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.

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