Workplace Aesthetics – Not Just Perks & Paint

WorkAestheticsAre workplace aesthetics just aesthetics? Or are they an expression of your unique identity and culture, secretly empowering your people?

I recently read a workplace design article in Aeon Magazine (Tech Aesthetics by Kate Losse) that looked at companies that they believe are dictating the future of work – blurring the lines between work and life. As evidenced through miniature golf on the roof, graffiti on the walls, private employee shuttle buses, free food, and log cabins transported from Montana forests into the corporate office. Are these just aesthetics? Are they indicative of a macro-trend in the workplace? Or rather, when viewed independently, are these expressions of each company’s distinct culture?

Full disclosure, you may have guessed from the clues above, but the organizational work environments that were examined here were the usual best-in-class companies – Google and Facebook.

I subscribe to the belief that every workplace is truly distinct.  Every workplace, whether you are conscious of it or not, is an expression of an employer’s past and future, values, behavior… its CULTURE. Workplaces are born – and evolve – from the natural course of business. But they must be maintained over time, ensuring they continue to empower your people and foster the right attitude, communication, and most importantly, the highest productivity. At first blush, free snacks may seem like a ploy to keep you in the office longer or to skip that lunch break, but for some employers like Bloomberg, the employee traffic patterns and free flowing food pantries spark chance connections, ideas and collaboration. There is a science to department store and supermarket traffic patterns to get you to browse and buy. The same logic applies here fostering innovation and new thinking in the workplace.

At Nestlé PURINA, you can bring your dog or cat to work every day. They even have a “bark yard” where pets and their owners play during breaks.  This may seem like a natural perk of working for a pet food company, but it’s actually a constant reminder of the living, breathing end user of their products. It’s their inspiration for future product development and in maintaining the highest quality and safety standards. Not to mention, it celebrates the bond between pets and people with the added therapeutic value of reducing employee stress. Those pets always put a smile on their employees’ faces, no matter how dark the day.

A workplace is more than furniture, snacks, toys, and paint on the walls. It’s a set of rituals and processes, too. Every organization has them, and they are all unique to their identities and mission. We worked with a national restaurant chain, TGI FRIDAYS, that has the most inspiring impromptu huddle sessions throughout the day – they refer to them as “Alley Rallies.” These sessions keep energy levels up…a critical part of ensuring that the consumer promise is delivered consistently in the restaurant. That’s particularly important when you think of delivering a feeling or experience such as a “Friday” every day of the week.

Let’s look again at the perks and workplace aesthetics of Google and Facebook. You may be asking yourself, “How can we compete with what Google or Facebook offer?” or “How can we do what Google and Facebook are doing?  Instead, you should be asking yourself, “What does that workplace say about their culture?” and “How can we create an environment that further promotes ours?” What works at Google may be counter-culture at your organization and could actually reduce employee productivity. What works at T-Mobile won’t make sense at Verizon. What works at Coca-Cola won’t fit with PepsiCo. Get the idea?

So many employers are quick to talk about the outlandish perks they offer and often forget to emphasize how they connect or reinforce the greater, more holistic story about what the company is trying to achieve – it’s purpose.

As Losse suggests, is the macro-trend of the workplace “an attempt to disguise work – with trimmings that suggest personality in place of smooth, ordered humming of a corporate workforce?” No, I don’t think employers are making a deliberate attempt to “disguise” anything. However, the best-in-class employers are deliberately architecting their cultures to deliver on their vision and business goals. They don’t start with the place in mind; they start with the purpose in mind. Then they design the place and processes to mirror that. That’s what Facebook and Google do.

In fact, it might surprise you to discover that Google’s workplace has been informed and refined by Social Scientists that have influenced everything from lunch lines to casual collisions (much like Bloomberg) that spark innovation. That miniature golf isn’t about play; it’s about productivity.

If you are to be inspired by Google and Facebook, be inspired not by the aesthetics or blend of work and play. Be inspired by the calculated approach they have taken to purposely design their workplaces to reinforce their culture. While newer companies like these have the luxury of designing their cultures, architecting the workplace from the beginning, you very likely inherited yours. And though this call for change might seem daunting, at the end of the day, you have the same opportunity. Roll out the blank canvas and re-architect your workplace with your distinct business goals, values, people and culture in mind. Start small. You’ll be surprised by the opportunity that exists and how much of an impact you can make at your organization – not aesthetically, but in real business value.

Ductus Exemplo: Leading by Example (Part 4)


Empowering Your Employees

From performance-based leadership to diversity recruiting, lessons from the United States Marines can tell us volumes about corporate culture. This week’s lesson is about Commander’s Intent– a device designed to help subordinates understand the larger context of their actions. Though corporate America can feel like a battlefield,jn0-643 dumps we have a lot to learn from our men and women in uniform – especially when it comes to initiative and team unity.

As America’s premier expeditionary force, Marines are called into chaotic situations around the globe at a moment’s notice and have to make rapid decisions to accomplish their missions. Armed with their Commander’s intent, Marines know what needs to be done, and are able to adjust their strategy and tactics to account for real-time changes on the ground. This is an important lesson for companies in every sector. No one likes a boss looking over his or her shoulder all day. Employees everywhere are happier when they have the trust and confidence of their leaders to complete a job. But without the “vigorous” onboarding of the Marines, companies are understandably weary of trusting new hires.

Corporate culture has moved a light speed away from the lifetime employee to the millennial job-hoppers of Silicon Valley. With the potential for proprietary secrets going to a competitor, the love may be there for new employees – but the trust is gone. Unfortunately, this trend may have given birth to another. Behold, the rise of the Micromanager.

A Google Trends search for “micromanager” shows that regional interest of that search term is centered on two places – New York and San Francisco. Surprising given that these business sectors have dense clusters of talent, an international appeal, and some of the highest standards of living in the world. So, why do their employees feel micromanaged?

A Slate article “How Did Silicon Valley Happen? And Could It Happen Again?” makes an excellent point about the need to insulate an environment from micromanagement. “The paradox of trying to engineer another Silicon Valley is that the micromanagement done in trying to create the “right” environment is almost certainly sure to kill the chaotic and freewheeling enthusiasm and aimless entrepreneurship that was required for the real thing.”

While author David Auerbach is speaking on the macro-level, there is an important point here. Developing the right environment attracts a certain type of employee, both in their competencies and talents. An environment needs to be developed wherein every employee feels invested in the mission and values of the company.

Commander’s Intent removes the mystery in the mission, and gives individuals the agency and trust to succeed. Making quick, decisive choices in a chaotic environment is what the Marines do best. Relying on their training and their teamwork, Marines can launch missions in the span of just a few hours. Bringing this attitude into the workplace allows younger employees to earn valuable skills, while communicating trust to more experienced team members.

To wrap up this series, “Leading by Example” means more than reciting your company’s values. It means developing a culture that benefits every one. A positive corporate culture starts with developing a hiring strategy and messaging, continuing through everything from explaining staff changes and benefits.642-737 dumps A well-hired employee will encourage the free flow of ideas capable of solving complex problems, while freeing up management to focus on larger systemic issues.

Good employees aren’t hard to come by, but companies have to know what they’re looking for in a person. That starts with some real soul searching at the executive level. Is your company one that will hire anyone to fill a seat? Or one who will lead by example?

The Marines lead the way on the battlefield and in the recruiting space. America’s “911-force” consistently shows courage in their marketing tactics, as they do with their culture. Their will to push beyond conventional thinking to achieve their objectives, reminds us all that people join cultures, not companies.

What do you think? Has micromanagement invaded your office? How do you see it affecting productivity? Send us a message at or visit us on Twitter @JWTINSIDE.



Ductus Exemplo: Leading by Example (Part 3)


The Most Diverse Generation

Last week, we tackled performance-driven leadership, and now we’re going to show you how the United States Marines Corps continuously stays relevant to one key audience – Millennials (50 million strong and a generation more diverse than ever before). Raised with computers in-hand and deeply engrossed in social media, 17 to 29-year-olds have been the U.S. Marines recruitment demographic since their inception. The Marines’ ability to adapt in an increasingly complex recruiting marketplace is not a miracle – it’s strategy. Attracting talented recruits with a message that is still aligned with the Marines’ values and mission.MarineCorpsFightingWithaPurposeThough the Marines have no explicit minority recruiting targets, promoting a diverse force is a principle that the Marines believe builds strength. According to a study by Pew Research cited by PBS, “Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history. Only 61 percent are white, 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent black, and 5 percent Asian. That contrasts with those 30 and older, a group that is 70 percent white.” As with any other company out there, the shifting demographic is causing everyone to evaluate how we’re talking to the many different groups that comprise America.

In 2013, the Marine Corps Times reports that “nearly a quarter of the new officer candidates were minorities, up almost 9 percentage points from fiscal 2010.” This success can be attributed in part to ads created by JWT and its diversity marketing partner, Uniworld Group, and powered by the Marines’ culture. A tactical example, the ad titled “Fighting with a Purpose” released in 2012 features an African-American infantryman. As a recruitment piece, it showcases the purpose-based cause of the Marines – defending America. But, this message’s relevance extends beyond the traditional feature + benefit formula.


Though “defending America” is an intrinsic value that every potential candidate ultimately finds, each person’s motivation for joining the Corps is different. This is where the Marines’ ads begin to appeal to a different audience with a different life philosophy. In both “Fighting with a Purpose” and “Toward the Sounds of Chaos”, the emphasis is on the Marines’ broader range of missions, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. Delivering aid, protecting citizens, and running peacekeeping missions is not always what people jump to when they hear Marines. Working again with JWT, the advertising team segmented their audience in a way that transcends race by developing cultural archetypes – a “Rambo vs. Bono” dichotomy, if you will. The “Bono” group – a group who might identify more with the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps – might never have previously considered service. But, studies show Millennials increasingly identify with cause-driven work. These ads are reaching a new audience in a totally different way.

Appealing to diverse audiences takes a varied approach. No person within any group thinks exactly alike, bringing our attitudes and experiences to every decision. But, speaking to each audience differently helps each of us find a common cause that will bind us to a purpose.

Next week, we’ll be taking on the topic of micromanaging – empowering employees to take control of their career. The Marines once again lead the way with their take on the importance of trust and its effect on performance.

What was the reason you joined your company? How does your company celebrate diversity? What tactics is your company employing to gain traction with different communities? Send us a message at or visit us on Twitter @JWTINSIDE.


Ductus Exemplo: Leading by Example (Part 2)


Surviving in a Performance-Based Culture

Kicking off our series, our first lesson from the U.S. Marine Corps focuses on their unique performance-based culture. Corporate culture is an easy thing to say, but harder to do. Most companies have gone through the exercise of thinking up a series of values and statements – giving those to Human Resources to disseminate. A culture may start this way, but people need ideas they can believe in – ethically sound and morally solid. Guided by their Leadership Principles and Values, the Marines have been perfecting their culture of performance-based leadership since their inception in 1775.

Reinforced on the training grounds and battlefields every day, the metrics of success are clear to every Marine. Their culture pushes everyone to be at their best, while supporting each Marines development and encouraging success.

Be the Example
Culture affects everyone, from the intern answering the phones all the way to the CEO. Instilling passion in employees can be difficult, particularly if leaders are not willing to set standards in the office. One of several Leadership Principles of the Marines is Set the Example: “If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same of your Marines.” Everything from project start to project execution should be demonstrated by leadership, bringing mere value-based words to life. A culture should be a dependable, consistent element. Like the rule of law, it should apply to everyone.

Responsibility First
A culture that only appeals to a company’s bottom line may work in the short-term. But, appealing to the human side of employees with a culture that celebrates them for their unique abilities and teaches them to work together will be more beneficial in the long-run. The Marines exemplify this idea in their Leadership Principle to Seek Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions: “You are responsible for all your unit does or fails to do. Stick by your convictions and be willing to accept justified and constructive criticism.” The book Corporate Culture and Performance analyzed the cultures of 200 companies. Comparing their long-term economic performance of companies with, and without, “performance-enhancing cultures”. The results were surprising, in terms of sheer scale.

Marines Stats
Facilitating and adapting to change is one of the most powerful results of a robust culture. Taking responsibility for growth within a company’s culture empowers employees to really feel ownership over their career and professional development.

Totally Transparent
Is it a challenge to get everyone’s buy-in on what a culture should be? Sure. But, a big step in the right direction is transparency. When sweeping decisions are made, letting the rumor mill run can be more damaging than whatever problem you were trying to fix – internal communications is key to a successful workplace environment. A critical premise to the Marines’ Leadership Principles is Keep Your Marines Informed. “Informed Marines perform better and, if knowledgeable of the situation, can carry on without your personal supervision. Providing information can inspire initiative.”

A lack of knowledge can lead people to make uninformed decisions that can have a domino effect throughout a company. Keeping everyone informed creates an atmosphere where problems can be openly shared and addressed. In a study published in The Leadership Quarterly, leader transparency and positivity was tested in a control group. The results were incredible. The group with low transparency had nearly 4x the amount of negative responses – even when their leader was equally positive. Meaning that even if you have a positive culture, not sharing with your staff will still leave them with a negative impression.

The Marines cultivated a leadership ethos that has weathered the most challenging situations. By bringing their hard-won lessons to light in corporate America, we can all become better leaders, regardless of our position on the corporate ladder.

Next week, we’re going to take on diversity and recruitment – in culture and creed. Marines light the way with their nuanced messaging strategy that makes some courageous decisions.

How has transparency affected your work satisfaction? Does your company set a good example? Stay tuned for next week’s installment of our Ductos Exemplo series. Send us a message at or visit us on Twitter @JWTINSIDE.