A Company Culture Goes Both Ways

You should maintain your identity, especially as employers want to manage your behaviors. Let me be clear, I am a proponent of a company culture that defines how you must act while working for a company. A strong culture impacts a company’s success: better ideas, more engagement, and improved retention. It also has the potential to make you (as an employee) smarter, happier, and more productive.

Still, you do not want to lose track of who you are – your essence. Adopt the expectations of an employer for as long as you are required, yet always keep in mind what expectations are a true reflection of you. Keep a perspective. Later you might choose to stay or go based on these self-reflections; moreover, it becomes an important maturation process.

Respect is viewed as an entity that is hard won but easily lost so must constantly be guarded.[i]

Identity and Behaviors
Identity and Behaviors

I come from both angles: a leader defining a company culture and a professional projecting a personal brand (which I argue has a critical identity element).

I created a ‘standing constitution’ defining values and behaviors everyone should follow.[ii] For many companies, it gets much deeper than simply writing down expectations. New applications monitor and collect data based on behaviors and competencies of all workers. Management has desired outcomes. They monitor behaviors, analyze the results, and then make decisions. They encourage employees to adopt their behaviors, usually with contingencies. They train employees to modify their behaviors.

I created a model for professionals to project their personal brand onto networks; it includes a critical identity element. (The book is Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity.) A central premise is professionals become their own advocates. A professional has desired outcomes. A professional communicates how he or she wants to be perceived, has internal beliefs, and is prepared to respond and negotiate based on his or her own convictions.

Having an identity should not be casually overlooked. A professional needs to be self-aware. Here are some suggestions:

  • Show career vision. Understand short-term and long-term goals. Think of how a company culture coincides with your personal brand. (In the above mentioned book, I dedicate a chapter discussing this concept.)
  • Be prepared and proactive. Pull feedback to you.[iii] Find ways to advance your career goals.
  • Constant learning. Find ways to build and validate skills necessary not only for a current job, but also future jobs (with or without the company).[iv]
  • Listen to all suggestions. A company has invested to correctly measure your competencies; management has data and analysis to back up their assertions.
  • Not always a matter of right and wrong. You are who you are. Some things are worth changing, some things are not worth changing. Some things cannot be changed.
  • Keep a diary. Take note of your observations of a company culture as it evolves. Maybe it is simply an acknowledgement of how you feel; maybe it inspires you to make changes or decide to leave.
  • Separate identity in social. Social media makes it more difficult to have an identity. Separate how you represent yourself versus your company. Moreover, make sure your self-representation is not detrimental to your company representation.

I am a firm believer in the potential of a company culture. So my advice to you, as a professional, is to consider a company culture from the start – while applying and interviewing for the job. Recently, I saw a job posting where a company listed behaviors the company likes and dislikes. I went through the list checking what fits me. Right away I knew whether I wanted to be part of the company.

Once employed, observe how a company culture is evolving. Do you stand behind what the company is trying to accomplish? Do you agree with the expectations? Are you willing to suggest changing the culture? Are you in for the short or long term?

Last year, the median job tenure for workers aged 20 to 24 was shorter than 16 months. For those aged 25 to 34, it was three years, according to the BLS.[v] LinkedIn managers call this period: ‘tours of duty’. This means, if you are an early career professional, you have a mutual understanding with an employer that after the period has completed you will renegotiate your terms of employment. Take full advantage of this period to determine if your personal brand coincides with the company culture. Keep your identity, part of an online personal brand and more importantly who you are as a person.

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/02/business/dealbook/the-enduring-hunt-for-personal-value.html

[ii] https://blog.theprofessionalwebsite.com/2015/02/27/adopting-a-company-culture/

[iii] Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Penguin (2014, New York).

[iv] http://www.skillsbasedapproach.com

[v] http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-employers-wrangle-restless-millennials-1430818203

Let’s Come Up With New Ideas Together

Earlier in my career, I worked at a startup that struggled to survive (like most startups do). One thing I remember from this experience was how unified and committed we were to get better. Every day the four to five of us went to lunch together. This is when we bounced ideas on each other. No one was squirrely about sharing because we had mutual respect for each other and had common goals. (So now I always ask in an interview: “What do you guys do for lunch?”)

New Ideas
New Ideas

Ideas are critical to success; actualizing new ideas should be part of a company culture. It is something many technology companies try to nurture and build into their normal routine. Here are some of the things they do:

  • Use enterprise systems to promote internal communication. IBM has Verse (an email platform) and Connections (micro blogging, social media, wiki, etc.).
  • Create an office layout where employees ‘bump into each other’. Apple built an amazing circular campus where employees cannot help but have random interactions.
  • Get paid to develop your own ideas. Google gives you a day every week. LinkedIn lets you take a day off to volunteer or ‘explore new ideas’.
  • Provide assistance with menial tasks (laundry service, food preparation, etc.), so you spend more time being brilliant.
  • Promote mindfulness activities (yoga, resting pods, working out, games, etc.).
  • Facilitate gatherings outside of the confines of the office. Zappos bought a whole neighborhood in Las Vegas for this purpose.

In the book Non Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas, & Predict the Future, Rohit Bhargava shares his “five habits of trend curators”:

  1. “Being curious”… Always understand how things work. Ask the right questions.
  2. “Being observant”… Nitpick on the details and methods behind processes. Take little for granted.
  3. “Being fickle”… A subtle, but important habit. Too many times ideas get tossed too early because of a gut reaction. This why the smartest people are not necessarily the ones who actualize the best ideas
  4. “Being thoughtful”… It is important to rationalize and reflect on ideas. Setup debates to hash out other perspectives and arguments.
  5. “Being elegant”… Find ways to simplify and illustrate an idea. Try creating a model, something that is easy to remember. Try communicating the idea using visual media: a video, graphic, etc.

Some arguments against making ideas the focal point of a company:

  • Too many ideas creates too much noise. It takes many bad ideas to get good ones. Employees need to feel welcome to share their ideas. It is worth the added expense of filtering out bad ideas (or better said: ideas that cannot be actualized at this stage).
  • Employees will just take their good ideas and do something on their own. On occasion, this will happen. It is important to build in reward and recognition for good ideas, while also ensuring the sharing goes up and down the ladder (make sure employees feel empowered and trusted).
  • Some employees just want to do their job. While idea sharing is an important part of company culture, it is not mandatory. Employees decide their own participation.

The concept behind Become An Idea Machine by Claudia Altucher is to build “idea muscle” by committing to a regiment of coming up with ten ideas a day. I agree with her that ideas are the “currency of the 21st century” and it is necessary to be insightful, but not sure about the level of commitment for most individuals. Though I full heartedly agree in applying her concept to teams.

We are moving away from an employer-employee relationship where an employee is confined to a standard routine: clock-in, do a job for an eight hour shift, clock-out, and then go home and forget about work. Employees are human – have values and ideas and want to be heard. Companies must invest in its collective intelligence by promoting the circulation of new ideas.

Original Image © Depositphoto/ minervastock #35173493

Adopting a ‘Company Culture’

As the idea of a “company culture” evolves, we are starting to define it based on the behaviors of workers. Previously, trendy companies came up with catchy mission statements that were meant to capture the meaning of their existence. Just ask a baby boomer. They will tell you “company culture” is something puppet-mastered by the CEO of the company and most of the workers don’t buy into it. But now, “company culture” connotes something deeper. It is a reflection of the purpose, values, behaviors, and strategies of an entire organization.

In The Culture Engine, S. Chris Edmonds suggests that leadership creates a standing constitution defining each of these elements in relation to the company’s trajectory. Everyone is expected to follow it as the law of the company.[i] And this is only the beginning, in the near future, we dig much, much deeper. Everything we do will be measured. As we work, our micro-behaviors – eye movements, twitches, etc. – are monitored by productivity technologies (some of which already exist).[ii] Leaders will have access to our inner-most emotions. Personally, I think these futuristic applications are excessive (but then again, perhaps I am like a baby-boomer making sense of where we are now).

(The graphic is meant to illustrate concepts in the blog. Though it represents my values, it does not necessarily represent the values of TheProfessionalWebsite.)

I created a constitution according to Edmonds’ suggested approach. I found it to be worthwhile. There are some generalities. For example, I bet most companies value teamwork and describe some similar behavior expectations. Another example, all technology companies value innovativeness. But it really comes down to defining the behaviors; this involves addressing subtleties and working through the fine-print definitions with an inner circle. Once the constitution is ready, the benefit comes in getting an entire company living and breathing every word of it. Throughout the book, Edmonds provides ample evidence adopting a company culture pays off. Here is one stat:

His clients have experienced a ’35-40 percent engagement gains in 12 to 18 months’ (page 30). (Higher engagement increases creativity and productivity.)

Gregg Lederman is an expert on organizational branding. Love the story about how he rebranded an iconic ice cream parlor in Rochester. Buckman’s was seemingly on its last legs when Gregg and his partner took it over. They decided to take control of their customers’ experience: “Think summer, baseball, dirt, grass, ice cream!” Their plan involved breaking things down into behaviors and expectations (similar to a constitution):

We made the company mindset meaningful to employees by translating it into fifteen nonnegotiable behaviors that every employee could and should do.[iii]

Altogether, getting a company to adopt a culture based on behaviors and expectations is a strong step forward. It is something most companies did not think of twenty years ago. You cannot control your workers’ attitudes and perceptions, but you can control how they behave (point made by Edmonds). Moreover, new technologies are making all of these desired workers’ behaviors measurable and accessible to management. For example, every sales pitch a person makes can be caught on video, phone records, and online communications and then be dissected by someone in management. In the future, it will be interesting to see how “micro-analysis” of behaviors impacts the relationship between workers and their leaders. No one likes to be micro-managed, yet it is worth getting a company culture right. Edmonds makes clear that once the constitution is ratified, those who do not follow it should be asked to leave the company!

My tidbit… Regarding company culture, everyone should have similar internal and external behaviors. In other words, practice what you preach to customers. Workers should use the services your company offers and practice the underlying methodologies.

[i] S. Chris Edmonds. The Culture Engine. (Wiley, 2014).

[ii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-people-analytics-youre-not-a-human-youre-a-data-point-1424133771

[iii] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/best-practices-drive-results-gregg-lederman