FACT: Culture has NOTHING to do with touchy-feely stuff

Mention the word “culture” to someone, and it may spark a conversation around employer branding, hiring emotionally intelligent managers, teamwork, and strategies behind building a place where people love to come to work every day. You know – all that “touchy-feely stuff” that people (especially those darn Millennials) expect from their employer that distract from the objectives of winning new business and stomping the competition.

However, when you think of the world’s most valuable brands – everyone from Apple to Zappos, they all share one thing in common – each one builds and maintains cultures of high-expectations, continuous improvement, operational excellence and of course, service/product leadership. For this elite group culture is a strategy – one that is tactical, and is as deliberate as it is calculating. All of these brands recognized early on that developing a strong culture would be the prerequisite for growth and market dominance.

What culture is not

Culture is not the nap room, the ping-pong table in the lobby, or the half-day Fridays offered during summer months. These are merely creative and fun ways employers enable employees to take much-needed breaks to reboot and recharge in the spirit of increasing productivity. Culture is not the paid time off employers give to employees so they may contribute to a cause they believe in, such as helping to build homes through Habitat for Humanity. This is simply an example of how a company chooses to live its purpose and/or give back to a community based on its good fortunes. (Note: When a CEO tells you s/he hires to his or her culture, s/he’s not referring to hiring a good ping-pong player.)

Culture is best defined as the way people in your organization think, act, and perform collectively, as a group.

For the poorly managed company, culture is something that just happens on its own as positions are filled with skilled employees, and in the process, little to no consideration given to how they should be managed or how everyone would get along with one another. Employees are expected to “figure things out,” do what they were hired to do, and behave like a team. As you can imagine, these companies suffer from higher than average turnover and customer attrition due to a lack of leadership and structure — or, we could just say due to a crappy culture.

For the companies that make their competitors sweat, their cultural infrastructures are well-defined and designed for aggressive growth and market leadership. Much like the components that make up a well-running machine, these employers hire to exacting specifications for every single role within their companies. Technical aptitude aside, these employers screen for traits such as: attitude, leadership traits, life experiences, personal beliefs and philosophies, enthusiasm, empathy, critical thinking, etc. They know and understand that the right mixture of high-quality people is exactly what’s needed to achieve lofty, corporate objectives and win. And for one company to win, another must lose. And there’s nothing soft or touchy-feely about that!