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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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?