When you think of great corporate cultures, places like Google are the benchmarks. The praise they get for their employee-centric perks would have you believe that opening your checkbook and scheduling an appointment with Willy Wonka is all it takes to have a great corporate culture. Unfortunately, it’s not easy. You can’t just focus on the ping-pong tables and catered lunches and think, “We should be doing that too!”
What works for Google may not work for your company. You need to look past the amenities to understand the reasons behind having them there in the first place. Companies that truly have a great corporate culture understand that it is not something that you can buy from a catalog and have installed in your office over a long weekend.
True corporate culture is organic; it’s nurtured by the relationships that exist within your company. If you want to manage your corporate culture, you first have to manage these relationships.
Facilitate collaboration between employees:
Companies today are gung-ho about creating the type of congenial atmosphere that blurs the line between workplace and lounge. It might look like these places are just designed solely to cater to our inner kids, but really, they exist to get their employees to interact with each other. These companies pack their offices with diversions and design their spaces with open layouts in order to minimize the barriers between employees. An office with no barriers is an environment conducive to collaborating, and collaboration is a must for a great corporate culture.
You don’t want the type of workplace where employees just show up, keep their heads down, and leave at 5:00p.m. There’s an emotional toll being paid for working under those conditions, which, in turn, hurts employee morale and engagement at work. Studies show a positive correlation between engagement and performance, so you want to encourage the type of workplace that feels open and welcoming, not one that feels oppressive and stifling.
These poisonous workplaces are also a waste of a valuable opportunity. Collaboration, at its most basic, is just the exchange of ideas. One person has a thought on their mind and shares it. Maybe she finds others with similar thoughts. Maybe someone hears her idea and creates a solution. Or maybe it goes nowhere but just serves as a reminder to others that they can bring up their own ideas too. But without the freedom and opportunities to collaborate, what happens to those ideas? They wither away.
A corporate culture that encourages collaboration encourages these moments of creativity and brain-storming. You don’t need to force employees to have buzz-wordy, idea-generating meetings; just give them the freedom to meet face-to-face with each other and talk, and the results will speak for themselves. Once employees understand that these opportunities are there and that you’re receptive to the ideas that flow from them, they will take advantage of it. A collaborative environment is one of those things that once it gets going, turns into a perpetual motion machine; it will run on its own until an outside force stops it.
Create a dialogue between management and staff:
The relationship between managers and the people they manage is inherently imbalanced. Usually managers just tell the people under them what to do and that’s the only direction communications travel in that relationship. Companies with a great corporate culture have moved past that archaic dynamic. One-way communication between managers and the people reporting to them is damaging to corporate culture. It ruins morale and robs companies of a very important perspective from the people on the ground floor.
Just because someone is a manager, doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t listen to the people who report to them. Who knows more about current conditions with suppliers, customers, products, and other employees than the people who interact with them every day? Your managed employees have a unique vantage point by being on the ground, and can see things that would be invisible to the managers perched on high. That’s why companies with great corporate cultures make it a priority to mine their own people for information and feedback.
If you want to kick your corporate culture up to the next level, embrace that dialogue. Your management team shouldn’t seem unapproachable or hostile to feedback from their employees, even if that feedback is about them. And not only should you be open to these conversations, you should actively seek them out. Feedback is the name of the game, and whether it’s coming from clients, customers, or employees, you can bet that it’s going to reveal things that you and your management team overlooked or would have never seen.
In addition to being insightful, that two-way communication also serves to add value to every position in the company. It’s very easy to think that you’re a just lowly call center rep when nothing you say, hear, or think will impact the company in a meaningful way. But if you had the ears of the people you report to, suddenly that job is as important to the company’s success as anyone else’s. You know that you have the opportunity to offer feedback that could change the company at its very core. That kind of pride in your job is what creates the levels of engagement that top companies spend good money trying to force.
Reevaluate how your corporate culture can serve your employees:
The final relationship that impacts your corporate culture reflects the value the company puts into the employee. You can look at your employees as either cogs or investments. If they are cogs, then they are replaceable pieces, designed to perform a specific function, that keeps your company running. This line of thinking is dehumanizing and anathema to a good corporate culture.
If they are investments, then they are something that you expect to devote resources to in order to improve them and increase your return. This line of thinking is what leads to type of corporate culture that employees boast about and competitors copy.
Like other types of investments, once you understand that you can increase your return by improving the core piece, you’ll start to view your employees in a different light. You’ll want to understand who they are, what motivates them, and what they need to be as successful as possible in your company. If you want that top-notch corporate culture, your thinking is going to need to evolve in a way that recognizes the challenges and obstacles in your employees’ lives, and helps alleviate them.
That’s why some companies that take the time to understand the challenges of being a parent offer daycare services, or flexible schedules that allow parents to work around their child’s schedule. That’s why companies that take the time to understand the challenges of emerging technologies will pay for their employees to attend seminars and receive training in those new technologies.
The point of shifting the dynamic of the relationship from “cog in the machine” to “investment in your portfolio” isn’t to do nice things for your employees out of the goodness in your heart; it’s to set your employees up to be as successful as possible in your company. That’s a win for you as well since you benefit directly from a better-trained, more-skilled employee.
Treating them like cogs leaves no room for professional growth. It leaves no room for them to develop into better, more skilled employees. It only leaves them trapped in their predefined space until they either move on or breakdown. When the company-employee relationship is operating the way it should – where the employee is treated like someone the company wants to prosper – both of those outcomes become much less likely.
Back to Google — is their corporate culture the amenities it provides or are the amenities it provides the result of their corporate culture? I say it’s the culture that leads to the amenities. The interpersonal relationship that Google wants to encourage are what make those amenities work. If you want to build a great corporate culture, you cannot focus on the bells and whistles of your workplace – that will come later. Instead, you need to focus on nurturing relationships within your company.
Employees need the freedom and encouragement to collaborate with each other, for the sake of morale and innovation. Managers and the employees they manage need to have an open communication channel that takes into account the perspectives from both sides. The company needs to embrace the idea that employees are an investment that need resources to maximize their personal and professional growth. There’s no checklist for pieces you need to have for a great corporate culture, but if you keep these goals in mind, your version of a great corporate culture will develop on its own.