How not to talk about company culture

November 22, 2019
How not to talk about company culture

There are right ways and wrong ways to talk about company culture. Here’s a little list of the top five “don’ts” of talking about company culture:

1. Culture Is Not Your Stuff

Company culture is not your juice bar. It’s not your onsite chef. It’s not your table tennis area. It’s not the slide in your office.

That’s just stuff. It’s not your culture.

2. Culture Is Not Your Employer Brand

Some companies very self-consciously try to curate their online presence. The cheery Insta stories. The glowing Glassdoor reviews. The (many) services that link companies to candidates and provide a splash page for the company, complete with photos of laughing twenty-somethings and some self-description of what kind of culture you have.

It’s fake. Everyone who made it knows it’s fake, and everyone who sees it knows it’s fake, so what’s the point?

3. Culture Is Not Your Mission Statement

The classic mission statement, especially in the corporate world, is so bland as to be meaningless. Thankfully it’s falling out of fashion, but even shorn of jargon and made more snappy, is this really your culture?

Enterprise Rent-A-Car revolves around our customers and employees. The values of our culture have fueled our success year after year—for over half a century. This means conducting business with integrity. Being honest. Working hard. And never forgetting to have a little fun along the way. - Enterprise,

Ever been to Enterprise and seen their employees having fun? Me neither.

4. Culture Is Not Being On A List

Great Places To Work, the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies To Work For. Getting on one of these lists can be a genuine accolade, but is more likely to be partly based on paying a fee to the entity producing the list, and potentially gaming the metrics that are being measured.

A single example makes my point: the Financial Times’ investigation of UKFast’s company culture uncovered “routine verbal abuse and sexually inappropriate behaviour” by its founder and CEO Lawrence Jones.

Mr Jones (MBE) noted in a statement to the FT that UKFast has “ featured regularly in the Sunday Times’ ‘Best Companies to Work For’ list and similarly in the ‘Great Place to Work’ list”.

Being on a list doesn’t prove anything.

5. Culture Is Not Platitudes

Lots of companies try to appeal to all potential candidates and employees, but the key is to stake out your ground and to turn some people off. Get a clear idea of who you are and express it clearly.

If you try to appeal to everybody, you end up appealing to nobody.

If you want to know what your culture really is, you can always talk to us at Workio - we help companies measure, understand, and improve their culture, and help employees understand their own fit with the culture in which they're working.

Find out more at and try our app at

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