Culture is more than Chemistry

The trend in the talent development community (HR) is to look for individuals with a cultural fit. What does that mean? Does it mean:

  • We all get along?
  • We look think and act alike?
  • We share the same values?

Does anyone see what’s wrong with this list?

Do we need to get along? One of the major challenges in business today is the unwillingness to confront each other. Whether it is for fear of retribution, or we just don’t want to be uncomfortable. The result can be group think that leads you off the cliff.

I worked with a team a few years ago where the driving behavior was consensus. Everyone had to agree. There was a caveat, they had to agree with the Director. He had a style where he would be open to ideas and then he would “sell” his. If that didn’t work he would “tell” and then “yell”. After a time I watched his team mold themselves into his way of thinking. That team, office and division has been eliminated from the organization.

This is not to say that we have to always be in confrontation and or that it has to be hostile. In fact when we learn to exhibit respectful and appropriate behavior, when holding each other accountable we get better performance and satisfaction.

What about everyone thinking and acting alike. There was a time when the IBM model was the model. I worked for a firm that upon passing your probationary period each sales rep received two blue pinstripe suits and two company ties. This was after 90 days of training, in the field and at corporate. There was a very strong approach to uniformity and standards. I still have a picture of 100 men and women in blue pinstripe suits, white shirts and red ties.

How do you think your workforce will respond to this approach today?

What about sharing the same values? This is where I believe the rubber meets the road. Teams can be diverse and have different approaches to reaching goals. But if they do not share the values and the mission of the organization there is a straying from point that can lead the company astray.

When I say shared values it is more than lip service. I am willing to bet that the leaders of Enron to a man and woman would tell you they held the value of Integrity. It was in their Mission/Values statement. And really who doesn’t want to be in integrity (at least conceptually). But it is in actually living those values and reinforcing those values that they come to life. And in the case of Enron, while they stated integrity they pursued the appearance of financial performance.

I believe culture rests on four cornerstones:

  1. Recruitment – Are we recruiting for values, skills, and attitude? One of the most important attitudes today is adaptability.
  2. Orientation/Onboarding – how do we acclimate new people to the rules, the rhythms and expectations of the organization or team?
  3. Training – Beyond onboarding we can train and drill our team members. Practice makes perfect is a saying. Practice perfects what you practice. If you are practicing wrong you will deliver wrong. It is important to train and practice in private so you can shine in public.
  4. Reinforcement – How do we reinforce and recognize behavior? Remember Enron did not reinforce and recognize integrity they reinforced and recognized the appearance of financial performance.

Take good care ~

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