Debunking Five Myths of Corporate Culture

Beanbag Chairs and Cool Open Offices Do Not Equal Culture

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Recently, I read an article about the number of ad agencies trying to attract younger talent by copying the tactics of Silicon Valley startups. The most troubling part of that article? This trend where companies believe they can manufacture culture.

Culture can't simply be manufactured with bright-colored furniture and open office spaces.
Culture can't simply be manufactured with bright-colored furniture and open office spaces. Credit: iStock

Now, all this stuff about the importance of culture in a company is right on. It's the emotional glue that bonds an organization to its employees and its customers.

Take Airbnb for example. The culture and mission for the company, "Belong Anywhere," are inextricably linked. The management and employees understand the brand at its soul and this belief permeates throughout all facets of the organization, from its office space, benefits package, new employee on-boarding process, career growth, mentorship and more. It's genuine.

Having just recently launched my own agency, I've been doing a lot of thinking on the subject, and I believe culture is what makes us want to come to work each day rather than merely have to.

But there are a few myths about corporate culture I'd like to debunk:

Myth 1: A company can build its culture over time. Not so. A company's culture can evolve and grow, but if no idea or platform is evident to your stakeholders from the start, there will be nothing to build upon.

Myth 2: Culture is just the fun stuff. We seem to equate the term "corporate culture" with "fun," but there are so many other positive attributes a company can represent: innovation, quality, service, authenticity, value and freshness among them. Your company's culture must be meaningful, because it will inform everything people do for it each day. Think of it as the thing that attracts you to a company or makes you stay in light of another offer. Hint: It's not the free bagels.

Myth 3: There's culture in beanbag chairs. Beanbag chairs in bright colors and cool open offices do not equal corporate culture. It can't be acquired by simply providing workers omelet bars, massages or foosball tables, either. Companies everywhere are obsessed with toys and perks -- and those can certainly be good, but they must be connected to a core belief, because that's what you buy into as an employee. Just don't be that agency that makes the mistake of relying on outward expressions to be its culture.

Myth 4: Your employees will define your culture. Sorry, but corporate culture emanates from the values of the people who run the company -- from their dreams, their beliefs, and their priorities. We've all worked for leaders who decided they wanted a more vibrant culture, then did nothing to fulfill it. They expected employees to change it, and the results were forced and stilted. Are these the "inspiring" people you want to spend countless hours with? Sure, workers can amplify it and reap the benefits, but culture -- how people act every day -- flows from the top.

Myth 5: Culture can't help the bottom line. People want to work at a company with a strong corporate culture -- it's an intangible element that connects them to the organization and gives them a sense of purpose within it. Better morale leads to higher retention rates, while conversely, employee "churn" often results in higher expenses and production gaps. Culture isn't frivolous; in fact, maintaining a strong one may even positively impact your balance sheet.

A great corporate culture is fueled by the Golden Rule rather than golden eggs. It's about how we treat the people we work with. Are we respectful? Is their craft and contribution valued? Do we pay them on time? Do they feel invested in what they're working on throughout the entire process? Is what's important to us also important to them? That's how the best corporate cultures grow, and that's no myth.

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