Many companies dream of being more like Google, Zappos, and Netflix…because “they’re cool.” However, workplace culture is not about being cool; and it’s not always about having happy employees. It’s not about free lunches/snacks/beer, secret santa gifts, bean bags or karaoke nights.

Those things are nice. But they’re simply artifacts. They aren’t necessarily what fuels success in your organization. That’s what culture is: stuff that reinforces and clarifies what’s really important to driving success in your business. 

Beyond Foosball

You’ve heard many one-liners from the Management gurus say things like, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Based on our 20+ years of experience working with Fortune 100 companies, what we believe is: Those clichés are all true. They might be a bit exaggerated statements, but they are true. They are only meaningful, though, if they are more than just words…if they are rooted in actions, behaviors, and employee experiences.

Although a company might have a clear strategy and plan for how they will attract and retain the best talent, their culture may end up incompatible with (or maybe even in conflict with) these plans. And in most cases, culture trumps plans.

To make it worse, while companies are busy designing and building that “cool” place to work, the factors driving its success for the company change; and the culture doesn’t.

Workplace Culture is about…

Culture is about what is deeply valued in the system and making sure what is valued is connected to what drives success for the enterprise.

This is important: you can talk about your “values” all day long, but if those values aren’t really practiced –  if they aren’t reinforced by what your stakeholders and constituents experience – then those values aren’t truly “valued.”

Workplace culture is comprised not just of the words behind those values, but also how those values are practiced in everyday life. It is ingrained in their every action and behavior, and hence when required to change the habits and natural instincts, it takes time and energy to overcome the resistance and inertia. However, with sustained efforts and patience, you can turn around your organizational culture in a way that drives the results the way you want.

And the culture is tested in adverse times. The company’s values are tested when a lot of money, risk, or loss of face for executives are at odds with the stated values. Look at the decisions they make when they have a lucrative offer, but they choose to let go. Or ask managers on how they feel when they choose to go for an unconventional hiree and it worked out!

Workplace culture is the shared beliefs, priorities and cohesion amongst everyone in the company. It’s the like-mindedness that creates synergy and creates a healthy work environment. You may have a difference of opinion, but even then you agree to disagree. There are situations when people feel inspired by their colleagues, whereas sometimes they feel held back.

When it’s obvious to your team that the organization rewards or punishes people behaving in certain ways, you should codify those actions and make their importance public. Keep the tenets by which your organization works and lives by transparent so that people breathe those values day in and day out.

To sum up, you will start seeing results and outperform your competition when everyone in your organization deeply understands the organizational values and acknowledges the behavior that drives it.