8 Ways to Create Positive Culture in Start-ups, Small Business & Corporations

Making culture creation simple, step-by-step, with fast results? 

To the seasoned management community, this may seem like an oxymoron.

Positive psychology makes it possible.

An organization’s culture can make or break a company’s bottom line like Southwest Airlines and Zappos who were able to soar in otherwise challenging economic times.

Organizational culture can be a big beast that is hard to grasp at a practical level.

It is also rumored to take years to change an organizational culture.

For the aim of inspiring your organization to move in a positive direction, I have provided 8 ways to guide your thinking of how to move the needle to greater positivity in your organizational culture.

1. Leadership

First and foremost the leader MUST espouse positivity. If the leader is unable to be visibly positive or support the cause, this is the first item to be addressed. I am proud of one leader specifically who has been able to embrace the power and importance of happiness at work; John Stix, President of Fibernetics in Canada. His organization has become the top employer in his community because of the emphasis on being happy at work and home. Happiness, well-being, wellness, positivity; whatever you want to call it, needs to be espoused at an organizational and top leadership level. Executive coaching in positive psychology and leadership is recommended. Self-responsibility for positivity has to be embodied at the top levels and encouraged throughout the company. John Stix and happiness are bold on the front page of the Fibernetics website.

2. Team Leadership

A team needs to be formed to represent actions toward this direction. Think of Southwest Airlines Culture committee which has 66 employees representing a cross-section of departments. To build this team, I would recommend you look around the office or even take a poll to find out who the people are that think they are already ‘happy all of the time’ and perpetually see the glass as half full. These people are your first choice. This team needs to adopt 3 VALUES in how to interact. Executive coaching in positive psychology and leadership is recommended for members of the team. Most importantly, find out the cube root of your employee population which is the amount of employees needed to influence and saturate the organizational culture as a collective. This formula was realized with the Harvard happiness research showing a spread of happiness up to three degrees.

3. Socialize Frequently

Create systematic and regular socializing functions outside of the working roles. Encourage employees to care about each other, express compassion, speak positive and feel comfortable to talk about non-work related topics. This will help employees build positive social bonds between teams and departments. Employee recognition, culture immersion, or even regular Friday ‘happy’ hours promoting health and well-being. There are many fun and practical exercises based in positive psychology that can be practiced during these gatherings indoctrinating greater admiration, appreciation, and kindness throughout the office.

4. Positive Language

Specific ‘lingo’ needs to be added around the office. Embracing certain terms or eliminating others. For example use the term ‘lifeline’ instead of ‘deadline’. At Plasticity labs, Jim Moss, Chief Happiness Officer, holds webinars for employees entitled ‘Improving Employee Happiness’. Utilizing the word ‘happiness’ at work is a big step alone. Eliminating profanity, name calling, or yelling at the office would also fall in this category. Beyond words or phrases, think in ratios. For every negative you have to encounter at work, use 3 positives to be able to move beyond it or transform it into happiness.

5. Helpful Habits

Employees have habits. Let’s create happiness as a habit at the office. In this category, I am proud of a start up CEO Amanda Kahlow who has from day one espoused her ‘love’ for her employees as family members and the importance of their happiness at work. She has gone great lengths to show this like introducing weekly yoga classes, meditations led by a local Buddhist monk, a shooting hoops carnival game, and an in-office infrared sauna. She is building in the importance of play, health, and mindfulness as they are the ‘family’ values she has been able to spread through her employee population. At Amanda’s predictive intelligence company, 6sense, she even has a dog friendly culture where employees can bring their best friends to work. Impressively, her work culture was featured on CNBC.

"I'm building a place where people want to come and feel supported, and this is where they spend 99 percent of their time, so I feel like we're building a home and a family," she said.

6. Continuous Education

What is the knowledge you want employees to keep learning? Is it about health? Wellness? Mindfulness? Happiness? Leadership? Teamwork? Success? Goal setting? Self-development? Innovation? Creativity? Community building? Whatever is decided, this body of knowledge needs to be a theme in the company literature, meetings, social gatherings, workshops, corporate library, daily tips, etc.

7. Happy ‘things’

Objects around the office have to represent positivity to the employees. The more employee authentic expression the better. How can the employees bring happiness or create happiness in the office? The company can do their part with banners, natural lighting, colorful walls, plants, exciting posters, yet when the employees get to participate in adding to the things in the office that make them happy, it builds greater loyalty to the company because the employee can see themselves within the culture. Facebook has brought employee authentic expression to a new level, they even have a graffiti wall.


Southwest Airlines does a good job at this too. Workforce.com highlights the culture of SWA,

“…everywhere you look Southwest promotes red hearts and "LUV." The symbols are supposed to embody the Southwest spirit of employees "caring about themselves, each other and SWA's customers," states an employee booklet. You see it on the company training books. It's in the name of the mentor program, "CoHearts," and it's used for the "Heroes of the Heart Award." In fact, SWA is so doggone proud of its star employees, it wants to let the whole world know. Because Southwest presented this year's Heart Award to the scheduling department, its name will appear on a banner painted across a red heart on the nose of an airplane for one year…”

8. Positivity Insurance

Every system requires maintenance and improvement. This is the same with the creation of a positive culture at work. Adopt a method that is agreeable to all in order to ensure positivity is going in the right direction. This could look like monthly or quarterly reports with actual numbers. Or this could look like employee feedback. Whatever is decided, it needs to be held on the regular instead of never.

***Beware of Happiness Backlash***

Even though positivity sounds like a good idea at work, there are still some leaders or employees who are unable to enjoy this way of being. It may be different than their natural genetic code, brain chemistry, education, or social upbringing. You know the ‘hard edge’ type of experience at work, where happiness and positivity do not belong.  Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh pays his employees to leave if they are unable to buy in to the happiness at work concept.


Between the self-responsibility of leadership, the appointed wellness team, consistent socializing at work, the use of positive language, emphasizing knowledge building, indoctrinating habits, having happy objects in the office, and adopting system maintenance procedures the vein of positivity can begin right now at any start up, small business, or corporation.

Given these steps are at a macro perspective, happiness and positivity is very much an individual experience. Employees have to feel in control of their own well-being and honor the importance of it at work. If employees are married to their stress, yelling, name calling, negative thinking, fear-based projections, constant anxiety or other negative attributes, there will be a problem that needs to be addressed. This is the philosophy around ‘one bad apple.’ Remember happiness is a collective and it is ‘not for everyone’.

Whatever the challenge may be, happiness science and positive psychology are the new option for spreading positivity to enhance well- being at work while creating positive culture. It starts with the leadership and spreads through the employee population.

Even the unhappiest employee can become the happiest if they learn how to implement positive psychology daily.

I am looking forward to the day a 'Positive Organization' is a norm instead of the anomaly. 

Dr. Aymee Coget