As with people, the health of an organization relies on many factors. When it comes to company culture, I see both the mental fitness (vision, mission and guiding principles) and physical fitness (amenities, events, and environment) discussed. (If you check out our Instagram, there are lots of examples of how we implement our culture into our office space.) I consider these two elements analogous to diet and exercise. I’ve thought a lot about how to implement the mental and physical fitness of culture in our company. As VP of culture at Black Duck, I’ve spent time reading cultural manifestos, guiding principles and vision statements examining what is critical to a long-term healthy organization. There is plenty of material to reference on these subjects, as there should be. I’ve detailed some of the elements we use here in an earlier blog post.
The Physical Fitness of Culture
In my experience, handling culture at a company is as much a physical endeavor as it is an intellectual one. Some days I spend as much time away from a computer as in front of one. Why? I’m working to ensure that we optimize the environment (the physical space that our employees inhabit) for success, guided by our cultural strategic vision. I don’t want to undersell the importance of the “physical environment or space.” While I’ve seen commentary published that’s dismissive of amenities, internal events such as theme parties or environmental design, these elements are in fact a critical part of building culture. These elements also need to be properly constructed to support the cultural vision you share with your employees. You must talk the talk, but in the culture game you also have to walk the walk.
A Culture “Health Tip”
A common cultural goal is to talk about the strategic benefits of having a creative team. This means articulating the benefits of releasing people’s imagination to solve problems, innovate and ensure they feel free to think for themselves. So, how much more effective is it when you apply extra effort into physically showing people what that means?
Here is an exercise we did at Black Duck that paid some health benefits in terms of culture. I’m from the school of go big or go home. Although I wouldn’t say it’s part of the company culture mission, mischievously decorating (some say destroying) a colleague’s workspace while they are on vacation or travelling is a tried and true office prank. In this case, Ed, sometimes referred to as Mr. Ed, got the full treatment while out of the office recently.
|Mr. Ed’s office without Physical Fitness||Mr. Ed’s Office with Physical Fitness|
Walking the Walk
We could have left the office blank, and talked about freedom and creativity. In this case we didn’t, we just showed freedom and creativity. And this exercise proved an inspiration to some and a revelation to others. My favorite comment came from a wide-eyed employee stunned by the effort, “WOW, and all this was done during WORK hours?” With a mix of delighted wonder, a little disdain and a crack in the façade of work-as-drudgery, an office became a barn overnight. And that transformation delivered a message a bit stronger than even the prettiest of PowerPoint slides.
Takeaway: fun-loving hardworking people here now understand that it’s OK to hit the figurative gym and work their mischievous muscles. Several teams (considering that a bale of hay somehow exploded in an office) have found the freedom to be creative and spend some time showing appreciation for co-workers through some workspace mayhem. And the health benefits to both the mental and physical fitness of Black Duck’s culture are clear.