Owners and Workers Disagree About Company “Culture”

Why, look at that perk.

“Culture” is all the rage, especially inside of companies wanting to appear attractive to employees. “We have a great culture,” says every CEO. “Ensuring our culture is my #1 job,” say many.

Problem is, company owners and company employees disagree about what “culture” means.

Culture from the employee’s perspective:

  • I mean, my boss isn’t a jerk, so that’s nice…
  • They don’t really hound me about being here at any certain time…
  • Free snacks and soda…
  • And I’m sorta friends with boss, so I probably won’t get fired…

CEOs, be honest with yourself. Would your rank and file (oh, I know you don’t think of them like that) attribute much more to your culture, despite your incessant braying about it? Might they also list shorts=OK as a “culture” bonus? Pays for me to go to conferences and workshops? Monthly outings to a bar?

See how “culture” blends with perks for most people?

If so, why are so many CEOs obsessed with culture? Or rather, why is the translation of CEO “Big C” culture lost on employees who just think the place is fine, they guess? Is constantly working on culture a good use of CEO’s time?

Culture from the owner’s perspective:

  • Our values define who we are at a company
  • It’s my PRIMARY JOB to ensure consistent culture in all of our employees and new-hires
  • Culture is SO important, it’s why I continue to have one on one meetings with everyone at the company, every week, no matter how big we grow
  • As the CEO, I’m also the Chief Culture Czar
  • Because of our culture, all opinions matter, so I’d like to get input from the rest of the team, almost always, because meetings give me something to do.

HERES WHAT HAPPENS TO CULTURE AT TECH SERVICES FIRMS

No matter what the CEO says or means by culture, or what the employees think of as perks, culture most often manifests on Slack channels as the particular flavor of snark and memes shared. People absolve themselves of responsibility because of “collaboration” in the company motto. Appeasement is always good; conflict is always bad (and to be avoided at all costs). No one is ever accountable for lost revenue. Bad employees can hide because “they’ve been there awhile and the rest of the team likes them.” The CEO can fill calendar days with internal meetings and convince themselves that groupthink is positive.

Happy employees aren’t always the best employees

Is your “culture” more than a perk, in practice?

Why do so many CEOs feel culture is their full-time responsibility? What’s so hard about “ensuring culture?” Are you a glorified babysitter? Why do adults need culture moderators at their office?

Here’s a challenge: define how your culture is different from a list of attributes you want your employees to feel about YOU.

Listen, we all know bad culture; it’s those stuffy corporations and their suits and ties and endless meetings and pointless projects and know-nothing, high-paid executives. Bureaucracy, multiple bosses, busywork…we’ve all seen Office Space.

Does your culture need to be more than…not-Office Space?

Here are the most overlooked drivers of company culture. These are the things the CEO can own. THIS is where the CEO can influence culture, from the top down. And it’s not extra work, or the #1 job, or a full calendar schedule OUTSIDE of normal CEO duties. Culture is a byproduct of:

Leadership

  • Clear direction for the company: pointing to the North Star, ensuring every decision reflects that focus
  • Making decisions — demonstrative choices at forks in the road
  • Clear manner of speech — no games or politicking
  • Admits failure—owns bad decisions

In my view, culture is just leadership. And not enough CEOs are leaders. It’s hard to lead.

And it’s easy to talk about culture.

Because everyone likes free snacks.