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If the culture is sick then no amount of flowers and grapes will heal it. If the culture is healthy then creating the right atmosphere will help it to shine.
Look around you, what do you see? Now look within, do you get the same impression? If you do, that’s great – or at least it is if the message is a positive one. But I bet that in far too many instances there is a disconnect; that the style is not reflected by the substance of the culture in action.
Let me explain. With the rise of Silicon Valley came a rash of ‘me too’ imitations; businesses which jumped on the ‘pool table and crazy workspace’ phenomenon in the thought that if only they could copy the exterior appearances, they too would instantly transform into groundbreaking innovative organisations. And in a way you can’t really blame them. After all, the idea of using our surroundings to deliver a message is hardly a new one. Banks for example may nowadays be trying to look like coffee shops but before their recent transformations the overwhelming message was one of solidity and quiet sobriety, using building design and furniture to imbue a sense of trust.
Admittedly they are by no means the only organisations to do this. Whether a slightly larger desk is a sign of promotion or the foyer is discreetly decked out in dark woods and lush green plants, it’s an undeniable fact that businesses have long sought to use buildings and interiors to enhance their message. And it also has to be said that sometimes the building and its decor provides a vital first impression for customers. Walk into a bar with bright lights, bare floors and shiny tables and you instantly know that you’re in for a far different experience than one which offers dim lighting, soft chairs and the gentle drift of fish across an indoor pool.
But, and this is a big but, the style which you offer is nothing unless it is supported by the culture and ethos of the organisation. Set up the office to convey discretion is one thing, but not if you then chat about my affairs whilst on your daily commute. And if your choice of furniture is designed to make me trust you with my money whilst at the same time your investment in dodgy loans and mortgages is leading towards a financial crash then to be quite honest you are little more than a con artist.
The same equation is true when it comes to your employees. It really doesn’t matter what surroundings you choose if they are at variance with the culture. Yes if you want to promote innovation then some sort of universally accessible recreation area may be beneficial, but only because innovation requires interaction and collaboration. Promote those two behaviours and recreational areas will help; install communal areas but continue to promote a competitive siloed culture and all you are doing is wasting your money and actively disengaging your employees.
Now I have to say that creating an ambiance which attracts customers and enables employees to deliver the organisational strategy can be a vital element in business success. But it will only do so if the culture is right in the first place. If the culture is sick then no amount of flowers and grapes will heal it. If the culture is healthy then creating the right atmosphere will help it to shine.
Look around you; do you see style or substance? Maybe it’s time to refurbish your culture.