What We’re STILL Getting Wrong About Company Culture
In June I had the honour of being a judge for the BreatheHR Culture Leaders List 2021.
While it was exciting to see the hundreds of companies who all wanted to be part of the coveted list, when it came down to the judging the stark reality hit home that not many companies still get company culture.
Businesses from varying sectors had put forward their company culture, and the truth was, in many of them there was little to zero culture to judge.
The opportunity to read their pitches made it clear to me that there is still a big misconception about what company culture is, and how it looks in a business.
I wanted to share some of the red flags that came up for me, because it might give others some clarity on where the pitfalls are when it comes to culture, and distinguish further that culture is not a quick fix, but a long-term project that needs a consistent mindset of ‘how can we do better’?
Work Perks Are Not Your Culture
It pained me to see so many businesses randomly listing their workplace benefits, or work perks as I like to call them, and believing that this was their culture.
First of all, your workplace benefits are not your company culture – they are benefits. That is it.
Unless these benefits somehow shape the behaviour of your team or contribute to representing your values or purpose, then they are not your culture. Instead, they are materialistic tokens that only serve the perception of culture.
As I’ve outlined before in a previous post on what company culture is, your culture is how you do things in your business that encompasses your values and purpose.
Furthermore to these businesses listing their workplace benefits without any alignment to their values, was the fact that some of these perks should not even have been praised – they should be coming as an absolute minimum to support people at work. Things such as the Living Wage scheme, health insurance, or learning and development programmes.
I’m not saying that these things are bad, but that you should be doing these things already. Paying people a decent wage, ensuring they have peace of mind about sickness, and giving them opportunities for growth. We’re not living in the 1900s, and these areas should now come as a basic standard in culture, not a bonus people should feel grateful for.
Values Are Still Not Ingrained In Actions and Behaviour
A key area in the judging process was for the businesses to clearly outline their values and how these were ingrained in their culture.
Unfortunately, more businesses missed the mark on this one.
Either they didn’t say anything about their values, or they listed them off like a restaurant menu, with no explanation about how these were lived and actioned in the day to day running of the business.
I would like to say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. As a company culture coach, every day I see businesses posting one thing on their social media, and doing something very different in the reality of their business. And this is becoming ever more present in the press. Only last month we saw both Basecamp and BrewDog come under fire for their toxic workplace cultures when they’d been promoting a culture that was very different from reality.
From my experience, there are some pieces of the puzzle that are missing in order for values to truly be aligned.
- Values have to be co-created, and too often I see values being pushed down from the top because managers want to change behaviours. This dictatorship rarely works, and instead, you get the classic values on the wall, but everyone making a joke of them.
- Values can often be aspirational rather than actionable. You should feel strongly about your values, it should be something you would be willing to challenge in another person. Unfortunately in most businesses values are ‘niceties’, things you hope to be, but truly are not living.
- It takes a conscious effort to embed values into every part of your business and to constantly question how your actions, behaviour and even processes are living up to these. There need to be regular check-ins and team collaboration.
- Values should be the guiding light to your culture, and you should be able to explain how your values impact everything you do in your business.
- Values shouldn’t just guide the easy stuff such as your workplace benefits, they should also be guiding feedback, conflict, decision-making and mistakes. Does your business lean into its values when things get tough?
Changes Are Circumstantial Rather Than Proactive
Now, this could be me being a harsh judge, but as someone who is passionate about making work better for everyone, it would dilute my mission if I were to give praise to those who were nowhere near to hitting the mark that we should be at when it comes to company culture.
A number of the businesses who submitted their cultures had made circumstantial changes due to covid-19. This frustrates me for a number of reasons.
The top reason is that if covid-19 hadn’t happened, these businesses would not have made these culture changes. So is it really something to celebrate when an external factor made you think about your culture when you should have been thinking about it all along?
Another reason is that these businesses genuinely believed that what they had done was somehow different and unique. Giving people flexible working, office furniture, and running risk assessments. Again, this is something that many businesses have been operating with for decades, and secondly, we were all living through a global pandemic, so these changes were not so much to make your culture better but to survive.
Thankfully, there were some shining lights who showed us that culture was not only important to them but a core part of how they had been operating well before covid-19.
I’m hopeful that as we begin to learn to live in this new world that more businesses will wake up to the importance of culture and that it is not something we do just to fix things, but a journey of constant growth and progress so that we can make work better for everyone.