Plenty of experts debate the key drivers of company culture—some say it’s the leadership, other say it’s the employees. I say it’s everyone, but change in culture starts with a single influential individual, regardless of whether it’s an executive leader or a single employee. Corporate culture, like a virus, starts with an individual host being infected and spreads to the entire organization.

Let me give you two examples: one negative and another positive, both making my point.


Affecting Change in a Toxic Corporate Culture

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If you’ve been following the news then you may have heard about the letter Allied Pilots Association (APA) wrote to American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, blasting the “toxic” company culture. The gist of the letter: “We’re tired of apologizing to customers.” Two years into a merger with US Airways, the company culture is disintegrating to the point where it has infected the product—stock is at an all-time low. The customers are angry and employees are tired of bearing the brunt. American Airlines pilot and president of the APA, Keith Wilson, wrote a letter to fellow pilots back in January. He wanted to see a positive change in corporate culture and rallied other employees to unite in holding the company accountable for its many transgressions against employees and customers. If one person demands excellence then he or she can affect change by taking action.


Getting Buy-in to a Healthy Corporate Culture

You may have seen Hubspot’s 128 deck slideshow:

It’s about why healthy corporate culture is so important to this company. Hubspot is known for being a desirable place to work, and so it attracts and retains top talent. Contrary to what some may think, free snacks and pingpong tables don’t create a positive culture. It’s individual buy-in. This is where we see the leadership (Jim O’Neill, Chief People Officer) building into each employee.

I didn’t look at every slide, but by the fifth one I got the point, “Culture is to Recruiting as Product is to Marketing” it read. American Airlines should take note from a fellow business in the service industry: Hubspot knows that company culture affects its product. By investing heavily in employee training, education and forums to hear their concerns, Hubspot shows respect for its employees and demonstrates the importance of getting each individual employee to wholeheartedly buy into the organization in order to sustain a positive corporate-wide culture.


The Takeaway: It’s You


Whether it’s from the top down or the bottom up, company culture is viral in that it starts and ends with an individual. Therefore, if you are a leader you can change your organization one person at a time. If you are an employee and are invested in the company you work for, whether financially or emotionally, you can change the organization by getting others to buy into your cause. It all starts with you, the host.