A Good Corporate Culture Isn’t About Physical Things

It seems like every organization is challenged with creating a good corporate culture. But what I’ve found in my experience, is that the word “culture”, just like “agile”, is increasingly misunderstood. Organizations associate the word “culture” with “environment”, and that’s correct, but that’s about where the understanding stops.

The easiest change to make is in the physical environment, and that’s what organizations look to first. They add all of the things that make it look like working there would be a cool place to be. Ping pong and foosball tables, scooters, beanbag chairs, free coffee and snacks, colorful offices and open work spaces. But is that enough? I personally don’t think so.

If you want to know if your company has a good culture or not, ask the employees about why they like working there. Be wary if the answers point to all the physical changes, because those never last. But to be honest, I don’t think physical changes would make it into many answers to begin with. Being able to take a break to play a ping pong game or scoot around the office is nice, but those moments are temporary.

ping-pong-1205609
The allure of playing ping pong during breaks goes away after a while.

A good corporate culture invests in what the employees find valuable. You would think that a good company would already have these values in place as an organization. Organizations should want to know what employees find valuable because they should invest in those that are willing to stick around. “Choosing someone within your team to develop into a future superstar has typically been a successful investment for everyone”, says Mandy Gilbert, Founder and Chief Executive, Creative Niche.

It’s easy to cop out and send out a loaded survey asking employees if they think the open spaces look cool and if they like the new standing desks they all have. Who would say no to that? But I think you have to dig deeper to find what really motivates employees and what drives their decision to leave or stay, work hard or phone it in.

Women talking
Career conversations, mentors that take interest, transparency and valued feedback are what employees crave from corporate culture.

I read a blog post recently by Matthew Biggins titled, “Collapse of the Corporate Office”, and it was a great read on how the workplace has changed. Embedded in the blog is a video created by Vox on how open offices have changed over the years, and not necessarily for the best. In all the years of iterations, we forgot what really makes open spaces work. My takeaway was this, instead of using gimmicks and short cuts, try actually creating an environment where people want to come to the office instead of being forced to. If you create an environment that employees actually want to be a part of, they’ll come and they’ll be engaged. And better yet, they’ll brag about why they like working for your company. My guess is that it won’t be because of the scooters.

Culture is not a one size fits all sort of thing, and companies that can find a way to be flexible in how they can create an environment that keeps employees motivated and productive will find success in retaining top talent. The answers go deeper than video games in a lounge. Need some suggestions? Try real career paths with equal opportunities for advancement, flexible working arrangements, real 360 degree evaluations, being transparent and open to feedback, and combine those with competitive salaries. I know I’d take those over my fancy, motorized standing desk. Let’s face it, a ping pong table is not going to keep your talented employees from seeking out other options, but a good corporate culture would.

How Can You Be Different?

Hearing Keaton Jones’ story is troubling. The cool thing is the support that he has received from just about everyone. We shouldn’t be made fun of for our differences. Our differences make us unique, help us stand out from the crowd. Our differences make us stronger. So it’s really sad to see someone being bullied because they’re different.

Keaton’s story should prompt you to take action, but what kind of action should that be? It’s easy to get mad and angry at those that treated this kid this way, but in the end hate will just lead to more hate.

The action that you should be moved to take is how you can change yourself to be different. Can you be different in a way that people can see kindness? How can you be different in a way to stand up for others that can’t stand up for themselves?

At a time when a trend will soon be to make resolutions for the New Year, maybe we all can resolve to be different for good.

Why Do We Value Hype Over Substance?

They’ve been dominating the news feed for what feels like forever now. People who I won’t name because I’d just add to the attention that they crave so much. One guy claimed that he could be Michael Jordan in a one on one pickup game on one leg, and the other… well… all you need to do is follow his Twitter feed if you want to know what it’s like to live in a real life land of make believe.

I bet that if you didn’t know who I was referring to and all you had were those two descriptions, you’d probably walk away from them and not waste your time. But sadly it’s not the case. The first gentleman is now a recognized media personality (whether we’d like to admit it or not) and now a successful businessman and the other is the leader of what I feel is still the greatest country in the world (at the moment of this writing). People bought into hype over substance, and they continue to do so.

And it’s not just in the world of entertainment, although it seems that the line between entertainment and reality are blurring dangerously close nowadays.

Businessman sitting at the table and shrugging
People that are all hype rarely come through and are always full of excuses.

I was told a while back that when recruiting, to make personality and boldness a priority when evaluating candidates. What ever happened to prioritizing skillsets and evaluating whether or not we thought a candidate could actually get the job done? In one particular case, it was unfortunate to see a candidate rejected because they were “too quiet”, even though they had the strongest skillset for the position. Needless to say, the hiring team experienced the ramifications of going with hype over substance.

Unfortunately this happens all the time. The people that get noticed and all the chances are those constantly beat their own chests and brag about all the things they done. They name drop and always have “the best” stories to tell and always have “the best” ideas. They like to direct people without taking on any real work and they never take responsibility. They tend to overpromise but underdeliver and when they do they always have some sort of excuse. Things are never their fault.

Even if they ask you for your opinion they’re not really listening to you, but just waiting for you to stop talking so that they can give you theirs. They only want to do things their way. If you were to take a closer look at their history, you’ll find that they really haven’t done much either, but are good at embellishing the little they have done. But yet these people are labeled as “the talent” and “rock stars” and “future leaders” of the company.

One of my managers from a long time ago told me that “those that know why will always manage those that know how”, and at the time I completely disagreed. To me the statement didn’t make sense. How can someone lead, without knowing how to actually do the work? Well sadly, now I know. We like to value hype over substance, and I would love to know why. Do you have any suggestions?

What do Employees Need to be Motivated?

When I commute to the office in the morning, traffic gives me the time to think. I know that this must sound pretty ridiculous but sometimes I welcome that. But as much as traffic gives me time to think, I don’t look forward to sitting in traffic. I don’t want to sit in traffic.

But while in traffic I tend to think about a wide range of things, but today it was about employee motivation. And so I asked myself the question, what motivates me as an employee? Is it schedule and work location flexibility? Is it a good relationship with my manager and coworkers? Is it meaningful work? Or is it financial?

Do you know what motivates you as an employee? Before you answer, I suggest you read “How Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs influences Employee Engagement”, by Steve Smith. I would also suggest that managers read the article as well, it just might help keep your talented team members from leaving.

Curious to hear your thoughts and feedback, what truly motivates you as an employee?

Why Goals Should Have Measurements for Success

I ran my first marathon last year in New York City, and at the time my goal was just to complete the race. The time it took didn’t matter, I just wanted to cross the finish line. While I’m proud of myself for completing the goal that I had set for myself, I didn’t really have any measurements for success.

I know that completing the marathon could be seen as a success, and I would agree with that. I’m very happy and proud to have finished it. But I think success, or a win, should be seen as something beyond the goal. To me, having measurements for success take you beyond completion of your goal.

Historic stop watch time measurement.
How do you measure the success of your goals?

I tend to think we make goals broad and general so that they can be achieved. And I can’t argue with that. If you set goals that are unattainable, all you will ever know is failure, and that is not very motivating. On the other side, if all you have is your attainable goal, you’ll most likely only do what’s necessary to attain that goal, when you could have gone so much further.

Nick Saban, the head coach of Alabama’s top ranked college football team, has an incredible track record of keeping his teams at the upper echelon of the sport. And in college football, that’s really hard to do. Coaches are tasked with keeping their teams motivated at all times, even against teams that aren’t as talented on paper. That’s a hard task, and Saban has found a way to do it consistently. I absolutely love this quote below from him:

“It’s not human nature to be great. It’s human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by. That is normal. When you have something good happen, it’s the special people that can stay focused and keep paying attention to detail, working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished.” ~ Nick Saban

So after the marathon last year, I made another goal, and that was to run all of the New York Road Runner borough races. To be honest, I wanted to complete those races in the same calendar year so I could take a photo of the medals. That’s the photo geek in me. But along with that goal I also set a success metric, and that was to finish the races with an overall faster average time than last year.

DSC08121_edit_fb
Accomplished the goal of taking this photo, but the success was completing the races faster than the previous year.

The measure for success motivated me to take my training and workout more seriously. But it made me committed to the process, which I had to keep all year long. Sure some sacrifices and tough decisions were made, but in the end it was worth it and I’m a better and faster runner because of it.

Goals with measurements for success will help you to achieve more than “just getting by”, if that’s what you want in the first place. What are some goals and measurements for success that you’ve set for yourself?

How Likable Are You? It’s an Important Question.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us are driven to want to be successful in the career of our choosing. And we often think that in order to achieve that goal we need to be the smartest, most knowledgeable, and more driven than anyone else. But there’s one other thing that will help you be successful that seems to be overlooked, and that is to be likable.

So just to be clear, I don’t have any data to support my position, it’s just my opinion based on my experience working with others. But I think that being likable is half the battle. And the reason I say that is because if you are likable, people will want to work with you again.

You still have to have substance though, and have to have skill and knowledge. You have to be good at what you do. While being likable helps create a positive impression being likable without substance will end up creating a negative one. And that is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Part of success isn’t really what you know, but who you know. And if who you know helps you climb the ladder to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself, you had better likable to leave a positive, lasting impression.

Don’t Overlook the Value of Soft Skills

One of the things that I appreciate about the job the I have is that I get to meet and work with a lot of people inside and outside the company. It’s important to understand that each interaction has the chance to leave a positive or negative impression on someone, and you don’t know how that will play in the future. It’s why brands and companies, both big and small, really need to make sure all employees understand that soft skills matter. In today’s world, everyone is customer facing.

Take for instance the waitress that served me at the San Francisco California Pizza Kitchen. CPK is one of my favorite restaurants to go to. I absolutely love their Barbecue Chopped Chicken Salad with Avocado. If there was a location closer to my house, I’d probably be there a lot. So I took the opportunity to go when I was in San Francisco since I was staying downtown.

When I sat down to order lunch, the waitress told me that I could get a free small plate if I signed up for one of their programs. After looking at it, I decided that I didn’t want to because I wasn’t going to order a small plate, so I respectfully declined. The waitress wouldn’t take no for an answer. First she told me to think about it some more, and left to place my order. When she came back I said that I might sign up for it later because I would be more inclined to have a small plate during dinner. That answer wasn’t good enough for her. She told me that if I signed up for it now, I could come back later and still get my free small plate. I told her again that I’d think about it. The third time she came back to check on me she said that if she got 5 people to sign up for the program, she would get a free lunch.

This story ends with me signing up for the program and the waitress thanking me profusely for doing so. What she, and California Pizza Kitchen, didn’t realize is that that is the last time that I will ever visit their San Francisco location again. Customers don’t like feeling pressured to buy things or sign up for things even if they’re free.

The same kind of thing happens in the corporate world too. There’s a big difference between a friendly reminder and just being a complete annoyance. In the business world, the individual might not care about being an annoyance especially if in the end they get what they want. And today’s world sort of glorifies that kind of behavior by classifying it as “persistence”, and we praise people for not taking no for an answer.

From a CEO of a startup or a high ranking executive at a large company to the fresh graduate and new hire, it’s become commonplace to get what we want and need now and worry about the consequences of our actions later. In the meantime, though, by doing that we burn bridges. The world has an interesting way of making things come full circle.

Don’t underestimate the power of a positive impression. A few months ago as I was trying travel back home from San Francisco, Delta had to cancel a lot of flights because of a storm that hit their hub in Atlanta. The airport in San Francisco turned into chaos. Everyone was frustrated. I ended up having to spend the night in the airport to wait for the first flight out the next morning.

In the morning, the airport was packed with people who had cancelled flights from the night before, and as people approached the gate desk angry, one Delta employee was there calmly answering questions as best she could and helping people as she could. When it was my turn in line, I calmly asked her if I was going to be able to get on the flight as I was not assigned a seat.

I think that my demeanor, not being angry or mad, or at least not showing it, definitely helped. But to her credit she was able to get me on the flight and on my way home. She was definitely having a bad day, but she handled everything professionally and because of that I am still choosing to fly Delta whenever I have to travel.

The lesson of this whole thing is that it doesn’t matter who you are in the pecking order of a company or brand. Your interaction with someone matters and it can either be positive or negative. A positive impression left on someone could lead to recommendations of your brand or company to others, while a negative impression left could lead to people avoiding your brand or company altogether.

And before you disregard this because you happen to be a B2B brand or a startup whose clients aren’t individuals, remember that you have no idea who people know. You could have just interacted with someone whose friend or family member has the decision making ability at a potential client you’d like to win over. Regardless, it is important that brands and companies place an emphasis on soft skill training and evaluation for everyone.