Today’s tight labor market coupled with the highest quit rate in nearly two decades, business leaders across the country are concerned with two things: attracting and retaining talent. I wrote several articles for The Wall Street Journal in 2017 that I believe are very relevant today, and we've been sharing a few through TGIM. Here's today's article:
Don't Mistake Perks for Corporate Culture
Too often, companies confuse perks and culture. Leaders think that to create a great culture, they should go purchase ping-pong and pool tables, get a keg for the office, or offer four-day workweeks. But these are all perks, not culture, which are two very different things. If a company only focuses on adding flashy perks, they may attract an employee, but they won’t retain them.
Don’t get me wrong, perks are great, but if there are beanbag chairs and no one likes each other, that doesn’t accomplish much. Allowing your employees to bring dogs to work is a perk. Texting an employee after they had to put their dog down is culture.
Culture is made up of emotion and experiences. It’s the intangible feelings created by tangible actions. It’s about caring for your people and creating a sense of community that allows employees to feel connected to something bigger than their individual role. It’s allowing them to feel comfortable to be themselves. Culture is creating an experience that employees wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. It’s spending the time to actually listen and support them in their personal lives, both good and bad. It’s about asking for their opinion and then acting on the feedback.
Perks are short-term happiness. They will attract talent, but if companies aren’t investing in professional and personal development, if they’re not willing to spend the time listening and gauging individual motivators, if there is a lack of empathy for an employee who is struggling with a personal issue, the employee will leave as soon as they are offered a higher paycheck elsewhere. It’s like a relationship: If all you get are flashy gifts from your significant other without any emotional investment or support, it will fizzle.
Culture is transparency, and that is a two-way-street. If leaders expect their staff to be transparent, they too have to be transparent with their staff. They stand up in front of their co-workers and share their mistakes that have cost money, damaged confidence and produced tears and heartache. They share mistakes to show employees, new and old, that if you are running 100 mph, mistakes will happen, but the future success will overshadow them. That you can learn from them.
What about the companies that have their core values of integrity and honesty painted on their walls, but when influential employees go against them, they’re not penalized? That’s fake. Culture is when leadership removes someone from the organization who is bringing others down regardless of them being the company’s top producer. They are dismissed because that is the right thing to do for the team.
Culture is holding people accountable. Pushing them to be better. Training them to learn how. Developing their skills and then allowing them to execute the directives. When people are challenged and pushed and they become better, you are establishing culture.
Building a culture is hard work. It’s not a one-month or one-year initiative. The truly great places to work—the ones that get all the recognition and accolades—didn’t start investing in employees for the awards. The awards were ancillary.
An employee who thinks of jumping ship can compare perks easily, but culture is much harder to evaluate. Instead of focusing on temporary benefits, leaders should focus on creating an environment which makes your company hard to leave.