FACE IT: We Build Cool Space Because We Don’t Know How to Build Great Managers…

office space

That’s right, I said it.

Whether we can afford to build it or not at our company, we focus on thinking about the office layout and how tricked up we can make it look because we don’t have the guts to build great managers of people.

Keyword:  Employer of Choice.

What’s employer of choice mean?  Lots of things to lots of people.  At its core, though, is the thought that we’re going to do things differently enough at our company to make you want to work “here” for the same money as our competitors would provide – mainly because we’re cooler than they are.

We get it.  Those guys?  Not as much.  Just look at our space vs. theirs!!!

Of course, there’s more to consider than just space. What’s the stuff you can do to enhance your chances at being an employer of choice?  First, a list of the the easy stuff:

1. Provide great health care benefits that require no employee contribution for employee or family coverage.

2. Offer some killer benefits that look great but are hard to use.

 3. Broaden your approach to time-off policies.

 4. Invest in your workspace.

What do all these things have in common?  You just need to write the check as a company.  But, becoming an employer of choice to any degree over the long haul also means you’ve got to do some things that can’t be bought.  Most of them have to do with figuring out a way to grow how progressive your managers of people are related to their interactions with the “talent”.

The next list is hard as hell, with all of the items being mind numbing and requiring cultural transformation.  Good luck, sucker, because you and your company probably don’t have what it takes.  I don’t mean that personally, but as far as the bell curve goes, we’re all more “top of the curve” (translation: average) than we’d like to admit.

For example, to truly become an employer of choice you need:

1. True Organizational Transparency.

2. Real (and frequent) Two-way performance conversations.

3. Selfless Organizational Promotion of talent.

 4. Portable capital investment in talent that invests in associates without regard to the fact whether they’ll be there in 2 years.

Those last two also require an $$ investment of sorts, but the bigger burden is getting to the point where all your managers are rowing in the same direction and are actually willing and capable of having the types of conversations necessary to pull off all four items.

My college basketball coach used to trip on us by saying the following about our struggles with executing an offense or digging in on defense.  He said it in a way that sounded like Clint Eastwood in any movie:

“You think this is hard?  This isn’t hard.  Riding a bicycle on the freeway?  That’s hard.”

We used to laugh our a## off at him in the locker room about that go-to statement.  The old man is so funny.  What’s he know about fun?  About freeways?  We’re the youth gone wild.  He’s washed up.  Why can’t he just let us play?”

Then we grew up and found out he was right.

You think building great managers is tough?  It is.  So tough that we grew up and looked at that opportunity and needed a nap after pondering the complexity of making it happen.  So we write the check and build cool space instead.   Ping-pong table anyone?  The good news is the noise will make it even harder for the managers to have real conversations about performance and potential.

Which is exactly the way they want it.  Make it two ping-pong tables, Johnny.  We’ve got recruits to sign.

FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.


  1. Bryan Wilson says:

    Its so true. All of us try to be better managers or employers by doing the little things that don’t actually make a difference. Wow, thanks boss. Hawaiian shirt day sure makes me fell all grown up and special! Cool space can be useful to an extent, but what people really want is useful benefits. For me, a cool benefit is being able to work in a ROWE (Results Only Work Enviornment). Lets agree on what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, then let me accomplish it the way that works best for me and my life. If I want to do it during the normal 9-5, great. But if I decide to blow off a Friday afternoon and just read FOT blog posts, so be it. I can always hammer it out on Sunday evening when I have nothing else going on.

  2. Valerie Iravani says:

    Kris, I’ve always managed by these practices for years. TALK TO and LISTEN TO your employees. That’s where it all starts. As managers, we need to be curious rather than judgmental, of service rather than dictatorial, and provide clarity and transparency to our bosses and direct reports. It’s difficult and takes time to develop these skills. However, it would be better for all companies to find and mentor people who already have these attributes. Too bad it’s not happening.

    Good managers create positive teams who provide consistently good results, lower turnover, and improve processes.

  3. Kelly Blokdijk says:

    I once worked with a group of folks who insisted that we had to purchase a helium tank so we could motivate employees by giving out balloons when they did something cool (like the job they were paid to do). “Hey, Susie! You’ve been on time for work for a whole month, here’s a balloon for your cube. Keep up the good work!”

    Even though they are pretty big, you can’t hide bad culture and poor leadership under a ping pong table.

  4. Paul Hebert
    Paul Hebert says:

    I think I found my new quote for a coffee mug… Even though they are pretty big, you can’t hide bad culture and poor leadership under a ping pong table.

    Brilliant! Oh… and so is the post. Style over substance. Only works for a little while.

  5. Drew Hawkins says:

    I will agree cool office spaces are an awesome way to get recruits in the door but it’s not everything. Crappy managers will get somebody out the door just as fast as they came in.

    However, I wouldn’t completely knock cool office spaces. Ours is fairly badass but we also have good managers. Our ping pong table is where I get opportunities to have 1:1 convos with our agency president. It’s a nice way to have the chic space but with the added plus of transparency and two-way conversation.

  6. Bill Wallace says:

    Cool space, meh. Of course it’s better than having a crappy one.

    Great work environment. Must have it! And a lot of it come from the manager and team members.
    But you’re right (again) Kris: great management costs time and money and frustration and “2 steps foeard 3 steps back” sometimes. Sometimes it’s just too hard.

    Interestingly, part of my (HR) KPIs this year is Turnover. It doesn’t feature in any line manager KPI. Hmmm.

    We had fusball (ping pong is SO yesterday! 🙂 but we sold it 🙁

  7. Kris, I couldn’t have put it better myself. While cool, creative, and entertaining workspaces are the hip thing to do right now, nothing replaces a solid manager.

    As we head towards a more social workplace, the four “employer of choice” qualities you cite are going to become paramount. Employees need feedback in real-time and manageable goals, not colorful swivel chairs and ping pong breaks.


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  2. 1.00 FTE: Decor is not your issue. | Fistful of Talent
  3. Interesting stuff from March 14th through March 20th at achurch & associates

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