So you want to be like Google?

One of the most common wishes I hear expressed by senior management is the desire to create a culture like Google or Apple.

Yes, people are that specific.  Not: I want to create a great place to work, but, like a child in a toyshop, wide-eyed and reaching out pointing to something high up on the shelf: I want that one…there.

One thing I’ve learned in my working life and in my consulting journey is that looks can be terribly deceiving.  People look at companies from the outside and judge that they are great places to work.  That might be so but often you find when you scratch below the surface that people there are suffering the same frustrations, the same pressures and yearning for something better. 

Cultures are NOT created by waving a magic wand: they are terribly hard work and they take long term commitment, hard work and a willingness to make sacrifices.

Most of all - there are going to be downsides.  If you desire to have a performance driven culture it probably means some of the “warm and cuddly” elements are going to struggle to survive.  Likewise, if you want to focus most on “warm and caring”, be prepared to balance that with the hard reality that from time to time you may suffer a lack of focus on measureable outcomes.  

It is best to be realistic and honest.  As I find repeatedly, the cynicism that eats into culture and employee engagement is so often driven by senior management teams that say one thing and do another. 

I think it is better to be realistic about the kind of culture you, your board, your management team and your employees are prepared to pay the price of obtaining.  Because, there will be a price.  Counting the cost before you start means you are more likely to create a realistic vision and be able to overcome obstacles as they come – rather than falling at the first hurdle.  If you want to be like Google or Apple, that’s fantastic – but just understand what that means before you begin the journey.