The Newfound Importance of Company Culture

Younger generations are caring more and more about the culture of the company they work at. Is that a good thing?

There’s no understating the importance that a company’s culture has on the younger generations.

I find this to generally be a very good thing. The fact that people want to make a contribution, the fact that they are looking for a fit and satisfaction and reward beyond just that which arrives in the paycheck is excellent.

Young people are looking for measurement criteria beyond economics, titles, or fancy offices. This speaks to a quality of individual that is increasingly rare in today’s Machiavellian world.

Knowing that there are places for you which are a good fit also presupposes that there are other places you could work for in which you are not a good fit. Over decades of experience and some significant scar tissue, I have learned that there are some styles of organizations that I am not a good fit for. No matter how attractive the economies may seem, I should not try to seek a job in one of those places. The economic reward may be great, but I will not be happy.

It took me years of experience to learn these lessons. The younger generations are coming in already knowing what they want and don’t want in terms of organizational culture.

If you are a good fit for a company and the culture is right, you should be able to answer this question:

Can I make a meaningful, significant and therefore hugely satisfying contribution?

Answering that question is a part of the culture.

Let me first clarify that there is no such thing as a right or wrong culture. It only matters if it is right or wrong for you.

So, if the culture is right for you, then you can make (and you’re more comfortable in making) a more significant, direct contribution to your organization. You are positively accretive, a phrase the Wall Street analysts use, to the organization as a whole when the fit is right.

Now be mindful that we don’t live in an ethereal Pollyanna kind of world.

Culture may seem more important than salary to those driven by adding that positive contribution, but you still need to pay your bills. You need to be properly economically rewarded either now, in terms of salary and benefits, or later in terms of stock options. Ideally, a blend of the two.

If you’re building something of value, you should be compensated for that value. Imagine culture as a big hug. It’s a nice addition, for sure. But you can’t bank a big hug, you don’t pay your rent with a big hug, and you don’t buy your groceries or eat out with a big hug.

If you want to survive on big hugs alone, then go buy a puppy.

That’s overly harsh, I understand. Speaking of puppies, we need to be careful to not conflate culture with pool tables, weekly cupcakes or an office dog.

Culture is what you have when you take those things away, not add them.

The reality is that what we need is a balance among priorities. Culture is important, and personal finance is important. It can’t be all about economics, and to heck with the culture. It can’t be all about giving big hugs and singing Kumbaya all day every day. There needs to be a balance between the two.

I do applaud and I am excited by seeing and I think it’s right to pursue organizational cultural fit as a higher priority than almost anything else as you select an organization to join. My point is, more broadly, that you need to find a place that offers you a balance, that offers you both sides of the coin.

Here are some questions to keep in mind beyond, or within cultural fit.

  1. Does this organization have the ability, fiduciary discipline, prudence, decisiveness to guarantee the ongoingness of the enterprise?
  2. Is there adult supervision here?
  3. Is someone prepared to make the hard decisions? Is there someone who understands the operations and financial side of the business?

Yes, within the context of culture — but at the end of the day, this is a business. It should operate as one. Nothing gets done with big hugs and Kumbaya all day.

So do I think culture is a good thing? You bet I do.

Can focusing on culture become too much of a distraction? You bet it can.

If you have cultural fit as a high priority in your selection criteria, amongst others like economics, rigor and discipline, then you’re in a good place and you’ll find an organization that is a good fit and balance for you.

Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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