It's the touchy-feely, New Age environment that places a premium on self-congratulatory positions, air hockey, and Kardashian-style perks--all to help you forget where you really are (work). Or it's a sterile cubicle farm populated by gray-suited, grim-faced corporate drones with matching haircuts and a collective commitment to groupthink.
Increasingly, the former has supplanted the latter as the dream employer of choice. But in reality, it's a reductionist view of culture. Culture equals perks. Culture equals fun. Culture equals happiness. Culture equals jellybeans. When did we buy into such a simplistic equation?
In fact, culture is all about enterprise value.
If we want to get down to the absolute essentials, that is only measure that matters. Does the culture maximize enterprise value? In other words, the meaningful culture is one that helps drive the most business success.
The great news is that, as defined by this metric, there are many ways to build and sustain a successful culture. Here are some things I've been thinking about recently, especially since hiring our new chief people officer:
Identify Your Corporate DNA
The starting point is the same for every company: Identify those aspects that are utterly unique to you. The list should be short; just the three or four items that form the core of your company's DNA, which must align for success. These are the no-compromise elements without which, no kidding, your company would flounder.
Stop the Comparison Game
Once past that shared starting gate, your racetrack may look very different from those of the companies winning news coverage on phenomenal corporate cultures. And that's OK. Many highly respected brands aren't getting props for the innovative employee benefits they offer (which is not an indicator they're not treating their employees right, by the way). But they are seizing market share and revenue, a blinking neon sign that they've found a culture that works for them. The same holds true for the successful companies that offer some eye-catching employee perks, but remember: These benefits are a natural outgrowth of that particular culture; they do not drive it.
Honesty Attracts Good Talent
Companies that are winning on the numbers front have done so in part by attracting the right talent. And that's thanks to being up front about what defines you as a company. Are you entrepreneurial? Hierarchical? Flat? Daring? When you're frank about who you are, you will bring in the right people, the ones who will thrive and produce for you, and they'll stick around. If you're Boeing, you may say you want a Google-type--but does your structure support those kinds of people and enable them to flourish? It may not, and there's nothing wrong with that. Don't apologize for the culture that makes you successful, but recognize that not everyone will be a fit for it.
It's also important to remember in any culture, there is a baseline of acceptable norms. You'll likely retain people longer and inspire better productivity with leaders who are respected and, in turn, respect others; by recognizing your best talent in ways that are meaningful to them; instilling the idea that culture belongs to each of us, regardless of level; and breaking down internal barriers so that communication is strong.
MICHAEL FERTIK founded Reputation.com with the belief that businesses and individuals have the right to control and protect their online reputation and privacy. He is credited with pioneering the field of online reputation management. @michaelfertik