He then showed a photo of their old work space pre-redesign, which looked remarkably like many association offices I’ve seen: a sea of grey cubicles enveloped by fluorescent lighting. As he pointed to the photo, the CEO was really clear about his message: You can’t claim that you’re all about fun, and then make your people work in an environment like that.
Organizational culture is not just about your core values, how you have staff meetings, how you allocate bonuses and how you do new employee orientation. All those words and behaviors matter — they clarify what is valued — but you also have to pay attention to the more tangible aspects of your culture, the “stuff” that has an equally important role in defining what is valued.
I’ve talked about the power of dress code, but office space has an even bigger impact despite getting less of our attention as leaders.
From what commercial real estate folks tell me, it seems that when an association moves office space, it’s usually the CEO who makes all the decisions about how to structure the workspace. And the primary objective seems to be fitting the largest number of people in the smallest space possible. Corner offices are not challenged. Cubes without natural light are not challenged. It’s classic “we have always done it that way” stuff.
But not for the CEO I mentioned above.
He hired an architect to build out his office space who specifically had no experience working with associations. He wanted to design the space around the culture he wanted to create. The result is a lot of natural light, zero individual offices (the CEO himself is at a pod with everyone else) and a variety of diverse spaces to work in, including noisy spaces, quiet spaces, wi-fi on the roof deck and a pretty cool “innovation ranch” designed to spur creativity. Yes, it looks like people have fun here, but it wasn’t because they added the stereotypical foosball table and kegerator. They didn’t try to force the fun. They created a space where the natural fun of their culture could express itself.
You don’t have to have an office space like theirs. I’ll even support you in having a sea of grey cubicles — if you can show me, clearly, how that drives the specific behaviors that make you successful. That is the point of culture — to drive success — and it requires your attention not only at the level of process and branding, but right down to how you design your physical space.