It’s Not About the Ping-Pong Table: What We’re Getting Really Wrong About Company Culture

There’s no doubt that ‘company culture’ is all the buzz these days. LinkedIn articles, panels, interviews- you name it, it’s a hot topic of conversation — for good reason! Studies continue to show that having a good culture makes employees less likely to leave their jobs and more productive, leaving to better company bottom lines.

Through our work, we’ve been able to hear first-hand how companies are approaching the topic of culture — and sometimes missing the mark. Here are some common misconceptions we’re seeing in culture conversations and how to identify the truth.

Myth: “Culture is this fluffy thing that is hard to define.”

Truth: Culture can be defined — and measured.

A company’s culture is made up of core beliefs and behaviors that determine how people engage in their work. Culture is visible in everything from how people communicate and collaborate to the way the environment is shaped; you can hear it in the language, feel it in the emotional climate, and learn it through observing others around you. It’s a pattern of assumptions that are developed as employees learn, adapt, and integrate into an existing but evolving system.

What assumptions would someone make about your company culture after observing your workplace for a week?

Myth: “We have to create a culture like Google’s.”

Truth: No two company cultures should be the same.

When a company tries to do things “the Google way”, they assume what works for Google will work for them. It’s important to pay attention to the context, the industry, the type of work, and the needs of your business. For example, an open-floor concept, as trendy as it seems, doesn’t work for everyone.

Additionally, culture is shaped largely by the specific people who make up the company. Not only does this make every company culture different, but it means it is constantly changing over time as new people come in and others leave. This also means that despite the certainty of change, a culture must be intentionally rooted in a mission and values that extends beyond any one person’s lifecycle within an organization.

What are the core elements of your company’s identity that are evergreen?

Myth: “Culture is a millennial thing.”

Truth: It’s definitely not only a millennial thing, but they are leading the change.

It’s important to recognize that the shifts we’re seeing in the workplace aren’t because millennials are all that different from any other generation. The main difference is that millennials have more options today than any other generation ever had in regard to what type of work they can do and how that work is done.

Furthermore, as the largest generation in the workforce, millennials are leading the changes we’re seeing in the way we shape culture. It’s important to understand what they’re are looking for, and more importantly, what it takes to keep them around.

What types of conversations are being had with the millennials in the room?

Myth: “A ping-pong table will do the trick. Oh, and maybe some bean bags!”

Truth: It’s not about the furniture. It’s about the message they send.

Why have the ping-pong table and bean bags become so ubiquitous? Because they communicate a message that says, “We understand that you are a human being who has physical, mental, and emotional needs. We recognize all parts of you and value the time you spend here. Also, work can be fun.”

Remember, a ping-pong way isn’t the only way to send that message. How are you showing employees that you recognize and appreciate all parts of them?

Myth: “It starts on day one of employment.”

Truth: It starts with your brand and online presence.

Some might already be a few steps ahead and say that the experience of a company culture begins with the hiring process, but the fact of the matter is that it starts way, way before that. The first way in which people engage with and learn about your culture is through your brand and online presence. In fact, that’s the first way you begin attracting talent.

What is your brand communicating about your company culture?

Tallia Deljou is an organizational psychologist and co-founder of Mavenly + Co. She is leading The Talent Advantage Bootcamp on February 9th in partnership with Boone Consulting for those that want to identify ways to attract, source, and retain the right talent while shaping an intentional culture along the way.