Perks vs. Company Culture, and How to Tell the Difference

    How do you cultivate your company culture? How much time should you spend on that? In a post at TechCrunch, Ben Horowitz, co-founder and partner of venture capitalists Andreessen Horowitz, stresses that the culture should preserve the company’s key values, make it a better place to work and help it perform better.

    While companies try all sorts of wacky things, he says attention to culture should “focus on a small number of cultural design points that will influence a large number of behaviors over a long period of time.”

    He says:

    You needn’t think hard about how you can make your company seem bizarre to outsiders. However, you do need to think about how you can be provocative enough to change what people do every day.

    Ideally, a cultural design point will be trivial to implement, but will have far-reaching behavioral consequences. Key to this kind of mechanism is shock value. If you put something into your culture that is so disturbing that it always creates a conversation, it will change behavior.

    As examples, he points to Amazon’s practice of building desks out of doors from Home Depot as a reminder of its frugality, of his own company’s practice of charging its staff $10 a minute for being late to meetings with entrepreneurs, and Mark Zuckerberg’s motto at Facebook, “Move fast and break things.”

    But yoga classes and allowing people to bring dogs to work aren’t the same thing, he says.

    Yes, yoga may make your company a better place to work for people who like yoga. It may also be a great team-building exercise for people who like yoga. Nonetheless, it’s not culture. It will not establish a core value that drives the business and help promote in perpetuity. It is not specific with respect to what your business aims to achieve. Yoga is a perk. …Perks are good, but they are not culture.

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