If you want to trigger a feisty debate, start a conversation about corporate culture.

Owing to a lack of reasonable definition and understanding of its direct impact on organisational success, the notion of culture has, in recent years, become nothing more than a concept; one that is often over-used and largely misunderstood.

Unfortunately, the most prevailing misconception among business leaders today is that corporate culture is built much like a theme-park, where employees work and live happily ever after in some kind of HR heaven.

In the confusion, organisations find themselves sinking valuable time, money and energy into the idea that a good company culture requires expenditure on a plethora of bells and whistles in the hope that it will attract the best talent, retain top performers and encourage greater productivity.

Deal and Kennedy who proposed one of the first models of organisational culture in 1982 described culture as, “…the way things are done around here.”

Let’s demystify the subject and get practical.

Myth #1: Culture is the equivalent of perks

One of the biggest misconceptions, particularly among start-up founders, is that employee perks equate to organisational culture.

Unfortunately the idea that foosball tables and treadmill desks will attract and retain the top talent is one that is heavily engrained in our general sentiment about culture, and it’s a line of thinking that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

While incentives provide us with the ability to influence results, they really need to align with strategy.

Define your strategy, the talent required to realise it and the incentives that motivate your talent pool. Different things motivate different people. (Hint: most sales people aren’t motivated by hugs).

Think about your incentives. Do they represent value to top talent?

Myth #2: Culture is a ‘mood’

Culture is not the vibe you get when you walk into an office. Culture is how work gets done.

To identify the culture of your company look at the observable patterns, rituals and repeated behaviours of the people in the organisation. Look at who has been fired and who has been promoted, as this provides an indication of what is expected, what is considered important and what behaviours are rewarded.

What are your organisation’s behaviours and do they align with company strategy?

Myth #3: Culture is someone else’s problem

Leaders often believe that culture belongs to someone else, however culture is not shaped entirely by a company’s employees, nor is it solely the responsibility of HR. Culture is essentially owned by everyone, and it’s a company’s CEO who most strongly impacts and shapes culture.

As culture is the direct by-product of leadership decisions and priorities, CEOs must be very clear on the desired organisational behaviours when implementing everything from policies and processes to reward systems.

CEOs should consider that their personal behaviour, and that of their leadership team, will be amplified across the business. The c-suite should be demonstrating how to work as a team, how to deliver a strategy, how to run a business and how to treat customers on a daily basis.

Do you have the right leaders in place? Do these leaders model the behaviours you want to see replicated across the organisation?

Myth #4: You can’t hire for great culture

The greatest risk in recruitment is hiring for skills and background without considering motivation and personal characteristics.

Skills can be learned, but attitude and character are intrinsic and hard to change. A good attitude leads to good habits; good habits lead to great results.

One misconception in hiring for culture is that you have to stereotype candidates. For instance, leaders may think they need to hire a young person because the company has a young culture, however we all know older people who are energetic and full of ideas and younger people who are lethargic and bitter.

To hire for culture you need to identify the attitude and personal characteristics the company requires to do the work you want done in the way you want it delivered. You’ll see a greater return on investment sooner.

Make everyone in your business cultural ambassadors. It’s the radically passionate employees that love the company they work for, who stay happy and engaged, and ultimately make greater contributions to the company’s success.

As management consultant Peter Drucker so famously put it, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”