If you are even remotely familiar with Superman, a DC Comics superhero, you will know that Kryptonite, a radioactive element found on his home-planet Krypton, is actually his biggest weakness. Similarly, organizational culture, the very identity of an organization, could actually turn out to be its kryptonite. No, this post is not about to undermine the importance of organizational culture. Organizational culture is and, in most cases, will remain an enterprise’s biggest asset. As Peter F Drucker’s famous quote goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and this is undeniably true. But here’s a lesser-known quote (probably because we just came up with it) – “If you aren’t careful enough, culture can probably eat your very organization for supper!”
In today’s business world, things are moving at a never-seen-before pace and so to remain fresh in people’s minds, companies are using culture to define and even differentiate themselves. But the more strongly or rigidly organizations define their culture, the more their very culture becomes a double-edged sword.
Culture decides your human capital & vice-versa
Your human capital, your company’s prime grey matter and how it is is aligned to your organizational culture can make the difference to your company’s success. This human capital decides how an organization navigates any situation. Having a strongly defined culture means that your recruiting process needs to find an ideal culture fit with each and every hire. What’s more, each and every one these hires can in turn influence your company’s culture. “There is never a neutral cultural hire, anyone you hire is going to have an impact on organizational culture one way or another,” states Steve Shaffer, VP of Customer Advocacy at 9Lenses.
And as the cautionary adage goes, all it takes is one bad egg. “You don’t exactly have to see eye to eye with you colleagues in every decision, work styles can vary, but organizational culture or the core mission needs to be the common thread connecting individuals within a company. Even a single bad hire in terms of culture fit has the power to drag down the morale of a team and that is something that organizations with strong cultures need to be wary off,” adds Steve. For instance, in spite of the variety of customer service styles you will experience while shopping at Nordstrom stores, as a shopper you will quickly come to understand Nordstrom’s underlying mission – customer service is their culture, not just a department.
Just like technology, people, processes, and markets; organizational culture too needs to change. Many companies fail to recognize this and try holding onto the culture that was initially defined during their startup period. As a company grows, its culture too grows and evolves.
“Maintaining a narrowly defined organizational culture can hinder a company’s performance, particularly in tight labor markets where available top talent is scarce,” says Patrick Merfert, Product Marketing Manager at 9Lenses. Changing expectations of the labor market, changing work styles and technology adoption forces companies to get a culture makeover of sorts.
It’s a company not a clique!
Let’s take a look at Zappos, an oft-quoted example whenever people talk about organizational culture. Like Nordstrom, Zappos is known to deliver exceptional and unparalleled customer service. Zappos’ mission is “to provide the best customer service possible.” To do this, they hire people who fit into the culture and share the same goals.
Great customer service notwithstanding, Zappos’ underlying principle for hiring – “how weird are you?” has been slammed by many for promoting clique tendencies and putting pressure on existing employees to constantly prove that they are contributing to furthering the company’s organizational culture. Zappos also pays employees who do not fit in with its culture to quit their jobs. While many have commended this as an effective initiative, many have condemned it too and the ethical aspects of this rule have been heavily questioned.
Furthermore, many recruiters unwittingly hamper the talent diversity in a company by focusing too much on cultural fit. “Companies that strike a balance between having a common thread of culture throughout the organization while still allowing for individuality are often the most interesting environments as these breed diversity of thought and in turn creativity,” adds Patrick. While it is yet to be proven if Zappos’ culture is promoting clique tendencies, it is quite obvious that there is such a thing as taking organizational culture too far!
To sum it up, here are five things to keep in mind in order to prevent your organizational culture from turning into your company’s kryptonite.
1. By letting your organizational culture be the main driver while hiring, you could limit the type of people and value that a diverse talent pool can add
2. Your culture can become obsolete and so can your company! So evolve constantly
3. The changing workforce (more millennials, Gen Xers and retiring Baby Boomers) means that you not only have to redefine your organizational culture, but navigate the changes that arise from this process
4. There is such a thing as taking your organizational culture too far and promoting clique tendencies that could be detrimental
5. Be aware of how individuals are affecting your organizational culture. Be quick to cull out negative influencers
While we are on the topic of organizational culture, be sure to check out what Interns at 9Lenses have to say about their internship experience.
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