If That’s Your Focus, You’re Doing It Wrong: Getting Workplace Culture Right

The job benefits offered by many of today’s tech giants are widely publicized. Perks like Google’s on-site fitness centers, Airbnb’s free meals and even Dropbox’s “Whiskey Fridays” are designed to attract the attention of top talent. But there’s more to cultivating teams than getting qualified people in the door — creating an environment where they want to stay is equally as important.

Just ask Nancy Lyons, Founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based Clockwork Active Media. An award-winning agency that specializes in digital strategy, content and design, Clockwork offers many great perks for staff — including ice-cold beer on tap. But Lyons is quick to acknowledge that companies have a tendency to focus on gimmicks. “Nobody has ever accepted a job at Clockwork because of the beer,” she said. “If that’s your focus, you’re doing it wrong.”

Lyons added, “We’re at this tipping point when it comes to work. People are recognizing they can actually ask for and/or demand working environments that aren’t about perks or gimmicks.”

An Original Member of the Culture Club

In addition to spending the past two decades advocating for women in tech, Lyons was a visionary for workplace culture. It was more than 20 years ago that she started thinking about work environments and their connection to employee satisfaction. Lyons considered the kind of workplace she wanted for herself and where she would be most productive. “I thought happy, engaged people probably do good work,” she said.

As Lyons’ ideas on culture emerged, she shared them with a mentor who said they were “really radical.” He also told her no one would care until she had the data to back it up. Lyons spent the next several years proving her theories; she built technology-based businesses where employees felt good about the work they were doing and the people they were working with.

During that process, Lyons realized the importance of expressing what was sacred to her — the values she hoped to live and work by. In doing so, she was able to define a culture for the company that could be shared with both internal and external stakeholders. “Your company’s values represent how you partner not just with each other, but with your customers as well,” she said.

Additionally, it provided something concrete she could share with potential new employees. The opportunity to be a part of a values-based culture has been one of Clockwork’s biggest influencers. It has also helped ensure the right people are on the team. “Culture really is about the quality of human we invite to the table, their personal values and how they reflect and enhance the values of Clockwork, ” Lyons said.

Ushering in the Next Generation

Lyons has earned her stripes as an authority on workplace culture and Clockwork has the awards to prove it. The company has been the recipient of dozens of local and national honors, including numerous “Best Place to Work” awards as voted by employees, whom Lyons described as “stewards for how it feels to be there.”

Today, Lyons carves out time to educate businesses on the importance of workplace culture; her schedule is packed with speaking engagements. Among the trending topics, companies want to know how to attract and retain millennials. And while the fastest growing generation of workers may seem like a mystery to many, Lyons summed it up simply: “Millennials don’t want anything different than the rest of us — the rest of us didn’t know we could ask for those things.”

Lyons’ advice for creating a healthy culture that appeals to every generation? Dig deeper. Some companies think they’ve hit the culture jackpot because they offer gym memberships, food and happy hours. “You can forgo all of that if people believe they are truly valued,” she said.

The Bottom Line on Culture

Does culture affect financial success? Yes, it does. For Clockwork, “there is bottom-line success as a result of how I feel about culture,” Lyons said. The company has experienced steady growth year-over-year, including a nearly 50 percent increase in revenue two years ago. She added, “It’s really important to me that our story isn’t just soft — it’s a solid business story — so being profitable is really important.”

Hear more about Nancy Lyons and Clockwork’s workplace culture in episode six of the LEVERAGE Podcast from The Bailey Group.