Strong Company Culture Is About So Much More Than Perks


An INSIGHT by Erik Matlick (pictured left), a serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of the marketing data company Bombora.

Today, much of the conversation about workplace culture focuses on the unique and intriguing extras that companies include in both their employment packages and their office spaces, including everything from employee pricing on electronics to playground slides. As a four-time entrepreneur and CEO, I have often dreamed of having the budget to hire the Grateful Dead’s chef, or even a barista on staff to serve everyone espresso and acai bowls.

But let’s be honest, not all startups or even Fortune 1000 companies have the budgets or investor approval for these kinds of perks. In fact, these conversations are actually detrimental to the idea of company culture, because culture isn’t necessarily about benefits, material perks or status derived from working at a hot company. Look at Uber and Theranos, two companies that once seemed almost unstoppable and a mythic aura about them, but are both now undergoing painful leadership and culture crises.

Company culture is about leadership, strategy, vision and good people. These are things that every company can afford and these should be the areas of focus for their employees, investors and clients, rather than flashy in-office distractions.

Why does company culture matter? To begin with, employees are every company’s most valuable commodity, and retention is directly linked to employee satisfaction and culture. Employees come to work because they like what they are working on and they like the people they work with, two factors that are often cited as more important than salary. Too often, employees resign and managers try to entice them to stay with more money. It never works! Unhappy employees don’t resign for the money, even if that is the reason they give. They almost always leave because of the culture.

So how can a CEO fix that? People like to work for leaders who have a strategy and vision and they like to work with other people they enjoy being around. After all, we spend more time with our coworkers than our spouses and children.
It is the job of the CEO to create a vision that everyone can understand, identify with and embrace. This vision should explain the problem your company is solving, and how it is making the world a better place. Next, think about how the company at large, as well as each individual department, will play a role in executing this noble vision.

Too often CEO’s draft a “mission statement” and file it away. We forget that most of the current employees are busy day to day and don’t always remember the vision. In the average company, the turnover is at least 10% a year, while companies that are growing and hiring will have lots of new faces every month. Repeating it is just as important as creating it, and the people who have already heard the vision need to hear it often. So, keep repeating it. Repeat the vision in sales presentations, management meetings, and all hands meetings.

A CEO who can lay out a clear vision will often find that clients can easily get excited about this vision. For example, one company I was involved in prior to its acquisition, Fetchback, had a simple mission: to be the one company that focused specifically on retargeting. This was an easily repeatable mission, and it was measurable by press mentions, easy for employees to understand, and very clear to both investors and clients.

On the other hand, I’ve also had the experience of investing in companies where the leadership takes on two or three different revenue streams early on. Sometimes this is necessary when companies don’t know which use case of a product will work and take root. However, in my experience, companies often flounder in this approach because they split resources, fail to satisfy clients, lack the time to address internal needs until they choose one clear path. CEOs must quickly make a decision on direction and vision, picking one product and one solution. When a CEO can focus on a single service, they can refine the vision and focus on being the biggest and best at what they do.

The most important thing to remember is that company culture cannot be purchased. While perks are nice, culture is not built through catered lunches or week-long ping pong tournaments. Culture is a byproduct of an aligned corporate vision that everyone can rally around, from the C-level to entry-level. When a CEO lays out a clear vision, and employees understand their role in making that vision a reality, they form a bond with the company and with each other.



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