It’s Time to Stop Confusing Perks for Culture

Dog-friendly workspaces. Flexible PTO. Shoe-optional dress code. Free beer on Fridays. The idea of company culture has become almost synonymous with this idea of a very modern workplace—think less law firm, more Google.

But culture isn’t about standing desks and catered lunches (although, free food is never a bad idea). According to Melissa Daimler, “there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values.” In her HBR.com article, she explains that a great culture exists when all three elements are aligned with each other, as well as with the organization’s values. When “gaps start to appear,” problems soon follow. With enough problems and a little time, great employees start to leave.

What, then, makes a culture genuinely strong and supportive? What kind of culture is able to keep employees around? Daimler tackles this question in her discussion of a culture’s components.

  • Behaviors, she writes, must be demonstrated by leaders. To get employee buy-in, the organizational values your business holds dearest must be clearly defined for everybody…same goes for the behaviors and skills that express said values.
  • When it comes to systems, Daimler claims these five are vital to the overall culture system: hiring, strategy, and goal setting, assessing, developing, and rewarding. “A good culture sets these processes up so they feed into and off of each other,” she writes.
  • And finally, practices. Daimler states that practices (from running meetings to making big decisions) must be adaptable, growing with the organization. Basically, “well, this is what we’ve always done” won’t cut it anymore. Practices that once were useful can become meaningless as the company evolves—it’s important to regularly assess and change them as needed.

You may have noticed that ping-pong tables and refrigerators stocked with sparkling water aren’t part of Daimler’s trinity. Her point (and we strongly agree) is that culture and employee retention can’t be bought; it must be developed and committed to over time. And a strong, stable workplace culture can ultimately induce people to stay in a position, or at least with an organization. If your culture isn’t there yet, don’t worry. This is something that takes dedication, time, and hard work! While it’s often tempting to try to stick a Band-Aid over workplace issues—to see problems and think, “I can solve that with a patch here or a plug there, with a new coffeemaker or a pizza party,” it’s important to remember that culture can’t be patched on—it has to be built from the ground up.

Organizational culture should begin with onboarding and end—well, nowhere. It has to be established and acknowledged by everyone, or else it might never get off the ground. Not sure where to get started? We put togeth