No matter what role or industry you’re in, you’ve likely chatted about company culture. It’s routinely listed on job descriptions, and having a “good culture” is considered a perk for candidates.
It seems like every other word I hear is “culture.” A candidate may say, “I need a place with a good culture.” In return, a company may say, “We have a bar in the office, so we’ve got a good culture.”
Of course, that begs the question: what actually makes for good culture?
What good culture means to companies
I’ll be honest – I hate the word “culture.” It’s used so frequently that it’s nearly lost all meaning. And, if we’re really honest, good company culture is highly subjective. What’s good for one person won’t be good for another. That’s why companies need to show rather than tell: don’t leave anything about your culture up to a candidate’s imagination.
For example, everyone likes to talk about “collaborative team environments.” A candidate might hear “collaborative team environment” and think, “Oh, I’ll be doing a bunch of team building activities and company offsites. Time to brush up on my trust falls.” But at your company, this might actually mean that everyone – from president to intern – works on an open floor without any private offices. Two equally valid interpretations of the same thing.
Other aspects of your company culture may come to life in workspace design or company policies. Some companies offer nap pods or oxygen rooms with plants. Another company I work with lets pets come to work. Of course, the funny thing is, the head of human resources now has to be on pet police duty. If Spike nips at Carol’s heels, he’s suddenly suspended for two weeks, just like a human employee would be – though hopefully no humans are nipping at their colleagues’ heels. It’s an added concern to worry about that a company may not consider.
Millennials want to work for companies with social purpose and would even take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible employer. One way companies are competing for talent is by emphasizing a corporate culture that prioritizes the company’s CSR. For example, more businesses are offering company-wide volunteer days, organizing everything from park clean-ups to Habitat for Humanity builds.
What good culture means to candidates
Whenever a candidate tells me they want a good culture, I ask, “What does that mean to you?” For some, they may like dressing up in business attire every day. For others, that dress code would drive them crazy. Would regularly working from home be a perk or make it tough to be productive?
A lot of candidates take a step back when I ask them to explain their ideal culture. They’ll think, “actually, that isn’t the culture I’m looking for.” That’s part of my job as a recruiter. Yes, I want to know what you’ve done and where you want to go, but I also want to understand the environment where you’ll thrive.
You can learn a lot about a company from an initial call, too. If a hiring manager has to put you on hold to step into a phone booth or conference room to take the call, you’ll know it’s a noisy workplace. Some people are energized by that environment; others can’t focus at all.
Going back to the pet policy, consider all the possibilities. What happens when David’s 200-pound mastiff meets Stacy’s little shih tzu? Would that be a distraction? I’d love to bring my dog to the office every day. But I know what goes into the background of a company policy, so I understand not bringing him in.
Culture is great to have. You just need to define what it means to you, whether you’re on the client or candidate side.