I want to state up front that I love perks. And I'm a fan of unique company features like big scorecards, group community service outings, or weekend and evening e-mail bans. But if you want a great company culture, you don't need any of those things. Yep, you can have a great culture without a single yoga class or in-office kegerator.
So what do you need? Here are seven tips:
1. Honest management. Managers who are always blaming employees, stealing credit, and hiding relevant information to keep their power create an awful company culture. If your managers are doing any of this, no number of perks will make up for it. You need managers who are honest in all things. They keep people informed when they can, and when they can't, for business reasons, they say to their staff: "Yes, I know what's going to happen with X, but I can't tell you until the final decisions have been made and all the legal documents are signed. But I'll let you know as soon as possible."
2. Fair management. What would happen if everyone's salaries were posted on the bulletin board? I mean after everyone stopped pushing each other out of the way to see. Would people be demanding a raise? Questioning why Sue makes $10,000 more a year than Bob does, even though their jobs are the same? Wanting to know why that super slacker guy in accounting makes more than the go-getter in marketing? Or would they say, "Yep, that seems right." Now, it's true that some people will always think they're underpaid, but if you felt your stomach drop at the idea of your staff finding out their peers' salaries, perhaps your management isn't fair.
3. Responsive management. When an employee comes to you with a problem, do you blame the messenger? Do you ignore it, even if it's something illegal like a securities violation or sexual harassment? That makes for bad culture. And it makes it unlikely that you'll know about the truly big problems because people will hide them from you and your management team. No, you don't have to handhold every employee through every little thing, but you do need to respond to their concerns in a professional and prompt way. Which brings us to the next point.
4. Do you fire the dead weight? I don't know a soul who likes to fire people in real life. It's painful and it's hard, and it really, really stinks to let someone you may like as a person go. But great company culture demands that you get rid of the slackers. Yes, first you work with them to bring them up to speed, but if that fails, you give them some severance and send them on their way.
5. Stay off employees' social media accounts. Trust me, if one of your employees does something truly awful on Facebook, they'll bring it to your attention anyway. But don't friend your employees and don't follow their Twitter, Vine, or whatever account. LinkedIn is fine, but don't freak out when they update because "Oh no! Javier is looking for a new job! I can tell because he suddenly has three new recommendations!" Employers who hover over social media make everyone twitchy. The exception, of course, is if your employees have work accounts. But make sure it's clear to everyone that a) these accounts represent the company, and b) you own them when they leave.
6. Reward success, learn from failure. Sure, large and frequent failures demand firing, but the occasional failure does not. We learn from what we did wrong, and we move forward. When someone succeeds, we celebrate and reward.
7. Reward those who don't save the day. Often praise goes to the person who stays until 3 a.m. to get the big project done, and no praise goes to the employee who never needs to stay until 3 a.m. because she has great time management, communicates with clients and other departments flawlessly, and follows up on everything. This employee never saves the day because she makes sure the day never needed saving anyway.
I guarantee if you do these things, you'll have a fantastic company culture.