Great corporate culture is easy to spot; just count the happy employees. I’m sure there are studies into the benefits of a positive culture, but I doubt you need studies to be convinced anyway.
Creating a great culture can be incredibly hard though. And regaining it after losing it is just as hard itself. It is like exercise; the amount of effort it takes to regain condition after sitting on your ass for a month disproportionately overshadows the effort it would have taken to maintain the routine for that same period. It’s rolling that boulder back up-hill.
So, I guess the first rule of Culture Club is: maintain culture for all it’s worth.
What makes culture hard is that you cannot afford words and actions to become misaligned. Intent alone is not enough, because perception beats intent every day; if employees don’t believe it, you’ve lost already.
Which means that the second rule of Culture Club is: make sure you pick a culture you are prepared to stand behind with every action, pick the culture you mean, be specific… platitudes do more harm than good. Everyone wants to be the “company full of smart empowered and pro-active individuals”, but just don’t say it unless you’re prepared to live by it.
I mean, look at McDonalds… there are manuals and procedures for everything. No need for anyone to be empowered or pro-active. But at least everyone is on the same page regarding what McDonalds culture is like. Which means that nobody ends up complaining about it. It Does What It Says On The Label.
And there are many stops along the spectrum from completely running on process* to completely running on people*, so pick the spot that is right for your organisation and live and breathe it.
And that would be the third rule of Culture Club: once you have a culture that is realistic for your organisation, everyone has to work at keeping it there. You have to look for things slipping and nudge them back where your culture says it belongs.
I suspect that may well be one of the biggest purposes that the playful decor at a place like Google has in maintaining their culture. It’s not a direct part of the culture, but it serves as an overt reminder not to take things too seriously. Breaking traditional corporatey-officey rules in the way you decorate immediately makes clear not to make assumptions about how things work around the place.
And I couldn’t be happier at Campaign Monitor; it comes with a great built-in culture close to the People-based end of the spectrum. And I’ll actively be doing my bit to help keep it there along with everyone else.
Just a little ongoing maintenance is all it takes.
* It is almost impossible to maintain a culture that is purely process-based or purely people-based. The more process-based a culture, the better it is to have a publicly acknowledged “why” for each rule and process; it helps the “people”-people. The more people-based a culture, the better it is to make clear that not being sure of how to handle something is okay, and a process to follow to find the right person to help; because you’re going to have “process”-people as well.