So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright?

Churchill said that: ‘We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us’.

I think he was on to something.

Two separate clients recently have had a real problem with their corporate cultures.

And both asked us to help them fix that problem.

Now these organisations are really quite different, doing really quite different things in really quite different ways.

But in some respects they are also very similar.

Each has a corporate culture that is more sluggish than it should be. People within each talk of that culture as being ‘closed’ – based on rules and permissions. Each organisation tolerates too much ‘average’; doesn’t enjoy enough ‘zing’ or pace.

And each has a scruffy office. A homely but torpid reception. Individual office ‘cells’ of 1 to 3 people. Stained carpets and dodgy IT….You get the picture.

Are the two things connected?

Churchill thought so. And so do I. And so did I when I was 22 and volunteered to help at CABE; the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. I’m happy to say that I now sit on the Sounding Board of CABE’s successor body, The Design Council.

But I’m really not happy that, over 15 years later, far too many corporations still don’t seem to have even considered that there might be a connection between corporate culture and working environment.

It’s a subtle one, granted. And it’s one that, if you’ve been with an organisation for a while, you stop seeing – ‘that’s just how it is around here’.

But you don’t stop taking in that message, that signal, whether it is conscious or not, that mediocrity is OK. That barriers are more important than open spaces. That reception spaces and staff, and therefore first impressions generally, don’t really matter.

This isn’t about filling your offices with bean bags and bright furniture. If anything, that is a cliché. It’s about recognising that perhaps the most physical manifestation of any organisation’s brand is its offices, and that it’s worth getting right.

I have lost track of the number of ‘employer brands’ I have been asked to help develop for businesses whose offices would bring a blush to the Channel 4’s ‘Hoarders Next Door’.

And so I tell them – you are starting in the wrong place. First, fix your offices. Own them. Love them. Use them to show staff what sort of culture you want.

And then we can talk.

– this piece first published by The Marketing Society

Monticello LLP