Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“Either you define your culture or it will define you.”
~ Hiten Shah
We have the family we’re born with and family we get to choose, but what about the family we work with? In a way, we get to choose them, too. When it’s time to look for a job, the people you work with are important criteria for determining what it will be like in the company you are thinking of joining.
Corporate culture is a broad topic but when it’s distilled to its basic and most important element you find people. It sounds simple, but people are the culture of a company. The personalities and values of each person shape a company, from the executive team to the executive administrator. Each has a role in defining behaviors, dispositions, and temperaments that become the company culture.
Much has been written on this subject but one fact remains constant; good people build good companies. Product excellence, customer service and strong profit margins are essential for successful companies, but people are the company’s soul. Many a soul-less company is successful—so choose carefully.
Some of you might find the concept of a work family odd, but it’s a critical factor in my decision to accept a job offer. I spend over 50 hours a week doing my job. The only other activity I devote that much time to is sleeping. I don’t know about you, but when I’m with the same folks for 50 hours a week I want to work hard in a fun company. These two things are not mutually exclusive. I want to like and respect my co-workers and have them like and respect me but I also want to have fun at work.
Hard-working relatable colleagues do not guarantee a good job or a great company—but if they aren’t there what are the chances? They are the foundation for working together to create excellence. Anything less dooms you to mediocrity.
The Human Element
Every company is made up of humans. Yet many companies treat employees as if they were cogs in a larger machine. Humans have thoughts, feelings, and emotions. If they are bullied or belittled they will never produce their best work. When work suffers, the company suffers, no matter how big or influential it is. Invested employees are your best competitive advantage. Together, they tell your story.
A poor attitude is detrimental to company culture, which is detrimental to business. Top-performing companies define their culture early and chose the right people with the right attitude to support it. And when it’s good, it’s a great place to be an employee—it’s a work family.
The last three companies I’ve worked for have given me that. I’d like to believe both sides chose carefully and created a win-win. I had invested managers who shaped my career and provided air cover and support in all things. My colleagues were smart, funny, energetic and hard working.
Work culture is not a one-person job; leadership sets the tone and it rolls through the departments, inspiring attitudes and setting priorities. It’s a living thing. A strong culture pushes people in the right direction and sustains individual and team enthusiasm. Whether you are the interviewer or interviewee always consider the cultural fit. You enhance it if you get it right or break it if you get it wrong.
According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss at Harvard Business Review:
“Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”
These are the people I want to work with.
The Shape of Things to Come
Nothing is permanent. When management changes; the culture is re-shaped. It is rare for it to remain as it was under the old team. New leadership will imprint their style quickly, removing senior managers that showed allegiance to former leadership. Depending on where you fall in the hierarchy you may be one of the departed or you may find yourself with a new manager. Both of these are game changers. Both of these are normal in today’s business world
When the culture changes it ripples downward, forcing employees to accept or reject the disturbance in the force. Good people will give it a fair shot before making a change. When this happened to me three companies ago, I found myself with a new manager that I not only liked, but consider a friend to this day. He took a good thing and made it better. I did some of my best work on his team.
Not so in my last company. I woke up one day to a new CEO and within two weeks a new executive team was in place. By the end of the second month my manager and many of my colleagues were gone. So was I. The new culture changed the dynamic and did not offer the work relationships so important to me.
I did not want to change jobs, but understood my personality would not blend well in the new scheme of things. Coincidentally, I received an invitation to join a former manager and colleague in a late stage start up. I never hesitated. I knew they were good people – we had worked together before. When they introduced me to the rest of the team I once again found the culture and colleagues I needed to feel good about coming to work every day.
You may have a different name for this concept where you work, but I’m willing to bet you know what I’m talking about.