Aberdeen Insights

What Makes a Culture "Cool?"

by David Webster

What makes for a cool corporate culture? This question came up recently when we were asked to help insert a level of cool into an established and very successful organization. The chief operating officer had a good reason to seek this change: He wants to attract the next generation of leaders to continue the success of the company. He surmised that the best and the brightest candidates are likely to choose a cool culture over a staid one if given the choice. Smart man. The research shows NextGen is more than willing to change jobs if another company has a culture more fitting to their needs.

Here are some thoughts on this question for you culture warriors out there. Organizations with “cool” cultures...

Weave the needs of the company with those of employees. Companies are obviously in business to make a profit and meet the needs of customers, but companies that are able to fulfill their corporate needs while taking into account the needs of the individuals who work there are much more likely to generate a strong commitment from the employees. Call it a good sense of alignment and awareness about what’s important to the most important corporate asset.

Have open communication and a participative mindset. The key word here is “participative.”  NextGen wants continuous opportunities for learning, interesting work, and positive relationships with colleagues. Participation enables all three of these. This is the generation weaned on Instant Messenger, where opinions were offered and received in multi-channeled conversations. Having opportunities for your younger employees to participate in decisions affecting the business will keep them engaged, build their experience, and result in higher levels of satisfaction.

Perpetuate a certain “style.” This seems obvious when you point it out, but it is surprising how many leaders miss this characteristic. Cool companies pay a great deal of attention to how their brands are portrayed, even in the smallest ways, and that focus carries through everything from the website to the furnishings in the office to the way leaders dress. One company we worked with played music in the elevator lobbies of every floor.  Selected by the CEO himself, the music changed each day, from jazz to classical to big band. This simple environmental detail supported an overall culture of creativity and adaptability, which gave the company an edge with customers.

Everyone buys into the vision and knows the storyline. This begs the question of whether a company has clearly communicated its vision, but cool companies know why they exist and what they want to achieve and the employees are their best ambassadors.

Don’t take themselves too seriously. Having a sense of humor and able to laugh together about the twists and turns of business and life are a key trait of the cool company.

FUN is a part of the company’s DNA. The cool companies know how to integrate business and enjoyment seamlessly. Take Southwest Airlines—where the flight crews are encouraged to insert humor into the passenger instructions. Steve Cody, who is founder of the highly successful PR firm, Peppercom, held a comedy workshop for his entire agency. Steve is a very funny guy himself and knows the value of laughter when it comes to driving creativity. In both of these examples, you have people vying to work at these places.