Culture is a Company's Most Important Office Building-Block

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Company Culture

By Bill Sechter


Bill Sechter

Co-Founder, President & CEO, ATLAS Workbase

"Culture is the core of any organization. It defines its personality, values and beliefs." 


Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former CEO of IBM, said, “Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like... I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

Image Credit: Gensler

Image Credit: Gensler

Culture is the core of any organization. It defines its personality, values and beliefs. It is the zeitgeist of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors and attitudes. Culture also comes from the way the office looks, the colors of its brand, how its employees dress; it is impacted by the satisfaction of its employees, who take their cue from management and owners who must communicate the goals, value and mission of the business properly. It is management and the owners who must create, define and hone company culture Culture is paramount to the success of a business and should be considered equal in importance, even to the way the company generates its business. Indeed, culture can either strengthen or undermine the bonds between employee, management and the business objectives at hand.

Of course, nobody likes to work in a place they hate and nobody likes to be an environment that creates angst. While work itself is often a challenge, the work environment should be a source of satisfaction and pride. It should alleviate, rather than add to, an employee’s stress.

Culture is the life energy of the organization, and ultimately, the fuel that propels employees to go beyond just the basic job requirements. Everyone wants to be part of something that generates positive feelings—to be part of a winning club. No more is this true than in the workplace, where there is a direct link between happy employees and productive employees, as happy employees generate happier customers.

One can imagine then how critical culture + happiness is to the sustainability of a company, which is why it’s probably a safe bet to conclude that a “happy company” likely has a leg up over “unhappy” competitors. This makes for a compelling argument for any organization to think about how they can grow and flourish under a positive company culture.

That’s just inside the company. Culture is also a critical tool for bringing in talent. What sounds like a better culture: the cubicle farm with workers in tidy rows, clockwatching the days away with glazed-over looks? Or the open environment that screams transparency, freedom and creativity?

Culture is apparent immediately and a bad impression negates—in a nanosecond—the effort and money spent on recruiting, advertising and networking. Like running into bad breath, the ideal candidate, that talent, is going to back away when hit with something unpleasant. It is no surprise then that culture also affects turnover.

Conversely, culture becomes the rule of attraction: those that fit a culture are drawn to, and seek to work in, that culture. Apple, for example, evaluates employees on five key personality traits. Candidates who seek a job opportunity at Apple realize this and gravitate toward it like a magnetic pull.

Multiple factors go into creating a great work culture, many of which can be found in the companies ranked as having the best culture. When looking across-the-board at what makes a great corporate culture, certain attributes emerge. Below is a list of some of the top considerations to keep in mind when evaluating the culture of any organization:

Leadership. The way leaders communicate and interact with employees, i.e. what they communicate and emphasize, celebrate and recognize, expect, the stories they tell, how they make decisions, the extent to which they are trusted and the beliefs and perceptions they reinforce, are critical to maintaining a positive culture. Executives and managers should serve as coaches and mentors; they no longer sit detached from above, simply giving orders and to-dos.

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Management. This is not just who reports to whom, but includes process, procedures, methodology, hierarchy and beyond. Are employees empowered to make decisions? What about open feedback? Do employees truly understand the company’s business goals/objectives at hand? How are they trained? All these things affect culture. When considering these aspects, the key is to deliver them with consistency, because consistency produces less stress and a stressful culture is a poor one!

Values. Values are often easily stated but are they always followed? Culture starts from the top, making it imperative that management both talk the talk and walk the walk. A quick browse through Glassdoor and its company reviews will make this point abundantly clear. All companies should take the time to periodically review and audit its mission and values statement, as one way to make sure its staying on track.

Space. How a space looks and feels makes an obvious, in-your-face statement about company culture and employee satisfaction, a point which was explored in-depth in this prior piece appearing in Seattle Magazine. Everything from furniture to lighting, to configuration and colors; how and where common areas are placed, even noise level, impacts culture (as well as employee health and productivity). Having worked with our partners Gensler, Philips Lighting and OpenSquare to design and create ATLAS Workbase, the high-end workspace and coworking facility in Lower Queen Anne, and seeing all the incredible feedback generated by members over the past year, has underscored how critical all these factors play into creating a work environment that really does foster creativity and productivity.

Space also includes the objects, artifacts, and other physical signs contained in the workplace, such as the things found on desks or hanging on the walls, the way offices are sized and allocated, where and how common spaces are used, etc. To reiterate, as it relates to culture, how a space looks is literally the first thing one notices upon entering a company. Putting a best face forward really holds true here!

Personality. Typically, a workplace reflects the personality, style, gratis, and ideals of the owner/founder and the management team. A tight ship, hierarchy-based with lots of rules and regulations, process and methodologies work for some, while others may enjoy an open, flat organization where freedom and flexibility are key drivers.

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Dress Code. Dress code can play a huge role in office culture, the rules of attraction, and ultimately the types of workers that the business attracts. Sometimes overlooked, dress code can greatly impact the image projected by the business.

Image. It is said that people can be judged by the company they keep; in a similar fashion, most everyone wants to work for a company that is viewed positively by its industry, its community and the media. At ATLAS Workbase we see this play out every day, in that the organic growth of the ATLAS Workbase member community has spawned a culture built defined by  entrepreneurship and networking, yes, but also an esprit de corps that “this is a place where ideas, creativity and business sprout and take solid form.”

HR. The way a company approaches recruiting, onboarding, training, and developing talent; how it compensates, rewards, recognizes and advances employees; and whether the company has a strong focus on benefits, wellness and work/life balance, are all points to evaluate whether a company has a good or bad culture.

As mentioned earlier, culture attracts like-minded workers. But culture is a living, breathing entity! How the company maintains and instills this culture with each new employee pushes the culture forward. Culture can be gauged by whether employees appear happy. What types of interactions occur between employees (collaborative vs. confrontational, supportive vs. non-supportive, social vs. task-oriented, etc.) Is this happiness, or lack thereof, reflected in customer feedback?

Additionally, development programs, training, and new technology can encourage employees to learn something new and keep them engaged and moving forward. When people feel valued they do better work. Are employees recognized for achieving goals and milestones or completing a big sprint? Forward-thinking organizations realize that wellness is connected to job performance and provide ways for employees to improve their health at work and at home.

Mission. The company mission can be used to both reflect the beliefs and philosophies of the organization and to inspire employees. Mission, vision and values, first and foremost, should be consistent, but must also be regularly communicated and emphasized throughout the organization. 

Transparency. Speaking of communication, a big factor impacting culture is the tone, type and frequency of interaction both vertically and horizontally throughout the organization; and the degree of openness in how management shares company and performance data and its decision-making process. Suffice it to say that here, a higher quantity of high-quality communication is a lynchpin of a positive corporate culture.

Purpose and Team. Employees who work with a sense of purpose and feel they are part of a dynamic team, are more satisfied—enough said.

Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity at work can be a grand mix of myriad backgrounds, religions, races, sexual orientations, and old and young alike, for a common goal. Inclusion means the freedom for employees to express their ideas and perspectives. The melting pot made this country great and the same rules hold true for an organization.

Image Credit: Gensler

Image Credit: Gensler

Join Us! When one finds a great place to work they will be inclined to recruit others to join them. That organic buy-in is of the highest order, and keeps culture moving positively forward when a company’s own people are driving forces behind talent.