What a Great Company Culture Looks like (and Why It Has Nothing to Do with Having an Office Barista)

Company culture is not the fact that every Friday you have 4pm beers.

Company culture is not the vintage drum set you have in your lobby, or the flatscreen TV and skateboard collection you have in your meeting room.

Company culture is not the barista who stands behind the makeshift bar all day, waiting for someone to come up and order coffee (and say to their co-worker, “How sweet is this! A barista!”).

There’s a Starbucks on every corner. Coffee is not a value add.

Although all those things are cool, and fun, and hip, and trendy, they aren’t what make a truly great company, great. They entertain. They may help entertain, or stir excitement. But bad culture is bad culture, regardless of how many kegs you order for Friday.

This is what so many companies do not understand—leaders and employees alike.

The wrong employees search for these things. They want to know, long before they get a sense of the work ethic, the accountability, and the way people treat each other, are the benefits of the office. In the summer, do they get Friday afternoons off? Are there “late start Mondays” like in high school? What is the limit on using the slushy machine?

And leaders, the wrong leaders mistake these things as the carrots “Millennials” want. To attract young talent, they stockpile their workspaces with meaningless tomfoolery, bells and whistles that do a poor job covering up the interactions that happen on a day to day basis: The way people treat their work, the way accountability is handled, the way people listen and provide feedback.

Great company culture isn’t what you have.

Great company culture is what you do—and how you do it.

Whether you are looking for a new job, or to start something of your own, remember that all the shiny new toys don’t mean anything unless you have a sound foundation. If the people in your organization are bitter because they don’t feel heard, upset because they feel mistreated, skeptical because they feel their authorities over-promise and under-deliver, then no amount of DJ-Friday-cocktail-hours are going to fix that.

Instead, focus on creating (or finding, as an employee) a culture where people don’t even expect those things. They don’t show up for those things. What they show up for is the work, the collaboration, the people, the building of something together. That’s culture.

Culture is how a team reacts when all hell breaks loose.

Culture is how people respond to feedback—whether they learn from it, or reject it.

Culture is how everyone treats everyone. How things get done well, while at the same time making people feel empowered.

That’s true culture.

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