Curating Culture: How FPMR Documents Company Culture and Inspires Engagement

By Teri Saylor and Jim Booth

At FPMR, general manager Jim Booth, CAE leads the way when it comes to thought leadership, strategic planning, and creating a company culture that fosters creativity, leadership, learning, and yes, fun!

A few years ago, Jim created FPMR’s first “culture book,” to reflect on the year and on how employees have grown individually and together as an organization.

Jim says when he introduced the idea of creating a culture book, the staff was skeptical, and when he promised to include everything – both the good and the bad – in the book, he didn’t think they believed him.

“The first culture book (in 2016) was received with a good bit of eyerolling,” he said. “When I produced the first book, I included negative feedback from staff, as well as positive, and it surprised some people.”

After producing five years’ worth of culture books, Jim has won over the team and now they enjoy using them to look back over the past year and compare the books from year to year.

Over the years, the culture books have documented monumental events like FPMR’s first AMCI accreditation in 2016, the fire in 2018 that displaced us for six months, and our response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

The culture book has also chronicled the smaller moments, like celebrating new clients, enjoying company day events and noting individual staff milestones. Each book includes a look back at FPMR’s history, observations from team members, and lots of pictures.

Jim explains the value of FPMR’s culture books and offers tips on how other firms can compile memories, inspire change, foster teamwork and camaraderie, and document the history of an organization for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

What is a company culture book?

It is a snapshot of a defined period, in our case a year, that records significant moments, key activities, and major changes in the life of an organization.

What sparked your interest in creating a culture book for FPMR?

I was reading the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and he mentioned the culture book produced annually by Zappos, (still is, even though Tony passed away last year). To me it seemed like a staff-driven annual report with lots of photos and highlights of the year recorded for future reference. We weren’t doing anything like that at the time and it seemed like a good way to engage the staff in a process of reflection, as well as taking their temperature on other issues.

Why are culture books important for organizations like FPMR?

The pace of work at FPMR is so blindingly fast that we need a structured reason to look back at where we’ve been. If we schedule those intervals too far apart, we will start to forget some of the events and details that filled the year. By surveying at the end of the year and collecting photos during the year we have a framework to build the book and to preserve the history of our culture as a company.

How do you start a culture book?

First by figuring out what culture books are and how they are used. I stumbled on them by accident. Our intention was to create a book at the end of the year that collects milestones that occur during the year and guides decisions. Others may choose to research culture books specifically and include elements that reflect their own organization. Like Covey says, “begin with the end in mind”.

How do you build a culture book? What are the elements?

In our first year we included photographs we collected during the year, results from an employee survey that generated quotes throughout the book, and a narrative that explained what a culture book was. In subsequent books, the narrative has been expanded into sort of a year in review. We sometimes include client feedback, details about new projects or programs we’re undertaking, client and staff arrivals and departures, and observations about environmental pressures.

How do you know what to include in a culture book?

We just made it up. Kept tweaking things in different ways. Every company culture is different so by necessity every culture book would be different, as well. Ours is not flashy or designed by a graphic artist. I just pull it together at the end of the year and we distribute it to everyone.

What is the difference between a culture book and a company handbook?

A company handbook is an HR document. It lays out policies and procedures and how reporting structures and benefit programs work. The handbook lays out the rules. A culture book does none of that – it is a reflection on what happened and how we felt about it. It is an artifact of behavior and experience.

Does a culture book tell the story of your company’s culture? Influence your culture? Reflect your culture? Or a little bit of all three?

I’d say that depends on the company. In our case it tells the story of how we lived our culture during a 12-month period. It is possible to infer some things about our culture when you read the culture book, but you wouldn’t find a primer that says our culture is made from specific things. People who read the culture book are influenced by it to some degree and hopefully gain a slightly deeper understanding of what we believe and how we behave by reading it. Our culture books are all about reflecting on how our culture shaped us during the year, so I guess our culture books touch on all three of these elements.

Does a culture book have the power to change culture? Or inspire change?

Yes, culture books can be strong reinforcers of cultural norms, so this makes them very influential for new employees who are still adjusting to FPMR’s culture. Hopefully, new employees will envision themselves in our team’s statements and activities, and if they don’t, maybe they will perceive the possibilities and determine how they can find their place in our culture.

Why should employees care about having a culture book?

In our case, employees did not initiate the culture book since none of them were aware of it or its purpose. Now I think most of them look forward to it in the same way high schoolers look forward to their school yearbook. They can think back to experiences they had and the fun they enjoyed with other members of the team. Culture books are great fun and a wonderful reminder of the importance of strengthening company culture.

How have the culture books benefited FPMR?

Culture change is a very slow process. If you observe culture daily, it won’t appear to change at all. Only when you have perspective over time can you notice how cooperation has increased or attitudes have improved or how language has been adjusted to reflect new cultural norms. As an organization, we are stronger because we are conscious of our culture and we are actively working to change it for the better.

Note: Documenting corporate culture is not a new concept. The internet is full of guides on how to build culture books, culture decks, and inspire employee engagement through enhanced corporate culture. Here is a blog post by Culture IQ that also describes the value of documenting corporate culture.