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Guard Your Culture, Part 2


The ability of leadership to deal with the truth is one of the most difficult subjects to write about for a variety of reasons. But since a leadership team that cannot deal honestly with the issues of the day will inevitably kill a company faster than changing the Google search algorithm. And the fact that this topic might hit close to home for some that read this blog…makes it a bit unnerving. But let’s not let that little truth take the edge off this discussion.

Some time ago I was consulting for a high growth mobile start-up. This company had all the trappings of a well covered by TechCrunch pre-IPO venture. The funding was robust. The business model seemed solid. The board of directors was well known. And the executive team was well accomplished. Slam dunk right? Not just quite.

You see for all of their well publicized bravado, the leadership forgot to ask their people if reality matched their ambition. And because the culture of the company did not support open discussions about business challenges, truths of the market and business plans none of the topics ever saw the overhead projector in the boardroom. So how did this happen?

The story of this anonymous company is not uncommon in its consequences. The failings of a hearing impaired leadership team to guard their culture in less rare than the VC crowd would hope. I wish I could point to a just one underlying culprit, but in my view the burden of guilt lies most heavily on the key mistake of
letting dysfunction through the door. And this happens most often when you hire using what I call “The Friends & Family Recruiting Program.”

We’ve all seen it. “John/Jane is really good and he/she killed it at my last company. We need to find him/her a home here because he/she belongs in this company.” And then straight to offer letter. No real interviews. Just a VIP tour of the office before a long lunch of reminiscing about good times wherever it is they worked together.

Now let me be super clear about one point before I continue; What I’m describing is not a dig on employee referral programs. Point of fact, I am a super supporter of employee referral programs. But that assumes a proper vetting with the understanding that rejecting the candidate for lack of skill, experience or fit carries no penalty for the interview team. But a leader/manager/executive walking in a hire.....always a bad idea.

True, John/Jane might have been exceptional the last time you worked with them. But that is a weak assurance that they will be the same exceptional person within a new company and culture. And here is why; people and cultures are unique and sometimes clash. Skeptical? Here is my simple proof. Do all your friends get along all the time? Why not? You are the common denominator in most cases. You (unless your have issues) are the same person will all of your friends. So in theory there should be no drama. Right?

When people that don’t get along are forced to work together (or worse for the person they dislike) the politics of popularity, gotcha and more set in fast. The only thing more certain is gravity.

Now one more question; Would you be willing to live under the same roof with all of your friends for 2+ years? We all know better than to answer “Yes” to that one. Yet we spend more waking hours at work than at home. So assuming that your friend will get along (work well) with your new roommates (co-workers), without giving them the chance to decide for themselves, is folly realized when more important things matter. File that recipe under “Dysfunctional Workplaces” with a side of “Failure” for flair.

Cheers, R-A-L