Is Corporate Culture Just Marketing Hype?

June 12, 2013

Are Company Culture and Cultural Fit Getting a Bad Name?

Rand Fishkin has a great article on What Company Culture IS and Is Not. With the current trend of companies offering silly work place activities and props, Fishkin offers some clear ideas of what company culture is NOT.

  • Secret Santa gift exchanges
  • Karaoke nights
  • Bean bag chairs
  • Nerf gun fights
  • Catered lunches
  • Cruises with your co-workers
  • Mashed potato sculpting contests judged by your auditors at Deloitte (yes, we really did this at Moz, and it was totally fun)

Rand Fishkin also goes on to identify typical interview questions that are NOT likely to gauge cultural fit very well.

  • If you could pick one person to play you in a movie, who would it be?
  • What are the top 5 cities you want to go to and why?
  • Where do you vacation in the summer?
  • What’s your favorite movie?
  • What’s the last book you read for fun?
  • Do you rock climb, play the cello, or enjoy film noir?
  • Star Wars or Star Trek?

What is Corporate Cultural?

If corporate culture isn’t about foosball tables and espresso machines, what is it?

Fishkin says,

Your company’s culture is three big things:

  1. Your values – those you state with words and those you exhibit through your actions
  2. Your mission & vision – the goal you’re driving toward and the force behind that goal
  3. Your hiring, firing, and promotion criteria – the reasons you bring people onto the team, the reasons you let them go, and the reasons you promote/reward them

He goes on to say that,

Cultural fit should be defined by:

  1. Shared beliefs – the things that you collectively hold to be true about the world (e.g. good people tend to have traits like X, the right way to treat others is Y, what’s appropriate/inappropriate at work is Z).
  2. Shared priorities – what matters in terms of big, overarching things like work/life balance, short vs. long term commitment, how decision are made, etc.
  3. Stylistic cohesion – some people don’t work well together, others find themselves able and inspired to do more when surrounded by a certain type. Cohesion isn’t about finding lots of people who are the same, but about making sure there’s no one on the team that detracts from others and that many get more enjoyment and progress from the diverse perspectives their co-workers bring.

How do you Create the Appropriate Corporate Culture?

An inspiring mission, authentic values and fair hiring, promotion and firing criteria seem obvious components of any corporate culture, however, they don’t seem to be effectively put into practice very often.

Think of the culture of a country, city or even neighbourhood. Culture is not something that is generally prescribed from the top down, it emerges from the actions of all members of that community.

That’s not to say that it can’t be created or fostered. In a startup environment, the culture emerges out of the actions of the founders and early employees. Most people are fairly cynical of crafted mission statements because it’s easy to say that you care about customer service, quality, employees and the environment, but much more difficult to follow through with your actions.

If you want employees and customers to buy into your company’s reason for existence, prove your culture by what the company does, not what it says. Motivational posters and craft beer nights are not enough.