I was recently on a business trip to Chicago. One of our affiliates just put an office on the 18th floor of a downtown high rise. Nice digs and very expensive real estate. I’ll return to this in a minute.
I contrasted this with our own company’s “digs” at a light industrial park near a municipal airport in Loveland, Colorado. We have nice offices, too, but there are more important things than offices.
You’re wondering where I’m going with this. Patience; I’ll get there.
Carly Fiorina, the once CEO of Hewlett-Packard said: “A leader’s greatest obligation is to make possible an environment where people can aspire to change the world.” So I have pondered this question, “Is the environment we desire to create an internal or external one?”
I feel it is a little bit of both. In our quest to create a physical environment that is suitable for learning and growth, for professionalism while avoiding ostentatiousness, where do we strike the balance?
Over the years, I have been involved with my team in developing a business culture that is first class–second to none (in my humble opinion). I have poured over most of the great reads on the subject. First of all, every great business book you pick up will tell you that you need to have a vision statement, so any company that’s done its required reading will have one. We have one, a very good one, but I digress. It develops like this in most companies: A group of senior executives go off-site, sit down together, and has a poetry contest. Should we call them customers or clients? Shall they be called employees or associates? Do we go with Shareholders or stakeholders? Blah blah blah and so on.
At the end of the day, they bring it back to the office, frame it, laminate it, and they are SO PROUD. Months later, nothing has changed.
While a vision statement and mantra are important criteria to center the focus of an organization, it requires constant training, learning, growing together, and repeating this process 2-3 times a year to have it all inculcated into the fabric of the associates so that it actually is a reflection of who they are. Their vision, then, is more about who they are rather than where they are, like the corner office. See the difference?
So, when I was given a tour of the new office in downtown Chicago, I saw NO vision statement. I saw NO mantra. It seemed more like a fashion statement with nothing beyond the affluent impression. Is that what we aspire to?
There are very few environments where the value of what you offer is overridden by the location of your digs. Most of them are fortune 100 companies that flaunt the public trust and are often embroiled in controversy, such as reports of wild expense accounts, million dollar retreats, abuse of public funds, etc. I’m not judging the entire lot, but I wish to make this point; your culture is MORE important than your digs. Those who understand this are very happy with a modest office and location. Their clients and associates embrace the aspect of the humble abode because WHO they work with are super stars; imbued with power from their culture, not the corner office with a view.
(Written from my modest corner office in a light industrial complex with a view of the Rocky Mountains)