Recently Laurie Ruettimann published a blog, “Yes, Your Company Culture Is Really Just a Myth” where she basically spit in the face of any organization that attempts to leverage their OC as a competitive advantage. Well, you can deny OC all you want, but that’s like saying you can breathe without air, and denying either one can result in a slow painful death by suffocating. Let’s break it down.

OC is NOT a Myth – But It Can be an Unpleasant Reality

Laurie’s first assertion is that you really don’t have a ‘culture’ “because you are incorrectly applying the word “culture” to a group of people who behave a certain way because their lives are dominated by a few powerful figures in your office”. Technically she’s right – an accidental OC can be derived by a few powerful figures in the workplace – it’s often referred to as office politics – and no body denies the power of office politics.

Recently I was at a meeting where Volkswagen was discussing how different their philosophy is from the US philosophy regarding unions. During the discussion, Jurgen Stumpf, Corporate Culture & Communications Specialist for VW with over 40 years of service stated, “You have to begin to understand the differences in culture between the US and Germany – we do things differently.” And therein lies the definition of Organizational Culture (OC) – it’s how things are done within an organization. Although both Germany and the US are considered “Western” cultures, there is no doubt that the culture of Germany (how they do things, how they talk (language), what they eat, their roadways, laws, etc) is very different from the culture of the US. Neither is good or bad – just different. And it’s the same way within organizations, each organization has a unique “language”, unique policies, procedures, processes and ways of doing things. In other words, every organization has a “culture” and that culture can either be an accidental culture dominated by a few powerful people or it can be an intentional culture that is deliberately supported and reinforced by leaders to engage and empower employees and create a sustainable competitive advantage.

If you’ve ever worked somewhere where you felt like a 5th wheel, like you didn’t fit in, where you were constantly frustrated because you couldn’t make meaningful contributions because no one would give you a chance, it was likely because the way you wanted to do things didn’t “fit” with the way things were done at that organization – in other words an OC misfit.

Using The OC Equation™, OC is defined as “how things get done around here” and it’s based on an intentional and deliberate people strategy designed to do the following:

  • Articulate the values that define top leaders and the philosophies they intend the organization to live by, and the ones they intend the leadership to enhance and instill in the workplace, where:
    • Values are the non-negotiable beliefs and principles of an organization, upon which decisions are based.
    • Philosophies are the embodiment of its values. In other words it’s how the values are intended to be demonstrated or “lived” by every employee every day, including actual examples of how the organization intends for employees to make decisions.
    • And, Actions are what actually get rewarded and reinforced.

Example: No one would argue that Steve Jobs built a challenging culture at Apple — one where ”reality was suspended” and ”anything was possible”. Under Job’s leadership, heavily influenced by his personal values and philosophies, Apple became the most valuable company on the planet.

Now, contrast that to the current OC under the leadership of Tim Cook. In “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs” author Yukari I Kane noted, “Under Timothy D. Cook, who took over as chief executive shortly before Steve Jobs died in October 2011, Apple “teeters at the edge of a reckoning. Its executives cannot find their own way forward. They are tired. They are uncertain. The well of ingenuity has run dry.” Basically what Kane is articulating here is the fact that the OC under Tim Cook is significantly different from the OC under Jobs.

But why is the OC so different? After all, Tim Cook worked for Steve Jobs and was mentored by him. The fact of the matter is Tim Cook’s values are vastly different from Steve Jobs and thus how things get done today are completely different than they used to be. In other words, the lives of Apple employees are dominated by a few powerful figures at Apple – namely Tim Cook and his leaders.

That doesn’t mean that Steve Jobs was right and Tim Cook is wrong – it simply means they’re different and employees are having to adjust to the new OC and its definition of success. For employees who can comfortably make the shift, they stay and for those who cannot, they become ineffective or leave.

Hiring for Fit is Essential

Laurie’s 2nd point was that hiring for fit is nonsense. Really??? Then why do we even bother interviewing anyone. Based on her assertion we should simply verify an applicant’s education and experience and if they check out, move forward with an offer because “fit” doesn’t matter and can’t be measured.

I am not advocating using “gut feeling” to hire someone based on personality. On the contrary, I am advocating that the organization’s values and philosophies be clearly defined and articulated using observable, measurable criteria and then candidates be interviewed using behavioral interview techniques where past performance/behavior is the best predictor of future performance/behavior and that “fit” be assessed through observable/measurable criteria that supports the OC.

Example: In many of my client’s organizations, they implement flexible guidelines rather than stringent, inflexible policies. In these situations, it is crucial leaders are able to use critical thinking skills to make sound decisions based on sound judgment where ambiguity exists while still maintaining consistency. That’s part of their OC and these organizations need to identify candidates who are comfortable making decisions in ambiguous situations – if not, they won’t be successful because that’s how things get done in these organizations. Dealing with ambiguity is not something that can be taught – it’s in people’s DNA. When hiring for these organizations, assessing one’s ability to make decisions in an ambiguous environment is based on evidence not gut feeling. Without a doubt – hiring for “fit” doesn’t have to be based on gut feeling and personality, but it does take intentional effort.

Culture and Fit Are NOT Lies

Finally, Laurie wants readers to know that in her opinion “culture and fit are lies we tell ourselves because we are afraid of the hard truths behind the unglamorous, unsexy, boring world of work. Maybe you should stop lying to yourself and your employees. That’s one pretty easy way to fix the reputation of human resources.”

All I can say here is WOW! I feel sorry for Laurie because it’s obvious that she’s never worked for an organization with a strong, positive OC – like Apple, Southwest Airlines, ZAPPOs, Disney, Black & Decker, Eaton, etc.

Denying that culture exists doesn’t make it so any more than denying you need air to breathe makes it so. Denying your need for air and ignoring it for too long will suffocate you and if steps are not taken to correct it, you’ll eventually die. It’s no different with an organization – without a strong, positive OC that engages and empowers employees the organization will suffocate and if not corrected, it also will eventually die.

As a leader you have a decision to make. You can either step up and be a leader who actually leads by creating and reinforcing a strong, positive OC using The OC Equation™ so that employees and the organization win together or you can stick your head in the sand, ignore it and let your organization suffocate and die.

And that’s why HR Solutions by Design exists. If you’re going to spend 30-40 years of your life working you need to know it doesn’t have to be “unglamorous, unsexy and boring”. Through the power of The OC Equation™ organizations can and do develop and implement an OC that engages and empowers employees. It’s through that engagement that the organization is able to leverage a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

– Cindy

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