Still in the formulation stage, but this may be my new way of conceptualizing the issue that, if you are confronted with something new, responding in a superficial way will lull you into thinking that you’ve actually addressed the challenges and opportunities that the underlying change represents.

And that has what exactly to do with foosball tables? How many times have you heard about a company that is touted as having a great approach to engaging Millennial employees, and then the story is all about… the foosball table in the office. (And maybe the snacks in the kitchen.)

Nothing against foosball tables, especially if they are used to shake off the cobwebs and get synapses firing differently for creative thinking (although when is the last time you saw someone actually using one in an office? and would you want to be sitting near the foosball table if it were actually being played?). But if you are really changing your company’s culture to adapt to and maximize the talents of the Millennial workforce, it’s not about the foosball table.

Like any major change, the shifts represented by the Millennials entering the workforce en masse are much subtler, much deeper, and much more significant than bringing a few youth-oriented amenities into the workplace.  Having a generation more interested in asking “why?” means that decision-making, in particular, needs to be revisited. You will have to think about who is consulted, what consultation really means, how to be transparent about who gets input into what decision, and providing rationale for decisions. You also need to re-examine who is making what decision, and whether the people making the decisions get adequate support in terms of a fact base and an analytical framework. You have to think about who is meant by “you,” in terms of decision-making.

Social media is another area where deep cultural changes can be confused with superficial implementation. Having a Facebook page where you put out press releases and hope that nobody uses the page to ask for customer service may be a big step, and it is exciting, but it doesn’t constitute a social media strategy. More to the point, it doesn’t recognize the learning required for your company or organization to really come to terms with the change that social media represents – the porousness, the real-time feedback, the inability to control the message, the opportunities to engage directly, and so on.

The Foosball table Problem tends to arise when the first step takes so much energy to get implemented, and creates such a fuss, that the other, crucial steps, aren’t taken to really grapple with the change needed. It’s hard to get things implemented in most organizations, and more so if things are new. Often there is a leader who understands that the foosball table is only the first step, but they may be gone (by choice or otherwise; being a change agent can be a risky business careerwise, and can likewise open up new opportunities) before they can get to the next stage of the process; the political capital for the initiative may be all used up. And sometimes the first step is taken purely defensively, with magical thinking that this is all that will be needed, betraying a lack of strategic thinking and future-proofing within the organization.

Do you have any metaphorical foosball tables (or Facebook pages) in your organization – fun and loud but maybe keeping you from recognizing – and doing – the real work needed to address strategic issues?