Are you Selling a Company Culture or Air Hockey?

During my years working in the staffing industry, questions about a company’s culture came up a lot. Staffing companies play an important role as the liaison between prospective candidates and the company doing the hiring. A company’s culture is a critical piece in enticing talent to want to work at a particular company. I was always amazed at how many companies undervalued their culture. Even when I explained to my clients that candidates rate culture in the top 3 of what’s most important to them in finding their next position.” In other words Mr. Client, I am going to go back to my office and try to sell your opportunity and when asked about your company culture, I will repeat exactly what you tell me." The typical answers I got from hiring managers ranged from, “We have casual Fridays” to “We’re fun and laid back”, or one of my favorites, “You can bring your dog to work!”

As cool as some of the perks sounded, I had a difficult time getting to the heart of their real culture, and frankly, the savvy candidates didn't care about "beer in the fridge". There's a huge difference between culture and environment. You can fill an office with all kinds of cool and quirky objects, add a coffee bar with a full-time barista and play movies on a big screen in the break room all day long, but these things will not change the way employees really feel about your company, or each other. A culture has more to do with the standards created, the behaviors you promote and how people treat each other.

In their defense, for many years, I think companies put culture on the back burner and just left it there, not realizing that it could come back to burn them later. It seems that in many cases, culture was left unattended to develop organically without direction, and this unfortunately can lead to less than desirable outcomes. Truth is, people will leave a company with a toxic culture no matter how cool the environment is.

What is culture, really? A company culture is not as much about a foosball table in the break room or wearing flip-flops to work as it is about how a company communicates from the top down. I like the way Dick Costolo, former CEO at Twitter, explained their culture, “One of the things that amazes me about Twitter is the way it utterly eradicates artificial barriers to communication. Things like status, geopolitics and so on keep people from talking to one another. Those go away in Twitter.” Read full article here.

Costolo created a culture free of ego, people were safe to speak their opinions, there were no artificial walls, and everyone was treated with the respect of an equal. People want to work for companies that are forward thinking and innovative. The way a company thinks and its attitude is becoming a critical piece to a company’s success. Many companies say that they want innovation, but ARE they actually creating a culture that invites its people to openly share ideas in a safe place and encourages creativity, even failure? .

So, what if your company is stuck in a rut and doesn’t know how to change? How can you shift a company’s attitude and mindset? I think we can safely assume that a company needs to think progressively in order to compete in today’s business world, so in order to address culture and change; a conservative approach simply will not work. To start a shift in culture, companies need to think about changing the attitude and behaviors of its people. ALL of its people. If you can begin to promote behaviors like listening, accepting, connecting and collaborating; the entire organization will begin to think and act differently.

Improvisation as a training and development tool in business is quickly becoming a desired method to treating an ailing company culture. If you want to promote real change in your organization, Improv is a great way to get there. Forget about Improv as the funny tool, and think about the discipline it teaches. Adapting to change, supporting innovation, overcoming obstacles, building trust, and encouraging a safe place for ideas and a new attitudes to flourish; these are the principles of improvisation that companies are using to adopt change and shift their culture.

Applying improvisation skills to promote culture change in business is on the rise, and companies like Twitter, Google, Verizon, Home Depot, WorldPay, Fidelity and many more are taking advantage and seeing results. Create and sell a culture that makes people feel good about your company and each other, not just an environment with over sized bean bags and free lunches.

Kristy West is the Founder of BraveSpace an Applied Improv Facilitator and Speaker in Atlanta, GA 

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