Company culture is crucial, but…

Has Zappos Taken Company Culture Too Far?

That was the bold question posed by OpenView Partners recruiter Lindsey Gurian in a recent blog post. It’s provocative; Zappos was a pioneer in placing a premium on company culture, and they’re regularly cited as one of the most coveted employers in the country. But as Gurian notes – she wrote a follow-up post as well, focused on Zappos and Disney – there can be such a thing as an overemphasis on culture. The lessons from thoroughly unique companies like Zappos and Disney may not be as universal as they are sometimes presented.

At its best, company culture represents a paradigm shift in the way we work together. At Central Desktop, we’re always thinking about facilitating a more collaborative culture; that’s the driving force behind Central Desktop. By shaking things up – not just your specific work processes but the whole philosophy of how your company works together – you can create an atmosphere where employees feel empowered, ideas flow freely between departments, and colleagues are actually collegial (that is, people sharing responsibilities and goals) rather than just coworkers operating in isolation.

In the Web 2.0 world and the era of startups outdoing each other with offices that seem designed by 12-year-olds, “company culture” is too often reduced to: everyone wears flip-flops, we have a talking life-size robot in the lobby, we took a staff outing to a Swedish House Mafia show.

Northwestern professor Lauren Rivera found that some employers are putting more of a premium on compatibility than skill set, choosing employees “in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners.” Decade of relevant experience, great, but how do you feel about corporate kickball leagues? This is a simplification that reduces company culture to a superficial checkbox instead of drilling into more fundamental questions about compatibility, like “How do you feel about our mission statement? What do you want to accomplish here?”

Most of Zappos’ culture commandments tie back into core business values; in theory, they’re promoting morale and retention and good times around the office, yes, but also delivering a better product and service for the customer. As an employee, of course it’s a thrill to find colleagues who share interests beyond the scope of your job. As an employer, though, it’s often enormously important to leverage differences: differences in background, differences in skill sets, and even, yes, differences in personalities.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.