Past the Perks

Creating a positive company culture is worth your effort.

Kevin O’Leary of “Shark Tank.”  Steve Wozniak, inventor of the first Apple computer. Ariel Swedroe, teenage fashion designer. These are just a few of the amazing people I’ve had the privilege to hear speak at industry conferences.  

Last year, I attended an event outside of the industry, theSkimm Night Out, as a way to grow my personal brand. The founders of The Skimm – a daily newsletter geared toward millennial women – Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, shared how they built their media company from the ground up (well, from their couch to be exact.) As they were growing their business and hiring young people to join their team, the duo thought the foundation of culture in their workplace would depend on the number of birthday cakes, free lunches, and happy hours provided for their employees. They soon realized they were way off base.  

At SGIA’s ThreadX, a conference for apparel decorators in Scottsdale, Arizona, Pete Lovelace, general manager, Booster Spirit Wear, explained why building culture requires more than just the previously mentioned perks. “Culture is not bringing in a pool table. Culture is not free merch,” he said, as the memories of theSkimm Night Out ran through my head. “Culture is the action of your employees, vendors, and customers,” Lovelace continued. 

I can’t even begin to count the number of keynote addresses, panels, and interviews I’ve sat through over the years, and the topics have fallen across the board. I’ve learned how to be a successful business owner, about the importance of investing in your employees, the benefits of having a work/life balance, and that Wozniak wears two Apple watches, one on each wrist. But the topic of creating culture is one that really sticks with me.

While your employees are going to love Friday breakfast and a foosball table in the break room, your work doesn’t stop there. Your culture is defined by your company’s environment, mission, values, ethics, expectations, and goals. This will be developed by the way you implement and teach it to your staff. The best way to do this is to keep it simple, scalable, and sustainable, says Lovelace. Make sure it’s not only shared with current staff members and potential new hires, but also tangible in your day-to-day actions.

I urge you, if you haven’t already, to think past the perks and focus on who your company is and what it stands for. And guess what? You don’t have to do it on your own. Your employees (and advisors) are the best sounding boards. Ask what culture means to them and what’s important in the workplace today. Letting them guide the direction of your shop is the first step in creating an outstanding workplace culture. 

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