Razor scooters do not create corporate culture, nor do ping pong tables, catered breakfasts or a variety of snacks in the kitchen. It’s an unfortunate mistake that many companies make: confusing tangible quantities with an intangible quality. Having been in leadership positions in companies for the past 15 years, I’ve heard familiar rumblings coming from some of my peers, statements that usually begin with something like “Why are employees complaining about culture when we offer them so many great things!" Sadly, they’re missing the point, by miles.
Unlike commodities, corporate culture isn’t bought or sold. Rather, it’s a quality of life issue based on workplace conditions, intra-office communications, support for personnel, and work/life balance. Strong, positive corporate culture creates confident, productive, and—dare I say—happy employees. Best of all, corporate culture shouldn’t have to cost anything. Think of it: the best motivational tool that’s effective and free. Of course, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s easy.
In prior workplaces, my leads have asked for ways to improve corporate culture. In every instance the number one suggestion was in regards to intra-office communication, especially regarding leadership-to-employee communication. Basically, employers need to stop simply speaking to employees and start listening to them. Employers invest a lot into each employee; treating them with respect and hearing their thoughts and concerns is the best thing employers can do to get a strong return on their investment.
Some of the simplest gestures may be more effective than grand gestures that are poorly executed. Offering a catered breakfast or lunch is a great perk, and certainly one that employees will respond favorably towards. However, the gesture alone does not improve culture. If not backed up with interaction—having leads arrive early, sit and chat with employees, help set up and clean up afterwards—then the gesture is wasted, no better than a trade show tchotchke: something free, of little value, and easily forgotten. Rather than a fully catered breakfast, have the CEO arrive in the office with a huge bag of bagels and spreads, sending out an email to everyone saying “I brought in bagels—meet me in the kitchen for a tasty snack!” People will flock to the kitchen to enjoy the food, and, more importantly, will enjoy the direct interaction with their boss. It’d only cost a few bucks, far less than a catered breakfast, but would have a more long-lasting, positive effect on corporate culture.
Here’s the rub: it’s a lot easier to buy things for the workplace and call them culture than it is to fundamentally change culture-influencing behavior. It’s a common mistake made by many leads to think that taking the easy way out will make major improvements in morale. The fact is, changing the behavior of management to be better listeners and actively engage their teams will vastly improve workplace culture. Better yet, it doesn’t have to cost anything more than a few minutes of time each day.
This is not to say that the workplace environment shouldn’t be creative, fun or engaging. If razor scooters and ping pong tables are something that you’d like to offer your employees as a way to bring some fun and whimsy into the office, then go for it. But don’t forget to listen to their needs and concerns and let their voices be heard. It takes time to raise capital, build products and grow clientele, and it also takes time to build corporate culture. Taking that time will result in a more productive, happier workforce.