In the work world, “Culture” represents the values, norms, aims, customs, rules, the way of life if you will of an organization. It is an amalgam of the non-talent ingredients required to be happy, productive, and successful in that organization at a particular time.
For nearly 30 years, I have been one of the louder proponents, (see “Contented Cows” leadership book series) of the notion that, in order to form and maintain a high-performance labor-intensive organization, it is vital to have a collection of people who can live with and perform well within a particular culture. As a result, I’ve been (and remain) a zealot about the notion that achieving cultural fit with prospective teammates must be one of, if not THE first aim of corporate recruiters and hiring managers. A person who is magnificently “qualified” by virtue of talent, skill, and experience, but whose pace, preference, values, temperament, et. al. are out of sync with organizational norms will almost certainly not be a good long term fit.
Before going any further, let’s clear something up: Within the context of a workplace, culture has nothing, repeat, nothing to do with diversity, or socio-ethnic characteristics. Have there been occasions where culture creep or misguided leadership has allowed something more resembling a ‘club’ to form underneath the culture umbrella? You betcha. It’s not pretty to watch and seldom ends well.
In a recent tweet, Katrina Kibben posed the question, “Can you be a culture fit if you’re a culture add?” BTW, if you spend time anywhere near the talent zone, read her stuff, because it’s really good. Anyhow, here’s my take:
Cultural conditions and requirements change… they evolve with the organization. Having been involved with FedEx (nee Federal Express) in its infancy through teen years, I was witness to (okay, neck-deep in) the organization morphing from newborn to teen to young adult status. Revisiting this evolution through the lens of my own employment with the firm, in eleven years, I went from being a very good cultural fit and a happy, very productive purple-blooded warrior to one where it was time for me to go. The main limiting factor in my case was discomfort in adapting from a “what lines?” coloring style to a highly bureaucratic mode which, by necessity, becomes the norm when you cram 100,000 people into a highly integrated machine traveling at 550 mph. The person who took my place was, in fact, a “culture add”, and should probably have been on the company’s radar a year or two sooner.
So what? Why am I taking up 4 minutes of your life with this? Two reasons:
- The first thing that Katrina’s question sparked for me is the realization that we (business and organizational leaders) need to do a better job of tending our organizational culture, making sure that it is (and will remain) appropriate for the organization as time passes and requirements change.
- You’ve no doubt noticed that in many respects, labor markets have gotten extremely tight. In the US, for example, there are currently somewhere around 7.5 million job vacancies. By virtue of the fact that many of us practice reactive recruiting, the pressure is on to put reasonably qualified butts in seats ASAP, without much consideration for cultural fit. We’ll pay for that, and so will you, or your successor if you succumb to the pressure.
- In the words of Fleetwood Mac, when it comes to organizational culture, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.”