Three ways to nurture a healthy internal culture

Sep 9, 2020

Katie Castillo-Wilson

Katie Castillo-Wilson

TapOnIt Founder + CEO

Employee Culture

Right now, we’re in hiring mode at TapOnIt. It got me thinking: you’d be hard-pressed to find something that matters more to me than my employees.

This consideration stems from my previous career, when I struggled to maintain balance as a single mom working full-time. When my kids were sick, I had to stay home with them. When they needed to be picked up or dropped off for school or an appointment, I had to make sure they got where they needed to go. Oftentimes, that was hard in my role at a large newspaper. 

Because I’ve lived those struggles, I vowed to always consider the family lives of my employees should I ever start my own business. I would never want my staff to feel bad about having sick kids, or to feel guilty about going on vacation.

Then I started TapOnIt and learned how hard it is to start a company. Building a brand is hard. Figuring out what you want your culture to be like, and finding the right people to fit into and embody that culture—that’s really hard! And I don’t have all the answers. But I do feel like in the past five years, since launching TapOnIt, I’ve learned a thing or two about creating a positive and supportive internal culture. 

Every single person who works for TapOnIt plays an important role in the vision for the company and our path forward in the tech space. I founded TapOnIt with my sister, Sara. Together, we wanted to create a culture that showed our staff how appreciated they are—they are an important and valuable part of the company. More than that, we wanted (and still want!) our employees to value a fun work environment. Sara and I are constantly laughing and joking around—we think we’re hilarious :)—and we encourage our team to bring a sense of humor and a sense of adventure to work each day. 

Now, I know I made the process of establishing an internal culture seem simple; that we carefully selected what we wanted our culture to look like and made it happen. But it wasn’t that easy. Hell, it’s not that easy now. It’s something I struggle with—and I know I’m not the only one. In the past, I’ve deprioritized internal culture. I’ve gotten busy and distracted, and I’ve hired (and fired) workers who weren’t the right fit. 

It’s not uncommon for internal culture to fall to the bottom of a list of priorities. Business gets busy, life gets hectic, and culture falls to the wayside. However, at TapOnIt we have a couple easy, go-to, built-in customs that ensures culture is always brought back to the forefront. 

  1. Always reward for a job well done. Maybe a big raise is out of the question (and lots of larger corporations have frozen pay raises at the moment), but I believe in giving a pay raise—even the tiniest one!—to an employee who has earned it. Show them your appreciation with a small token; they’ve worked hard for you. 
  2. Always celebrate. At TapOnIt, we have someone who’s job description includes recognizing birthdays, anniversaries and other major milestones. Each time one of our employees has a birthday, we decorate desks, we all sign a card and include a gift card to their favorite restaurant or shop. When we’re working remote, the card gets put in the mail and we sing Happy Birthday over Zoom. We sound terrible.
  3. Always invest. Sure, you invest time and money into training employees, but it’s important to continue to invest in your employees for as long as they are with you. Give teammates the freedom to continue to learn; we encourage our employees to take additional online courses to learn new skills or continue to improve on what they already know. We share ideas, podcasts, books, movies, etc, that people can use to continue to learn and to help spur new innovation.  

You need to invest in your internal culture too. A great work environment is one of the elements that keep good people from leaving. Make sure they have an experience they can’t get anywhere else, that they work with teammates they love working alongside, and that they trust their employer and colleagues. These are the people they will celebrate babies and birthdays with, and mourn losses alongside. Invest in your employees so they, in turn, will invest in each other as well as in your company. 

It’s important to note that it’s impossible to always nail internal culture. There will be employees you invest in who won’t work out. There will be people who aren’t the right fit for your company. Especially when you’re in the early stages of building a company, many people think that working for a startup is fun and cool. But it takes time and dedication, and not everyone is cut from that cloth. As a business owner (or a hiring manager), you can’t take these mismatches personally and must stay firmly focused on conquering business milestones. 

And here’s a hot tip to keep in mind: happy, productive employees are often a business’s first brand advocates. Brand loyalty and attachment starts from the inside.