News & Views

Return on Culture: Moving past the ping pong table

by Contagious Team

In today’s era of transparency, simply stating corporate beliefs and values is no longer enough. The internal culture of a business can be deployed to gain a genuine competitive advantage, and so the ability to express a unique or unified culture is emerging as a crucial pillar of brand communication. At Now / Next / Why, we'll be exploring how brands are turning their internal assets and behaviour into external storytelling and branded content, and sharing the way they work with the outside world to build trust and advocacy.

Katie Hunt-Morr, senior manager of values and impact at Etsy, will join us at Now / Next / Why New York to share how Etsy has constructed a company that is an avid exporter of its own culture and the ways and means by which it goes about its business day to day. Today, culture is the brand, and Etsy has built a strong one.

We recently caught up with Hunt-Morr to learn about how Etsy has moved past ping pong and free food to build a robust company culture that is one of the brand's biggest assets. 

What do you think the most important elements are in building a strong company culture?

The most important foundation to is connecting mission and values to everything the company does. Allowing employees to contribute to a greater purpose transforms the very nature of work.  

Giving employees agency to make critical decisions is also key. It's fundamental that staff feel trusted and that they have the freedom to react and innovate without going through a chain of command. The Etsy's crew is the most talented I've ever worked with. Our structure allows each employee to be maximally effective in his/her work.

We’ve always had a culture of open expression at Etsy, which we actively maintain. Employees need to feel comfortable being their true selves at the office, whether that's about what they wear, sharing quirky hobbies, or feeling safe to express their opinions. Inviting employees to show up as their complete selves brings staff closer together and is reflected in the creativity and openness they bring to their work.  

How have you guys seen Etsy’s culture impact things like recruiting or how the company is viewed in regard to its peers? How does the company’s culture impact the marketing you guys do?

Our culture is a huge draw for prospective hires, but it's more significant than the surface offerings that are now staples of most tech companies. People want to work at Etsy because we are driven by our mission and values, not just because we offer free food and a ping pong table (although we do have and love both!).  

What is one of the biggest surprises you found in investigating Etsy's culture?

Etsy has an overwhelmingly positive culture. We trust and support each other to phenomenal degrees. We go to great lengths to celebrate achievements and create an environment in which everyone feels valued. I was surprised to find that there is actually a downside to this. We discovered through our Happiness Survey that employees didn't feel they can express feelings of disappointment or struggle -- that there isn't a place for negativity, even when it's honest.  We are building programs to shift the culture so employees experience the upsides of our positivity and also feel they can be real about less than positive feelings.  

With a startup or young company it’s possible to guide the culture more strongly, but what about with a bigger or older company, have you seen any cases where an older company has begun to emphasize culture and been able to successfully grow it?

It can be difficult for companies to do an about-face, but increasingly big corporations are making incredible shifts. These transitions are most commonly focused around environmental impact.  The classic example of this is Interface Flor, which was transformed after their founder realized the toll their production was taking on the environment. Nike is another good example of a company that has completely changed its operations to positively impact the people in its supply chain. These changes have a tremendous affect on internal operations. Giving employees greater purpose in their work is at the core of company culture.


At Now / Next / Why on May 8 in New York, the Contagious team and expert external speakers will explore the big social, technological, media and marketing shifts impacting brands. We'll show you how global brands are capitalising on change, go deep on their winning strategies and translate these ideas into practical, actionable steps to take back to your day-to-day job. Interactive workshops will give you the change to collaborate and apply your new knowledge instantly. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.