Community > Culture—Part 1: The problem with culture.

Posted by Bri & Joshua

Today many companies chase the perfect corporate culture in hopes of gaining more engagement, productivity and loyalty from their workforce. They try everything from ping-pong tables and beer-kegs to offering fringe benefits like dry cleaning and housekeeping. But is this culture really king?

All of our core values stem from community. This important concept informs what we do and how we work, and we’d like to invite you to join us in embracing it. In this post, part one of a short series, we filter the buzz on culture.

Culture is the new buzzword for companies of all sizes these days. On Twitter, Medium and LinkedIn, as well as in traditional publications from Forbes to Fast Company, you’ll find staggering character counts and columns dedicated to the subject of improving your company culture, and the risks of a bad culture if you don’t get it right. The popular wisdom is that happy employees are productive employees and the coffee they drink is from the fountain of company culture. Even more popular is the belief that “good” company culture is the secret to a more content and a loyal millennial workforce. 🙄

 

The problem is, culture can be implicitly exclusive.

The act alone of defining a company’s culture begins to communicate exclusion. In other words, singular cultures require a degree of personal fit — and no matter how inclusive leaders are in their attempts to shift their definition of culture, their own bias inevitably removes that sense of belonging for all.

What happens when someone doesn’t fit within a defined culture? At one point or another, you have likely heard a manager claim, “Timothy just wasn’t a good cultural fit with the agency.” This statement is a stunning admission of bias disguised as justification of rejection. When we evaluate someone based on how they may align with an arbitrary notion of what a corporation’s cultural identity is, we risk ignoring what makes that employee valuable as an individual.

The problem with monocultural companies is not just individual rejection. A singular culture also forms social barriers within the workplace, which eventually begins to negatively affect worker engagement, productivity and loyalty. Employees who feel left out are likely to remain silent and fade into the background — if not avoid or abandon you altogether.

A well known example of the negative effects a singular culture can have on a workplace is the rate at which women are leaving the tech industry. And while singular culture itself is not the only factor that goes into gender discrimination, it’s plain to those in the industry that it plays a large role in why women are choosing to exit the field.

Who defines culture?

Whether it’s managers, human resources, employees or outside consultants, decisions on culture get made with a top-down approach. The problem with this is that even when attempts at inclusivity are made, they inevitably fall short; when culture is handed from the top down, the bottom is expected to adapt without question. This makes it easy for managers to write off employees who don’t fit seamlessly into the expected mold. Unfortunately, this is where employers begin to miss out on the diversity of thinking that comes from embracing those outside the mold.

Now, this isn’t to say that all attempts to identify company culture are exclusive and bad, there are companies that have cultivated really great, inclusive cultures. Cultures have the ability to be positive or negative, and where a particular company’s culture falls comes down to a number of factors that play into how the culture was created in the first place. The good news is that in striving to have a “good” company culture, organizations often unwittingly hit upon practices that begin to build community. This brings us to our point: it’s not about culture, it’s about community.

In our next post, we talk about why Community is where it’s at. Read it, if you please!