• Lacy Starling

Culture is Not a Ping Pong Table

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (I might even get it tattooed somewhere people can see it when they meet me): Culture is not a ping pong table. It's not a kegerator in the break room, or having a dog-friendly office. It's not nap-pods or staircase-slides or sabbaticals for all employees after three months of work. Those are perks, not culture.

 

(In fairness, those perks might be the direct result of a company's culture, but most often, in our Google-obsessed world, they are simply shiny objects grabbed at random by HR managers or executives looking to "attract talent" or deal with an existing culture issue. They are the proverbial lipstick on the pig.)

 

True culture is internal, driven by values and strategy rather than external objects. Policy, communication, employee treatment, and strategic focus all drive organizational culture—every message your employees hear and decision they see you make defines your culture much more than a slushie machine in the break room ever could.

 

And culture is critically important to the success of your organization. A Deloitte study showed that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. (I'm not sure about you, but I'm pretty sure the last time executives and employees agreed that emphatically about anything was...never.) So how do you, as an organizational leader, go about creating a good culture for your company?

 

First, understand that developing a new culture or redirecting an existing one is not a quick process. To create a culture that sticks, you have to commit to a long-term process of consistent communication. Anything less just creates cynicism in your employees. It becomes the latest in a long line of "stuff my boss heard about at a seminar and is going to make us do for a month" plans. Also, you can't change everything at once. This is an elephant you must eat one bite at a time. Culture change takes at least 12 months, longer for a larger, more entrenched organization.

 

Second, you will have to do a lot of leg work in the beginning. You, and your leadership team, will have to sit down and truly think through what you want for your company culture and how you are going to achieve that. You will need to look at every single strategy, policy, process and part of your business that touches employees, vendors or customers to see if it aligns with your core values. If it doesn't, it has to be changed. (Don't have clearly defined, meaningful core values? Better start there.)

 

Third, you must get buy-in. Culture is not something you do to your employees. It is something you do with them. In order to roll out changes, you must involve your employee base, either in developing new policy/process/strategy or in implementing it, or the whole endeavor will flounder. People (especially those who may have been laboring in a difficult or less-than-ideal culture to begin with) will be incredibly resistant to the kind of deep change a culture overhaul brings.

 

Changing (or building new) culture is not easy, but if your organization is struggling with a culture you don't think is sustainable and you don't put in the hard work, you might not have a company culture to change.

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