Culture is Much More Than a Free Lunch

Hoagie

Culture is a popular topic.  By itself, Google shows more than 1.6 billion results for the word culture.  Narrow your search to include the word “company” with culture and you’ll find 84M results.  Yes, culture is all the rage.  Read any corporate website, literature, or social posts and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about.  Every company claims to have the best culture.  A culture of winning.  A culture that rewards performance.  A culture that resembles a family.  A culture that encourages innovation.  Are any of these really culture?

Companies that claim their culture is all about family might actually be telling the truth.  But whose family are they comparing their culture to?  The Brady Bunch?  The Partridge Family?  The Adaams Family?  The Simpsons? The Bundy’s?  You see, it’s important to understand what family the culture is most emulating.  A family culture in a vacuum may in fact not be the family you’re most comfortable with.

What about companies that say they have a culture of innovation?  Few companies operate like Apple where they publicly say they “inspire innovation” and actually deliver it.  Most use innovation as a platitude…sounds goods, makes an impression.  Yet innovation by itself isn’t what makes the culture innovative.  A deep level of curiousity that permeates the company coupled with the passion and desire to learn and fail is the culture.  Innovation is simply an output of a culture that inspires ideas, dreams, and invention.  A culture that is built upon a foundational trust between its employees and management is a company that will grow through reinvention because the trust exists to take risks, learn, fail, adjust and succeed.  There can’t be success without failure.

So why do so many companies promote their culture, and who cares?  Should you?

Forget about free lunches, ping-pong tables, fitness centers, and bring-your-dog-to-work programs.  That’s not culture.  Those items are simply perks, benefits, lures to help attract talent.  Dig deeper to understand the culture.  What’s the turnover rate – voluntary and involuntary?  How much training and development is provided annually to each employee – time and dollars spent?  How visible is the leadership team in the trenches?  Not how many lunches do the leaders provide, or how many town halls they give, but how often are they involved in the day-to-day running of the business and interacting with customers?

Culture is deep.  It’s how a company is wired and ultimately its employees.  Nothing is given for free.  The folks I’ve talked to who work for Google, Apple, or HubSpot love working there, yet when you ask them why you’ll never hear because of the great hoagies or the free teeth whitening.  No.  Instead you’ll hear things like “I love working with really smart people”, or “I thrive in a hyper-competitive organization”. Dig deep when exploring culture.  Don’t settle for what’s sold on the surface…the freebies…because in life there are no free lunches.

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