The Parable of a Party
There’s So Much More to Corporate Culture than a Hip Office Environment
Let’s say you’ve decided to throw a big shindig. It’s going to be the best blowout blitz around, and you’ve worked hard to plan it carefully. You want lots of people to come, to enjoy your favorite snacks and drinks, along with your favorite games. You want it to reflect your unique ethos and culture.
You show your plans to your friends, and they are excited to come. You send invitations out to everyone you know. “It’ll be just perfect,” you think.
But then you realize the things you like aren’t the same as what other folks now prefer. So you buy some provisions that you aren’t crazy about, but you know other people will like. But you still hope some people will enjoy your favorites.
Then you find out that your favorite libations aren’t as popular as they used to be. That’s ok. Everyone has different tastes. So, then you buy some adult beverages that you really don’t like, but you know they’re popular so the people who show up are bound to like them. And who knows? People you didn’t invite might show up just because you’re serving popular bevies.
The week before the big day, to gauge general interest, you send out a survey. Turns out, everyone thinks the games you’ve chosen are lame. So, you pick some new ones that you’ve seen and heard about at other, really successful parties.
Now It’s the Big Night
Tons of people show up! You’re so busy welcoming everyone that at first you don’t even have time to enjoy your own bash. You know it’s a success.
You finally get inside and look around. It’s packed! You want a libation, but you don’t really like the new artisan cocktails you bought for everyone. You try to savor a snack, but you find the new, popular munchies aren’t that great to you. You want to play your favorite games, but everyone else is playing the cool
Then you look around and see that all your friends have left. There are a lot of cool kids there, but they’re talking to each other. It starts to feel like this event isn’t really yours at all. What you had envisioned as a perfect affair turned out to be great for some folks, but a total bust for you and your friends.
What Went Wrong?
Your friends showed up because they wanted to see and support you and experience your unique spirit and culture. They came to play your favorite games, eat your preferred foods and drink your top pick drinks. They wanted to experience your vision of a good time.
But when they showed up, they found things that weren’t really “you,” they felt disconnected—that you’d been replaced you with someone else. Your original plans would have made the night great. But the changes you made based on what was popular instead felt arbitrary and disingenuous.
Even though the environment had all the elements of success, those elements didn’t support what was truly central to you.
You Can’t Fool People Trying to Be Something You’re Not
Here’s the reality. It’s almost impossible to out-Google the “Google-style office” (you know, unlimited York Peppermint Patties, ping pong tables galore, slides—or a fire poles—instead of stairs, unlimited massages, etc.) or the Google organizational culture. The problem is that many folks now conflate: cool office = strong corporate culture.
On paper, it makes sense. If you have cool stuff in your office, cool people will gravitate to your company and this environment will foster camaraderie and collaboration.
Really? Think about if you really want to woo potential employees based on something so shallow? Conversely, would you want employees who are swayed by such trivial elements to work for you?
The answer to that is likely “no.” You want employees that are committed to something deeper—employees who get your corporate culture. If they’ve proven they go for the next shiny new thing, what’s really keeping them
at your company?
You don’t just want top talent; you want ambitious people who share your vision. You don’t just want people who will work long hours when necessary; you want people who will volunteer the extra effort to do what it takes to support your company and build a strong corporate culture. You don’t want flavors of the month; you want employees of the month.
Your Office Must Reflect Your Corporate Culture
Everything, down to the amenities you provide, should have some root in and resonance to your company culture. These things are more than incentives, because they are greater than the sum of their parts. They are extension of the initial vision and the Shared Purpose of the company. They represent profound connections from employee to company and vice versa. And therein lies the maybe-not-so-secret ingredient of a strong corporate culture.
Determined, likeminded people will go far together. So, when you’re planning your next celebration, don’t just look for the coolest new things to attract the popular kids; pick the things highlight your strengths, your beliefs and your culture. That way, when the right invitees show up, they’ll be sure to have a great time.