Why Company Culture Is About More Than a Foosball Table

More and more, companies are using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Glassdoor to present themselves as attractive employers. While online presence is important, companies need to remember that it’s just one means of communication which should reflect their internal culture. Only when these two align, can employers win great talent.

The startup working environment can be a good model for more traditional companies when it comes to cultivating an innovative, authentic company culture. Cool, modern companies are hugely attractive, especially to young workers.

Companies that seek to present themselves as desirable employers often think they need to just follow the lead of the younger, hipper companies. But is that really true? In reality, having a foosball table, “beer Friday”, or team breakfast doesn’t necessarily make for a great company culture! The lived values of the organisation are what’s really important!

On-paper strategies don’t always translate to real life

I once worked with a company that had a foosball table. Breakfast was made for us once a month. They also had beanbags, Macbooks and flexible working hours. Many employees made use of the foosball table, but actually because they didn’t really want to work. The breakfast, which the CEO almost never took part in, was always left to the assistants to prepare. When I suggested the introduction of a little teamwork by having alternating teams of four or five people make breakfast, the Marketing Manager told me that people certainly wouldn’t have any interest in undertaking the work themselves. As well as that, hardly anyone felt able to leave work before 6pm, as it might look funny to their colleagues and supervisors.

This example shows that the policies and perks of a company might look great, but as long as values such as teamwork, respect, openness and flexibility aren’t lived in the business everyday, they don’t, by themselves, make for an attractive corporate culture.

The authors Ralph Meyer and Felix Dannegger underline this in their contribution to the book, War for Talents: “Authentic employer brands have sustained success when the intended company culture largely coincides with the lived culture of the organisation.”

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Those who position themselves as attractive employers, who want to retain their employees and still attract new talent, must therefore not only have a great company culture on paper, but have to live these values authentically at all levels of the organisation.

Philippe von Borries, who founded the successful media company, refinery29 eleven years ago, takes a similar view:

“I believe it’s about (…) values. We simply think about how we live the brand, not only in addressing our audience, but also internally. The aim is to promote individuality, creativity and the use of opportunities within the business.”

Companies succeed at this when they develop a clear self-image, a firm position, their own defined set of values, and when they hire employees that share these exact views.

How can a company do this? Ralph Meyer and Felix Dannegger say that it can be achieved by simply selecting new employees not only based on their skill set – i.e. knowledge, skills, and experience – but also looking at their mindset.

The aim is to discover what motivates and drives employees, where they draw meaning from, and what values are important to them. If these are consistent with the corporate culture, then it’s likely that there will be a fruitful relationship between employer and employee that will stay strong throughout challenges.

Authenticity comes up trumps

It’s important to define the values that are important to the company, to live them in your internal as well as external actions, and to find employees who can identify with them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t also regularly go for team lunches, or provide childcare, or organise team events, but you need to be aware that these benefits are no longer the decisive factors when it comes to choosing an employer. What matters much more is that companies remain true to themselves, develop an authentic culture and live it within the company, through the managers, the team, and the product.

Sandra Stein

Sandra Stein

Sandra Stein is content and editorial manager at Jobspotting. From France to Luxemburg via the Ruhr Valley till Berlin – she has lived in the German Capital since 2010 and has now found the perfect rhythm for kid’n’career after engagements in a communications agency and the incubator scene. She has supported Jobspotting since end of 2014.