Spot the difference between a cool culture and a strategic culture

Spot the difference between a “cool-culture” and a strategic culture

Spot the difference between a “cool-culture” and a strategic culture. The other creates value, the other is an expense.

I’m a super passionate company culture -person. Culture has eaten me as well for breakfast pretty much every morning since 2003. I’m hungry for anything and everything useful in understanding, developing and gaining value out of a company culture.

I think we can all agree your company culture can be a great differentiator and source of competitive advantage – not only in terms of employer attractiveness, but also in the eyes of your customers. And this applies especially to companies who offer services for their customers.

I would much rather buy services from a company that has great, motivated and inspired talent, who are driven and excited to work with the topics they do. I would much rather choose a company like that than a company where the people are there just for the pay check. I would much rather also lead a company with excited, driven and passionate people than a company where people are only there to gain a pay check. But that’s a different blog post.

The talk about company culture has taken over

As an entrepreneur, I have the privilege of working with many companies on a daily basis who have the desire to understand, develop and storify their company cultures.

Maybe you have also noticed how the talk about company cultures has taken over? In fact, yesterday I came to realize that up until last year, most of the companies I meet spoke about developing their employer brand. This year they changed the subject to “developing company culture” in order to produce an attractive employer brand. I love it!

It gives me a lot of pleasure to experience this change. Thanks to many fantastic examples all over the world, there are a lot of curiosity and interest about company culture today.

There is a “but” in the culture conversation

But there is a but. It’s in the following conversations:

A decision maker in a potential customer company:

We’re so excited! We’ve started to develop our company culture!”

Me:

That’s amazing! I’m excited for you! Is there anything I could help you with?

A decision maker in a potential customer company:

I don’t know. I’m not sure. This is really not my project. You should talk to our [HR Manager / HR coordinator / Office assistant].

[Slap in the face.]

Me:

I heard from your [C-level executive / member of the board] you’ve started to develop your company culture. I’m so excited! Is there anything I can help you with?

The HR Manager / HR Coordinator / Office assistant in a potential customer company:

Well, we’ve started to redecorate our office space. We’re getting a Jura espresso machine here for people to gather more together to have a spontaneous conversation.. we’re getting this fancy wall paper in this space.. and then we’re going to open up those walls and bring a pool table in there for people to relax… Oh, and we have project team working for our new values!

Me:

[sigh]

Did you just create a new benefit?

Don’t get me wrong: getting the people contribution for any internal development is never wrong. But what happens with the ordinary example I just described is that you don’t really develop a culture. You develop a benefit that you call culture, but instead of creating value, you create an expense.

You create a “cool-culture” – a benefit that feels good, looks good and makes people happy.

Does your business need satisfaction or  joy of work?

Let me also point another little detail about cool-cultures: Don’t we often say, we want to develop culture so that our people can be more satisfied? Or we want to offer such and such benefit to increase general job satisfaction?

Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a simple definition for satisfaction:

  • a happy or pleased feeling because of something that you did or something that happened to you
  • the act of providing what is needed or desired: the act of satisfying a need or a desire
  • a result that deals with a problem or a complaint in an acceptable way

When I think about satisfaction I think about two things. The other I won’t describe here to keep this professional, but the other I will.

I have a visual on my brain about a very comfortable situation giving me a lot of satisfaction. Ready?

It’s me on a sofa, under a nice warm blanket. Everything I need is at a hands reach. No kids screaming around me, no one wanting anything from me. It’s just me and a good book, some well deserved peace and quiet, a relaxing time for myself.

Satisfaction requires a status quo – what does your business require?

Satisfaction sounds like something that requires a status quo. I want this moment to last forever! I don’t want to give this up! Let’s not change anything. Let’s remain like this. It feels so good!

Satisfaction is the outcome of something I already did. Something I deserved. It’s a reward. Satisfied people just got what they needed. Now they relax. Satisfaction sounds passive. Satisfaction is the end result. Satisfaction is passive.

In my opinion (want to highlight that), a culture that first creates the sense of satisfaction is a really a benefit. A culture that first creates inspiration and excitement [to learn, to participate, to give] delivers also satisfaction. But it produced also value: value for the people, value for the customers and value for the business.

Satisfaction is the outcome of something I already did. Something I deserved. It’s a reward. Satisfied people just got what they needed. Now they relax. Satisfaction sounds passive. Satisfaction is the end result. Satisfaction is passive.

There’s nothing wrong with working in a nice office decor with happy people. Absolutely nothing. But I do like value as well.

Culture can and should be a value generator, a source of competitive advantage, a strategically developed culture

The difference between a “cool-culture” and a strategic culture is that the other eats value and the other generates value. What sometimes come as an odd surprise is that a limited business in most countries is legally bound to generate value for the owners. A business that lacks the ability to create value for the owners is drag for the employees, for the leaders, for the customers and for the society. The more value the business generates for the owners, the more beneficial it will be also for the employees, the customers and the society.

Company culture has everything to become a value generator for the business, the customers and the people. But then you have to reverse engineer it, – you have to think how to create a culture that turns into a competitive advantage.

A nice office decor is not a source of competitive advantage. Anyone can buy a pool table and a really expensive coffee machine. Benefits like these are not differentiating your business. Your customers will not choose your company as a service provider because you make a great cup of coffee (unless you are a coffee shop). Benefits are not exactly generating value to your customers, therefore they are not a source of competitive advantage.

I’m not saying culture should be a source of competitive advantage. But since it can be a really great source of competitive advantage, really drive your business, really generate value for your customers, your people and your company, really produce happiness, inspiration and drive, why would you not consider to develop a culture that really matters?

However, it is an effing hard job, so I understand why it’s just so easy to go for the cool-culture -way and not even try.

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