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To Change Your Company Culture, Change Your Conversations

It's not about the perks, people.
To Change Your Company Culture, Change Your Conversations
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This story appears in the March 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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For the second year, Entrepreneur partnered with CultureIQ to find the best office cultures in America. For more tips and profiles, check out the rest of 2017's Top Company Cultures package.

After nearly two decades focused on staffing and recruitment, Tom Gimbel's Chicago-based business added a new service last year: culture consulting. We asked Gimbel to pony up some (free) advice.

Related: The Generation Gap at This IT Firm Has Nearly Disappeared. Two Staffers Explain How.

What's the biggest mistake founders make when they want to improve their culture?
They obsess about the perks -- throw a party, host an off-site, let everyone bring their dogs into work. Perks are easy, but perks aren't culture any more than icing is the cake.

Where should they start instead?
Talk to people -- and not just the C-suite, and not just HR. Next to training and development, middle management is probably the biggest thing that actually shapes culture. We have a staff council of relatively new hires, and I meet with them twice a quarter to talk about culture. At management meetings, we spend at least 25 percent of that time talking culture.

Related: How One Company Used Data To Improve Its Sales Staff

What do you talk about when you talk about culture?
It's not about asking, "Is this a fun place to work?" It's about asking: Who are the people who need development? What's the temperature of each group? Your marketing department might have a totally different subculture than your money people or your IT people. Each subculture needs attention.

Related: Large-Sized Companies: The Best Company Cultures in 2017

Let's say you figure out an action plan. How soon can you expect results?
If you have a plan for more accountability, team-building, training and development, you'll see changes take root in the subculture within six months. Within 12 to 24 months, you'll start to see overall changes in internal recruiting, employer brand, attrition rates. Places with hockey-stick growth don't tend to focus on being a great place to work, because winning cures everything ... but not forever.

Edition: May 2017

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