Head of management research at Audencia Business SchoolView Author Profile
How does 'cool management' effect the bottom line - and is it all it's cracked up to be?
Are companies becoming cool? Nowadays, ‘fun’ companies have offices with designer furniture, themed restaurants, relaxation bubbles, fitness rooms, spas or massage pods. They offer after-work activities, corporate vegetable gardens and other cool activities.
The atmosphere is relaxed and employees are encouraged to dress casually, personalise their workstation and express themselves freely. Mobile working, flexible hours and telecommuting are all on demand.
These practices, which until recently were the preserve of tech start-ups, are now spreading among more traditional companies. For instance, the health and beauty retailer Superdrug has recently inaugurated its new headquarters in Croydon (South of Greater London) where employees can enjoy a nail bar, a wellness clinic and ping pong tables.
Similarly, PKF Cooper Parry - the business adviser and accountant based in the Midlands - provide employees with Segways that they can ride in the flashy and design headquarter to have a refreshing drink at the in-house sports bar or to workout at the corporate running track.
These practices demonstrate a fundamental shift towards the ‘cool effect’ becoming a resource for the companies’ management team. A ‘cool’ company does not celebrate the image of the ‘young dynamic executive’ in a stuffed shirt look.
On the contrary, employees are encouraged to be ‘cool’, that is to say natural, creative, authentic, spontaneous .... In a nutshell, to simply ‘be themselves’. In fact, ‘cool’ management can be very beneficial as it can contribute to bring together economic performance and social performance.
This management style can help motivate employees, reduce absenteeism, increase innovation and reinforce team spirit.
By encouraging employees to freely express their uniqueness in a safe, casual and collaborative environment, rather than being formatted clones competing against each other, companies can become more agile, creative, social and therefore... more competitive!
In addition, this ‘cool’ management is also a particularly effective HR management tool to attract and retain talent, as well as a powerful marketing tool for customers who prefer buying products from a company that reflects their values, way of life and aspirations.
At individual level, it can also improve employees’ quality of life at work as the company becomes a space for personal expression where employees are no longer forced to 'play a role' or to renounce part of their identity. This can obviously contribute greatly to their professional and personal development.
However, there are also some risks to this cool management style.
First, there might be a potential gap between the ‘coolness’ displayed by the company and the actual management practices in place; in this case, the ‘cool effect’ becomes an external communication tool designed to hide a reality of poor internal management practices.
Amazon has become the perfect illustration of this phenomenon. Its design offices epitomise coolness by providing ‘Amazonians’ with pedal tricycles to get around with style, but the Financial Times revealed in 2015 that the company exercise extremely tough management practices.
In addition, this ‘cool’ culture can be used as a lever to force higher productivity and employee engagement. In fact, by playing ‘personal’ and using subtle forms of emotional manipulation, the ‘cool effect’ can increase employees’ engagement.
For example, it would not very look ‘cool’ to refuse working very late at night or during weekends when asked ... because the company is so ‘cool’ with its employees.
Finally, this management style can also blur the boundaries between work and leisure, and more generally between professional and personal life. While flexible schedules or nomadism may seem entirely positive, it can also mean that employees who work from home never disconnect from their work.
It can also lead employees to over-invest in their work, after all, work is ‘fun’! At the extreme end of the spectrum, we remember those Google employees who admitted never leaving GooglePlex for several months, and even for some years in some cases, because their workplace was so ‘cool’.
While it is important not to be too judgemental about these kinds of situations that have also to do with personal ethics, we can nevertheless wonder whether it is really that ‘'cool’ that work cannibalises every aspect of individuals’ lives.
In conclusion, ‘cool’ management does have obvious advantages and can help to align individual and collective interests, but companies wishing to implement this type of management should be wary of reproducing the excesses of some pioneering companies ... which looked so cool back then!
Professor Thibaut Bardon is head of management research at Audencia Business School.
The Power Of 'Cool' Culture In Business