Person playing skee ball, Image from Flickr user icanchangethisright
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Beyond perks: How to build culture

Last week at the Culture First conference I was surrounded by some of the most well-respected People leaders here in the US and from across the globe. I sat with hundreds of people who are thinking non-stop about how they can unlock their teams’ potential, how they can ensure the humans within their company’s walls have a sense of belonging when they come to work, and what we can do encourage peak performance at the individual, team and company levels. I left invigorated and inspired to start thinking about culture in a new way. I would encourage you to do the same thing.

It’s not about the perks

As the talent pool seems to be drying up before our very eyes, People teams have found themselves scrambling to win the battle of best workplace culture by simply mimicking those around them. The company down the street is offering in-office massages? Time to get your favorite masseuse on the line! Your new hires are going to love it and will never want to leave.

Keeping up with the Googles of the world is the new keeping up with the Joneses. In a desperate attempt to attract talent and keep our employees engaged and happy, we People teams find room in our budgets to pay for ping-pong tables, tiki bars, and catered lunches. In reality, though, these are hollow perks that aren’t going to motivate our employees, nor will they help us retain our top talent.

Can we all agree we need to stop trying to out-perk one another in the endless chase to create a good workplace culture?

We need to start changing the way we think about how we support and nurture our workplace cultures by first throwing out the notion of good and bad cultures. There is no such thing. What works well for one company in one industry with one unique set of employees is destined to fail in another. Instead we need to ask if our company culture is effective. Does the culture support our teams in hitting our business goals?

The values that guide your culture should be consistent enough that candidates know what to expect of your company before their first interview; when they become your new hires they shouldn’t be surprised by what they find working at your company at the end of their first 30, 90, or 365 days.

Whether or not you have taken the time to put a set of values up on a wall in your headquarters and explain what they mean to your teams, you have a culture. Your job as a leader of the People is to find out what it is and find out if it’s helping you create the kind of company you want.

Start by asking yourself a few questions: what is your company culture? Would you describe it as effective? Where is your culture weak in supporting your business? How does it excel at supporting it? Don’t just answer these questions on your own and with your People teams, get out there and get some data.

Arm yourself with your company’s employee satisfaction numbers, calculate your attrition, look at how healthy your inbound candidate pipeline is, find out if passive candidates are responding to your teams’ recruiting mails positively, see if your offer acceptance rates is as high as you like; and then, most importantly, talk to the people at your company. Talk to employees at all levels and not just the ones at the top of the pyramid. Seek feedback from your colleagues in all departments in small group meetings and in one-on-ones. Take a lot of notes along the way and look back to see what sort of signals you are getting.

When you see patterns that are inconsistent with the effective culture your company is intentionally aiming to create, go back and ask those same people how you can change one small thing to get you heading in the right direction. Then, commit to doing it. Lather, rinse, repeat this exercise until you start to see the changes you want to see — the ones that are actually going to support an effective workplace culture that gets your company where it wants to go.

I promise you this now, you will not look back after doing this and think: if we only had a Skee-Ball machine…

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