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3 Surprising Ways CEOs Create Bold Company Cultures

Everyone from management gurus to millennials seems to agree: creating a strong, coherent culture is important to a company's success. Culture—not to be confused with perks like an office kegerator or catered lunches—is the largely invisible force that guides workplace behavior and decision-making for all employees.

The trick, no matter what type of culture company leaders strive to create, is to make it an everyday part of doing business. Culture should permeate every decision made at the company, from whether a candidate gets hired to how a manager delivers performance reviews.

Here are three surprising strategies C-Suite execs use to reinforce the cultural values that set them apart from the crowd:

Thinking Outside the Box (Literally)

The Company: Adobe

The Cultural Traits: Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship

The Move: Give any employee who requests one a "mystery innovation box" stocked with a $1,000 prepaid credit card, pens, paper and snacks to develop new product ideas.

The Rationale: Creativity can come from anywhere. Employees just need to be empowered to make their ideas a reality, without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

The Results: Adobe has yet to mint a product hatched from its Kickbox experiment (which launched in 2012), but that hasn't lessened Chief Strategist Mark Randall's enthusiasm. As Randall told Fast Company, he could fund one million-dollar project the traditional way or make a thousand $1,000 bets — potentially finding his next money-making idea while keeping high-potential employees engaged.

Betting Big on Employee Well-Being

The Company: Aetna

The Cultural Traits: Health, mindfulness

The Move: CEO Mark Bertolini offers free yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes to the health insurance giant's thousands of workers.

The Rationale: The insurance industry isn't exactly the paragon of innovation and entrepreneurial corporate culture, but Aetna's moves intend to establish a corporate culture that values employees' well-being.

The Results: So far, it seems to be working. According to The New York Times, Aetna says employees who have participated in at least one class reported feeling more rested and less stressed, while their productivity jumped more than an hour every week. By Aetna's estimate, that translates to more than $3,000 per employee every year. What's more, business is booming. Aetna's stock price has nearly tripled since Bertolini became CEO in 2010.

Setting the Stage for Spontaneity

The Company: Twitter

The Cultural Traits: Open-mindedness, spontaneity

The Move: Once every quarter (at least), Twitter CEO Dick Costolo teaches a two-day management course to develop a standard company management style. Costolo works in humor and lessons learned from his post-graduation foray into improv comedy at Chicago's famed Second City.Â

The Rationale: Improv comedy can help managers accept new ideas or strategies, instead of dismissing them out of hand. “A fundamental principle of improv is listening and accepting any initiation that's made on stage," Costolo tells Bloomberg Business. “Similarly, I want my managers to listen and respond to their employees' perceptions, not ignore them. Managers have to be open to accepting any kind of initiation."

The Results: Costolo credits his (failed) theater career with teaching him a valuable lesson in being present. It's a lesson he draws on daily as CEO of a fast-growing tech company that's faced its share of growing pains since going public in late 2013. And employees seem to appreciate Costolo's hands-on training course — the first formal training many of them have received during their careers.

Slapstick humor, sweaty yoga and innovation-in-a-box kits may not be for every company, but their collective goal is one any business could benefit from: to reinforce the culture that makes working at Adobe, Aetna or Twitter different from anywhere else.

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