#WorkTrends: Avoid the Company Culture Comparison Trap

Who’s at the top of this year’s Best Place to Work list?

According to Charlie Judy, it doesn’t matter — and you’d be better served taking a hard look at your own culture instead of everyone else’s.

This week on #WorkTrends, we’re talking to Charlie about how to understand your own unique culture, avoid the comparison trap and start building a better place to work.

You can listen to the full episode below, or keep reading for this week’s topic. Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #WorkTrends.

What Does ‘Best Place to Work’ Really Mean?

We have a core problem in the conversation about company culture, Charlie says. “We’ve been a little brainwashed to think that we can really define what a ‘best workplace’ is all about. What’s best for me is not necessarily what’s best for you. Yet, we say companies are a ‘best place to work.’ Best for who?”

He says he’s worked with plenty of organizations that made those lists, but they weren’t actually “best” for him.

That’s because culture isn’t actually about things you can see — perks like snacks or cool offices. Culture is about the way work gets done.

How to Define a Culture

So, even if we move past the binary idea of “good” and “bad” places to work, it’s still incredibly hard to describe a company’s culture in a few words. We use words like “fun” or “innovative” or “collaborative,” Charlie says, but those words mean something different to every single person.

“How can you help somebody understand what innovation really looks, feels and sounds like in your organization?” That kind of “cultural clarity” is the first step in really helping others envision how the culture plays out.

Charlie says the answer to defining a culture is all about data. “We have to stop making assumptions about who we are and how we work.” And instead of just measuring outcomes, like someone’s overall engagement score this year versus last year, we have to measure and understand the drivers that led to the outcome.

We also need to break down buzzwords like “collaboration,” Charlie says. “Collaboration can mean a lot of different things, but you have to be able to describe it at a behavioral level. Go out and measure the behaviors. What are the building blocks of collaboration?” For example, you’d want to understand whether “collaboration” means that you all sit in a room and stay there until you make a decision, or that you make sure that you transfer information quickly to the people who need it, or that you remove barriers so that anyone can work with whomever they need to, at any time.”

There’s No Right Answer

Once you start to define what your culture really includes at a behavioral level, you’ll start to see that there’s no one right answer to building culture or engaging employees. “There is no formula,” Charlie says. “It’s about understanding what your business needs to be successful and then creating the culture that reinforces and clarifies that at every turn.”

He says that successful organizations are dedicated to working on culture as a continuous project. “It’s an indefinite project. You have to say, ‘We will continually do this forever, because it is part of managing our business.’”

The Future of People Analytics

Charlie is bullish on the power of people analytics, but he says we have to think differently about what we measure. “People analytics doesn’t mean your human-capital-management system. It doesn’t mean your HRIS. It’s about understanding how people work. That’s behavioral stuff, it’s deep, it’s emotional, it’s psychological. We’re talking about complex individuals.”

“We need to get better at anticipating what this organization needs three years from now, not yesterday,” he says. “We have to go deeper than what shows up on a dashboard.”

Continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.