A Universal Best Culture Does Not Exist

The ‘Top 100 Places To Work’, ‘Best Cultures in America’, ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’, and all of the other ‘Top X’ lists are accolades many companies strive to be on. We all want to create a great place to work, no doubt, but what does it mean to be on one of these lists?

Well, being a ‘Top Company’ or to have a ‘Best Culture’ means that the environment established in the workplace is one that the employees can do their best work because they want to, not because they feel they have to. It is a place where people feel mentally and physically safe, where they are engaged, and where they feel respected and appreciated for the work they do.

Obvious, right?

Well, if we take a look at the Fortune Top 100, we see what might be a natural winner for first (Google), but then perhaps a surprise for fourth (Wegmans Food Markets). Clearly what these companies have done is remarkable for their employees, but does it really tell the sotry of what the culture within is like? Can this really be used as a recruiting tool?

I’m suggesting not, and let me tell you why.  

Because to suggest that the cultures at Google is event remotely similar to that at Wegmans (again, a food market) seems a little silly does it not? And because you might think that this is what I’m exclusively suggestion, let me take it a little further. To attract someone to the Google, understanding what makes it the top of the list and why is far more important than the fact that it is on the list at all. I would go so far as to suggest that the people that work at Wegmans likely wouldn’t have the same great experience at Google because it is nearly impossible to compare the two.

So this begs the question: What is a best culture anyways?

My suggestion is that there isn’t one, universally. There is, however, a best culture for the people within the organization, but we can’t call it that. Instead, lets call this an optimized culture. The difference between the two is that when we optimize culture, we compare and benchmark internally and not externally. We don’t compare a food market to a tech giant, and we don’t suggest that a best culture for one company is even comparable to a best culture in another.

This slight change in focus can be a game-changer, really. I’ve had credit unions ask me how they compare to big banks, insurance companies ask how they can compete with tech companies and start-ups, and forestry giants as how they can attract talent when the glam of the industry isn’t what a corporate 9-5 might be.

We can’t. And we shouldn’t.

I think the biggest myth is that we’re trying to achieve a ‘best culture’ status so that perspective employees will perceive our company to be a great place to work.

Right, kind of. But instead, let’s talk about the people who are already working in our organizations and articulate what they love about their job and why. Talk about why our organizations are right for the people within it, not outside of it. We don’t want 10,000 applicants when 99% of them don’t fit, we want individuals who will thrive in the environments we’ve created and not ones that don’t.

A universal best culture doesn’t exist now and it never will. Sure, there will always be great places to work, but that doesn’t mean they are a great place for both you and I, it might just be that it is great for you or I. This is why the conversation needs to shift, and the way we benchmark culture has to change.

Are you creating an optimized culture? If so, how?

Follow Eric on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Check out his TEDx talk here. Also, check out The DRYVER Group for more information.

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