by Trish Conheeney

Have you ever been on the fence about taking one job over another, but when you found out company A offered ping pong tournaments, bagel fridays and a perpetually stocked fridge—you said, “Sign me up!? No? I didn’t think so. Up until very recently, when a stop at the nail salon or bellying up to the bar for that long wait for a table on a Saturday night was commonplace, many companies considered that these very perks contributed to a great culture. No doubt a veggie cream cheese shmear on an “everything” at the end of the week, especially after “Karaoke Thursday” is delightful, but it never made my pros vs. cons list in the final selection stage. As a candidate being lured by booze and food, I often wondered if the company would get it when I opted out of trivia night because I had to dash home and get dinner going, or to coerce Sonnyboy to crack a book before signing on to another Grand Theft Auto V Tournament. And after talking to clients and putting out fires all day, and not being a graduate of the class of 15’, I live to change into my sweatpants and furry slippers when I get home. But even if this wasn’t my situation, what if I’m gluten-free, or just earned my one year chip in AA? This is not the case, but just sayin. 

I know, we may never get out of our sweatpants again, or go back into an office full time. But right now, we’re all walking distance away from our very own overstuffed icebox with all the goodies Instacart can deliver, if we’re lucky enough to get a slot. So what’s the gravitational pull to a company going to be without the proverbial water cooler, or the weekly India Pale Ale on tap in the big conference room every Wednesday?  How will companies maintain morale and keep the love flowing through that ‘Zoom’ lens? But before we answer that, what makes a company a great place to work for in the first place? Assuming your company’s products are cutting edge, easy to buy, and in-demand (easier said than done), I would argue that it’s the people who make up the culture, with the leaders being the key ingredient in what I call this ‘7 layer corporate culture cake’. But too often, we’ve seen leaders fail to see that culture, much like a cake, doesn’t just get made by throwing ingredients into a bowl, but rather it gets baked—-over time, and at the right temperature. And when you ignore this reality, companies sometimes get fooled into thinking these party favors will keep their people happy, and therefore loyal, but are often disappointed like a jilted lover when employees wander to greener pastures. And when a company overlooks outstanding talent who wasn’t a “cultural fit”, they may have just missed out on the next ‘American Idol’ that their company so desperately needed. You can sometimes get a sense of this even during the initial interview with a hiring manager, where he or she spends more time teasing out “cultural fit” than they do about the technology or the role itself, or how adept they are at delivering value to clients. Google was famous for these types of hiring practices years past where a dozen people or so would interview a candidate and then unanimously decide if they were “Googly” enough.  And in the process, surely missed out on a ton of great talent. 

As a recruiter, when my client tells me that they are looking to hire a diverse background, that’s music to my ears. But to talk about culture like it’s something the candidate has to fit into like a suit gives me pause. My candidates, especially sellers, want to know why they should work for a company. They ask me if people have been there a while, what the next level might be for them, and if my client’s customers are satisfied. It’s their honor and word that’s at stake, and as a seller on the front line, that’s critical. They all know that if a company can deliver—clients will renew, and they will crush their quotas. And we all know that the “cake” starts to bake when revenue flows in — and when that happens, it’s a chain reaction. The tech team can develop, product can create, and client services can expand usage and adoption–and so it goes. And of course the leaders of the company can go raise more capital and realize their long term objectives. When great candidates are seeking a new role, one of the first things they say is, “ I don’t care about free snacks and foosball, I want to work for a company with good people, great leadership and a clear path for growth — and the ability to make money, period! When I dig in to better understand what “working with good people” means, most of them describe people with values rooted in mutual respect and appreciation for their teams—people who have character and are generally known for being kind. Candidates need to know that your company is their home—and home for just about every one of us, is where your people are—-the people who believe in you, and genuinely care about your welfare. These are people who are not afraid to let you see who they really are, and make you feel you’re in a safe place to be yourself as well. And, they want to work for people who have a vision but are also willing to share that vision and communicate where each person fits in — specifically them. They’re okay if their leaders can’t see to the finish line, but not okay when leaders fail to share the challenges the company is having or how they can help.  Candidates want to be invited into that conversation and need to see themselves in your plan. If you’ve ever shopped for a new home,  then you know that you bought the house only after you could see yourself in it. Working for a company is the same way. You have to imagine sitting in the living room and feeling good about the view through the window. 

We have all worked for companies where the leaders were the wizards behind the curtain, but things have changed. Nothing like a global pandemic to right size priorities. But even before this crisis, rock star candidates seemed to have had less tolerance and many more options over the past few years. Meaning, if all things are equal between two companies, candidates will choose the kinder of the two, and in exchange, will offer their best self. Just like clients choose people and not companies, candidates do too. They need to see you, and for you to see them as a fellow human, and need to know that they’re an integral part of your company’s fabric. When this happens, you’ll win their loyalty and longevity because way more people are looking for a home than what the average resume would have you believe. But when the time is right for your company to expand, and if you let them— great candidates have dreams too and will help you grow rich, or go public, or whatever it is that you want to accomplish. And if you choose to deliver pizzas, or have virtual “quarantini parties” or provide monthly online training to keep them jaunty, —-well, that will just be the icing on the cake.