Why Bean Bag Chairs and Beer on Tap are NOT a Culture Fix


Avoid the quick fixes for company culture and instead enact real change with these tips.

Looking from the outside in, it might seem like Silicon Valley has it all when it comes to company culture. Some of these leading tech companies feature in-house barbers and laundry services, cafeterias, unlimited time off, parental leave, open space work zones, beer on tap, and even mandatory time to work on a hobby project.

What more could an employee want?

And yet, more recently, it’s come to light that these companies do have culture problems. As fun as it sounds, bean bag chairs and beer on tap simply aren’t fixes for deeply rooted company culture problems.

But don’t lose hope! There are always ways to fix a broken company culture or improve one that’s lacking in certain areas.

What Is Corporate Culture?

Before we go into how to fix corporate or company culture, let’s take a moment to define just what it is.

The idea of corporate culture was first introduced in 1989 by researcher Alan Wilkins in his paper Developing Corporate Character. Wilkins defines culture as a company’s shared vision of the core components of the organization. Just like individual people, a corporation has a set of beliefs. Each person who works within that organization is tasked with working toward those goals and beliefs.

The Problem: Unconscious Bias

The reason bean bag chairs and beer on tap can’t solve culture issues is that the problems run much deeper. Often, unconscious bias is at the root of unhealthy culture.

Creating a company culture and hiring, retaining, and promoting employees who fit that culture creates the problem of homogeneity. When your culture has too much of the same thing, it’s likely that you’ve got a problem of unconscious bias.

For example, unconscious bias makes it difficult for women to be hired and promoted into roles that have been traditionally viewed as male. Unconscious bias also pushes individuals to instinctually hire and promote those who look like them. This means that white men typically promote and hire white men, skipping over women and qualified candidates of color.

Not sure diversity would benefit your corporate culture? Research has consistently shown that diverse teams make better decisions and examine issues more thoroughly.

Six Tips to Fix Your Corporate Culture

If you’re ready to tackle your unconscious bias and make real positive changes to your corporate culture, check out these tips:

  1. Educate. Offer a class to employees about unconscious bias and take steps to learn the neuroscience behind these biases that we all have. Awareness and acknowledgment of biases can make it easier to not only recognize them but to take steps to combat them.
  2. Create a value-centric culture. The corporation’s culture should align with the vision, core values, operating practices, and goals that are set forth by the company.
  3. Change hiring and promotion practices. Instead of a manager reviewing resumes and calling some applicants in for an interview, let a software program or algorithm choose which applicants receive an interview. Unconscious bias can mean that women and people of color are discarded based on judgments on their resume, from their name to gaps in work history for taking care of children.
  4. Create a hiring and promotion workflow. Instead of letting a manager decide by gut feeling who receives a promotion or who to hire, create a workflow. For example, each candidate who comes in for an interview will be asked the same questions, and their answers will be put into a rubric from which the final decision will be made. If possible, create a quantifiable test for examining a candidate’s skills. The same should be done for selecting employees for internal promotion. These workflows help find the best person to hire or promote, not just who is the most “liked.”
  5. Encourage questioning mindfulness. Instead of letting employees speak of gut feelings or opinions, encourage employees to question their own intuitions and those of others. This mindfulness and acceptance of questions encourages everyone to think more deeply and help one another along in the process.
  6. Create inclusive and flexible corporate policies. To retain a diverse workforce, you must have flexible policies. Corporate policies should recognize that each employee is an individual with unique needs. Review corporate policies with an inclusiveness team to identify problems or inflexible policies that should be updated to fit the new culture.

When you set out to make changes to your company’s culture, be sure to set down measurable and achievable goals. Challenge yourselves, but know that fixing the culture and eliminating unconscious bias isn’t likely to happen in the next year…or maybe even five years. Battling unconscious bias, creating a more diverse workforce, and fixing corporate culture is a long-term struggle.

What’s your company doing to change its company culture? And no, beer on tap isn’t the answer we’re looking for.

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