules
  • tracking employees’ every move
  • requiring approval for any time off, even a trip to the bathroom
  • creating a culture of stress, judgment and fear

According to Virgin trust is a part of a successful company culture that rewards both sides. The company instituted flexible working, allowing salaried employees unlimited time off, work from home options, quality tools and wellness support.

“Screw business as usual. If you trust your people to make their own decisions, they will reward you.”

Flexible Working is Smart Working” – Virgin

How would you define your company culture in a sentence? Are you confident that your employees would authentically describe it as you do? What about your customers?