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Guard Your Culture, Part 1


There are many water cooler theories as to what makes for a healthy company culture. If you ever have had occasion to look behind the curtain of a company and listen to the unedited conversations of employees, you'll quickly glimpse the true state of affairs in Oz.

For years organizations large and small have struggled to take the pulse of their corporate citizens. Highly progressive organization have done everything from forming advisory counsels; to conducting assessments; to ramping up training; to everything in between. In some instances there types of solutions have yielded great results. And you've most likely have heard of them (Southwest Airlines, Kinko's, Patagonia, Universal Studios, Intel, Berkshire, etc.) since this kind of culture success is so rare.

So what is it that makes duplicating these kinds culture wins so difficult? Most research and commentary by thought leaders in the human capital areas point to

It doesn't take the latest episode of Undercover Boss to clue everyone into the fact that the top executives in most large organizations have a limited view on what truly makes their company tick. And even worse, the people they rely on to “make things happen”. Let's face it, any Joe/Jane with an MBA can read reports, do some analysis and recommend some tactics for the rudder and a strategy on the course. All of this has value at a “high level” and for shot-term gains. However the long road of a healthy culture requires a bit more tenacity and deliberate intent.


It always starts out in a similar fashion. When headcount is approved the hiring manager always springs into action with a directive; “We need this person as soon as possible, and we need someone great!” No real surprise there. I mean who would want to hire someone not “great”.

This is then followed up with whatever process is unique to that organization or department. Candidates are found, interviews scheduled and an eventual offer is made. No real mystery right? Well as I like to point out, the danger is always in the details. The details of the
interviewing and selection are the first and second hurdles on the road to a great corporate culture. This is the guarding of the gate.

The breakdown in the interviewing candidates phase can come as a result of a variety of reasons. I've seen it happen when the pressure to make hire is intense; or when a hiring manager is green; or when referrals of existing employees are being considered; the reasons are many.

But at the root of all these and other scenarios is the failure of the global organization to ask itself some key questions and then cement those answers into the interviewing phase of the hiring process. So what are the questions?

1) “What is a our company culture?” The answer to this sets up everything. Yet the simple irony is that even advanced organizations often don't have this basic question answered. Or do they?

The stated company vision & mission is a the best place to start when answering the culture question. Taking the vision statement and then asking:

2) “What traits do our people need to have in order to achieve our company vision & mission.” ….is all you'll need to calibrate your hiring compass and answer the first question. The yield to this question should be
a set of values.

In 1955 when Walt Disney opened Disneyland he gave his people a clear mission. Disney said, “We are in the happiness business – we make magic!” He then went on to his vision,
Keep the guest smiling no matter how long they are here.” When he listed his set of values (safety, courtesy, the show, efficiency, etc) he gave a clear picture of the traits that the park team should possesses.

With company values in hand an organization would easily be able to anchor their culture and bake in the questions needed during the interview process to assess if a candidate was a culture fit. Once doing so the selection phase (or do we make them an offer phase) happen for the most part long as you hold the line on your values.

A qualified candidate that is a strong culture fit is a slam-dunk hire in most organizations. And best of all is that they are far far less likely to upset the culture applecart. Hire with all available speed people who meet this criteria and reject without exception anyone who is marginal on your values. Skills can be taught, but attitude in adults is for the most part hard-wired in already. Always hold the line on guarding your company culture.

We'll talk about
the ability of leadership to deal with the truth in part 2.

Cheers, R-A-L