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Understand Why Culture and Values Matter

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the role culture plays in a company’s success.
  • Understand the role of values in culture.
  • Articulate Salesforce’s approach to culture and values.

The Business Value of Strong Company Culture

Ever heard the story about the Nordstrom employee who painstakingly picked through the dirt in the store vacuum cleaner to find a diamond that fell out of a customer’s wedding ring?

How about the Southwest pilot who held a plane for a man trying to fly to see his critically ill grandson for the last time?

Or the Zappos employee who sent a bouquet of flowers to a customer who was returning dozens of shoes because she had a medical condition affecting her feet, and then also found her the perfect shoes?

These stories highlight the impact a company’s culture can have on employee behavior.

Perhaps you think of culture as hip offices, free food, and outrageous perks—nothing wrong with those things, but great company culture is so much more than that.



Culture can sometimes refer to one’s personal culture, including the culture of where a person lives, their personal beliefs, or their heritage. Throughout this module, when we refer to culture, we mean the corporate culture of a company.

Why It’s Important for Companies to Embrace Culture

Culture is who you are, and it’s what you stand for and value as a community of people pursuing a shared mission. It’s a powerful force that guides how employees work together and treat each other, their customers, partners, and communities. You can think of it like an operating system—the behind-the-scenes code driving the behaviors of everyone in the company.

It’s also a differentiator that—when done right—can be a competitive advantage. Think about it: The day-to-day tasks of any job—whether it’s an account executive or a software engineer—are essentially the same no matter where you work. What’s different is the people you do your job with and the environment you do it in, and that comes down to culture.

According to Great Place to Work, a culture where leaders are seen as credible, and employees believe they are respected and the workplace is fundamentally fair:

  • Helps attract, engage, and retain employees
  • Unleashes innovation
  • Amps up agility and speed
  • Improves quality and efficiency
  • Increases customer centricity and loyalty
  • Fuels financial performance

In the age of social media, a strong culture also strengthens your brand because it makes it more likely that your employees will speak out positively about your company.

Ever hear the phrase, “The Naked Organization”? Deloitte coined it to describe the current era of heightened corporate transparency. Companies can no longer hide their cultural dirty laundry. Anyone with the Internet can get a firsthand look at a company’s culture from the people who know it best—its employees.

Corporate office building with frosted glass with a mirror held up outside to illustrate The Naked Organization

If employees are unhappy, they’re likely telling others. And they’re not just talking to friends at happy hour. They’re going online and sharing with everyone, which has a huge impact on attracting talent.

How? Well, most of us do not book a restaurant without checking Yelp or a hotel without consulting TripAdvisor. So why make an important decision like where to work without checking Glassdoor?

According to Glassdoor:

  • More than 50 million unique users visit Glassdoor each month.
  • 69% of job seekers would not take a job with a company with a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed—Ouch!
  • 84% of employees would consider leaving their current job if offered a role at a company with an excellent reputation.


Have you checked out your company and your competitors for talent on Glassdoor? That’s the beauty of Glassdoor: It’s a completely transparent information source for employees—and for leaders of companies. What are you waiting for?

But it’s not just about employees, culture can help or hurt you with customers too. A strong culture increases your ability to deliver an engaging employee experience, and studies, like the one in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, show employees return your efforts by delivering better customer experiences.

And does a strong culture translate into financial results? You bet it does! According to Great Place to Work Institute, organizations on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® list have outperformed their industry peers since the late ’90s, earning nearly three times more stock market returns than the Russell 3000 and Russell 1000 Indexes.

Graph showing Fortune 100 companies earning 3X the stock market returns

On the flipside, negative stories about your culture can have serious financial consequences, including boycotts, customer attrition, and declining sales.

So, culture has a major impact on your employees, your customers, and your company’s success. Ever heard the expression, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”? Or is it lunch? Whatever meal it is, your company’s best laid plans can go awry if you don’t get intentional about your culture now.

The Role of Values in Company Culture

Remember that diamond found by the Nordstrom employee? No one told her to pick through the vacuum bag when she saw the customer crawling around on all fours. She did it without even thinking. She embodied Nordstrom’s core value of Customer Service—putting the customer first above all else.

And that pilot at Southwest who waited for the passenger trying to get home to see his grandson? He was demonstrating Southwest’s core value, Servant’s Heart—putting other people first.

And the flowers the Zappos employee sent to the customer who returned shoes because of a medical condition? She was living a Zappos core value: “Deliver WOW through service.”

In each of these examples, the core values of the company guided these employees’ actions. They didn’t have to think twice. They didn’t have to ask permission. That’s the power of values.

More specifically, values:

  • Guide the daily behaviors, decisions, and actions of employees
  • Serve as a guiding light for how to attract, engage, and retain employees
  • Influence how work gets done and how people treat each other

How Salesforce Views Culture and Values

At Salesforce, we are fortunate that our founders were as intentional about the culture they wanted to create as they were about the products they wanted to build and how they wanted to take them to market.

Many years ago, after a decade working in the high-tech industry, our CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff was ready for a break. He took a sabbatical in Hawaii, connected with the local people and customs, and discovered the concept of Ohana: the idea that families—blood-related, adopted, or intentional—are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another.

Marc realized that the true meaning of Ohana didn’t really exist in corporate culture, and that if companies put more emphasis on caring and cooperating, extraordinary things can happen. He had a vision for a different kind of a company, one with a purpose beyond profit—a company built around the spirit of Ohana.

Today, the Salesforce Ohana is our close-knit ecosystem of customers, employees, partners, and communities—it includes all of our key stakeholders. We take care of each other, have fun together, and work collaboratively to make the world a better place.

Our Salesforce Ohana culture is guided by our core values of trust, customer success, innovation, and equality. Every day, each one of us is personally responsible for living these core values, and we hold each other accountable to delivering on them. These are the values that inspire and enable us to achieve unprecedented levels of success for our customers, our communities, and ourselves. They make our vision of Ohana a reality.

The Hawaiian culture that Marc connected with so many years ago remains close to our hearts. We have volunteered over 35,000 hours and recently funded $100,000 in education projects in Hawaii. And we hold our annual executive management meetings in Hawaii, and often invite native Hawaiians to our employee and customer events to recenter us with traditional blessings and music to ensure that our connection to the true Ohana spirit remains strong, no matter how big we grow.

Image showing happy Salesforce employees collaborating around an iPad

Our Ohana culture is earning us recognition around the world. We’re humbled to be named the #1 Best Workplace in the World by Fortune, #1 Most Innovative Company in the World by Forbes, #1 on People's list of Companies That Care and to have earned 100% on HRC's Corporate Equality Index in 2017.

Graphic illustrating the awards mentioned in the previous paragraph

And while we’re proud of this recognition, we know creating a strong culture is a never-ending journey versus a destination, so we keep it a top priority. We understand the ROI of investing in culture—and the risks of not focusing on it.

What are the secrets of our success when it comes to culture? There are many, but here are the three biggest ones.

  1. Being intentional. We’ve been intentional about culture from day one to present, which has enabled us to “stay us” while growing rapidly.
  2. Shared responsibility. We empower and enable all of our leaders, managers and employees to play a role in protecting and evolving our culture, not just HR.
  3. Continuous improvement. We don’t rest on our laurels. No company should. We are always listening to our employees and looking for ways to improve.

Let’s Sum It Up

In this unit, we’ve learned how culture contributes to a company’s success, how core values play a role in shaping culture, and how Salesforce views culture and values. I think we can all agree that culture and values are the heart and soul of an organization.

We share more about our Salesforce Ohana culture and values in the next unit.