Tuesday June 2, 2015
Culture is like an organization’s identity; it’s who they are. On an individual basis, knowing your identity; knowing who you are will determine your destiny. The same is true for organizations. If you think about it, your organizational culture is as much a part of your brand as your logo. You have to protect the culture just as you would your logo if there was a trademark infringement. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t.
Earlier today, a business strategist and consultant asked me if I knew what was happening at a particular company because all kinds of people seemed to be wanting to exit. It hasn’t been that long since everyone wanted to work there. This afternoon I spoke to one of those people. Despite 13 years of progressive experience, and a 6 figure income, she had had enough and was ready to move on. And I’ve heard that story numerous other times recently.
Being a culture nut and a people strategist, these stories bother me. It doesn’t have to be this way; at least it shouldn’t. As I listened to her story, I heard an all too familiar tale of a company that once had a thriving culture, but had somehow managed to lose it. As a result, she – and a lot of her peers – are vulnerable to quitting, getting poached, or just working without passion.
Here are some ways companies lose their culture:
- They Don’t Avoid Imbalance. Face it; there are a lot of competing priorities that busy leaders have to keep up with – sales, quality, expenses, people, customers, finances, to name a few. There will be experts from each of those areas who say that their area should be the first among equals. In today’s world, any and all of those have to be first among equals some of the time. But when one part gets all the attention, the culture loses. When organizations balance priorities – and flex as needed based on business realities – culture stays intact.
- They Don’t Stay True. When companies try to be an “Employer of Choice,” they often think they have to become a place that everyonewill enjoy. It doesn’t work. The best employees who’ve been there for years won’t like how the culture has eroded to some least common denominator and is no longer unique. The people who can be recruited with those expectations into such an environment can have an entitlement mentality. When organizations stay true to themselves – quirkiness and all – and fight for their identity, they keep their great employees and find it easier to find more like them.
- They Don’t Manage Expectations. It’s just like sales. When you over sell and under deliver you always have problems with customers. If you oversell your culture and make it sound like something it isn’t, and then deliver at the lower level that it actually is, it will have a wake of people who are as disappointed as oversold customers are. It’s not really that the culture changed, the actual culture just became more obvious. When organizations are honest about who they are – the glamorous parts as well as the quirky – expectations are set and met without the disappointment.
- They Don’t Practice What They Preach. Some companies do have a decent culture… as long as the culture champions know how to work around the leader. That can last for a while. Ultimately though, it creates resentment among the best and brightest. They end up liking the culture about as much as they like any other form of hypocrisy. When leaders lead by example and not merely by a compelling message, the organization’s best people move in the same direction towards the same goal, and the message means something.
- They Lose Their Buffers. Buffers between leadership and the rank and file can make some companies appear to have a great culture when they don’t really. Buffers can be anything from physical proximity to people, but they create a false identity. Remove them and it will appear the culture has changed when in reality the true culture has just become more obvious. The problem isn’t really the buffers; it’s the underlying reason why the buffers are needed, which could be any of the other 4 reasons above. Companies shouldn’t need buffers to have a decent culture. Reliance on them will result in a letdown. When organizations get brutally honest about why the buffers exist and then act on those reasons, they get their identity back.
Identity theft is startling; voluntary identity loss is disturbing. Value your identity – your organizational culture – and protect it. It’s what makes you “you.” In the words of that famed superhero Elastigirl, “You identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.”
At Open Door HR Solutions, we honestly believe that the right team, united around a compelling vision, can change the world. We help organizations create vision, culture, and an enviable employment brand. And we help them find and keep the right team members, part ways with the wrong ones, and get everyone on the team focused on the compelling vision. But we leave the change the world part up to you.
Mark Weaver, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, QES