It’s impossible in today’s world of HR not to be told a least a hundred times per day what "great culture" means, or should mean, or used to mean. We're constantly bombarded with facts and opinion about culture!
On the leadership/HR side of great culture, we tend to be very technical. We talk about having a clear vision and mission, about what we do and where we're going. We look at ways to measure our culture and drive the various components of the culture we desire.
What we rarely hear about is how our employees would define great culture?
What employees want from organizational culture
Our employees look at culture very differently. Culture to them is more about how they feel at work. How they feel about their job, their boss and the organization. It’s very untechnical. It’s emotional, to a large extent.
An example of a great company culture
The best culture I’ve ever worked in was at Pamida, in Omaha, NE — a small regional retail company that had a few hundred locations scattered across 20 states in the U.S. The company's performance wasn’t all that good. It seemed like we were in a constant cost cutting mode, reducing expenses to match falling sales. Not a fun environment.
Sounds like a great culture, right?!
I laughed more at that job, than at any other job I’ve ever been at in my career. I worked with three guys in HR (Luke, Ray and Bob) and we all went to lunch with each other almost every day. We would laugh! Laugh at our jobs. Laugh at the company. Laugh at each other. Laugh at life. Side-splitting, belly-hurting, I-have-a-headache-I’m-laughing-so-hard laugh.
It was awesome. I loved going to work every day. At a company that was in a complete death spiral.
Great financial results don't always mean a great organizational culture
Most leaders and the HR team would be working constantly to "fix" that culture. Something must be wrong. We need a new culture! One that will drive sales. One that will retain our best workers. One that is completely different than what we have.
Pamida wasn’t a bad organization with a bad culture. They were caught in a market where they were competing against the world’s biggest retailer, and they couldn’t adapt fast enough to match Walmart.
For employees, company culture is about emotional connection
I’ve thought about that experience a lot, especially when people ask me about how to "fix" the culture at their organization. I always ask them: what do your employees think about your culture?
Employees usually think the culture is better than leadership does, because they think about culture differently.
Employees define “great” culture like this: “People who love each other, and work gets in the way!”
That’s the disconnect, right?!
Your employees want to be positively emotionally connected to each other.
You don’t much care about that part. That’s why your culture transformation, isn’t really going anywhere.
If you can find out how to leverage that emotional connection, you can make great things happen. But, rarely, can you make great things happen without that emotional connection!