Company Culture is not the free food and the Friday drinks. These are perks. If we took these things away would this still be a great place to work? That’s culture.

Google is a company I like to put through this test. Essentially Google brought the company culture conversation to the fore. When the Googleplex opened with it’s completely maverick work space, free food, self-driving cars etc. it completely changed the game in terms of work environment and company culture. They set the bar, incredibly high.

The message that got lost in the physical space and the nice-to-have-perks was that fundamentally what makes Google a great place to work is the systems and process by which actual work gets done. It is much easier to focus on group yoga and free massages as culture, because those are an easy add-on, on top of any company’s offering.

At Google however, if we took all these niceties away would this still be a great place to work? Yes. It is not uncommon to find managers with up to 30 direct reports at Google. They do this intentionally because with that many direct reports – it is impossible to micro-manage. Google, like most companies go through hugely intricate hiring processes to ensure they find really great people. Unlike many others, Google put policies and structures in place to ensure that these great people are then left alone to do great work – a core tenet of their culture). As a manager with 30 direct reports – the only way for you to be an effective – is to create the best environment possible for your people to do great work. That’s culture. Allowing those people to then lunch and workout together also has undeniable value, but it’s not a prerequisite for a ‘Company behaving Awesomely’.

Culture and perks are easily confused. The best way to tell which one you’re offering – perks are easily to implement and often, once in place they live largely independently of anything else going on at the organisation. Culture requires work and consistent effort and application. Culture lives in everything you do.

Sure perks are quick fixes, easy solutions. But perks treat the symptoms where culture is often the cause.

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