8 Minute Read

Not Dead Yet…Culture

I’ve written before about things that are not dead (but people like to insist they are). Job boards, resumes, phone screens.

Today I want to write about something that’s been pronounced DOA despite it’s relatively recent foray into the HR ring.

Culture. Although culture and engagement were the buzzwords du jour just a fewjours ago, today I find myself reading more about how they are the proverbial wool being pulled over the eyes of all the HR sheep.

And it burns my britches. Here’s why:

I work with a lot of people who have created solutions to fix this problem. As in, not a recruiting solution, or a listening solution, or an onboarding solution or an end to end HRMS, like a solution JUST for engagement. Are they working in vain? Does it matter that their work addresses a problem that is…not there?

Well, not really. In fact, Kimberly Patterson of Unconventional HR addressed this just today! She wrote:

When you think about the workplace, think of how unreasonable it sounds to gather up strangers from all walks of life, put them in a building and expect a daily “kumbaya” while earning a profit.

While people’s behavior can’t be fixed in a few hours, there was one point that I reiterated over and over. We don’t have to agree with people or even like them to respect them. Understand that when managers hire people, they’re hired for the talent and diversity they can bring to the company. It doesn’t make them wrong, just different. So when there are times that we don’t like our coworkers, ease up. We don’t have to like them. But we have to be cooperative and respectful so that the work can get done.

Work isn’t about who we like or don’t like while we’re there. It’s about our contribution to the organization. #leaveyouregoatthedoor

As it happens, I agree. Culture does exist, whether we like it or not. And often it’s not at the hands of the CEO or the executive team. Very often, it’s there, in the team that sweats and works every day to get projects, deliverables, widgets out the door. If HR is part of that group and interacts with them, great, then HR is part of that culture and innovation. If not, yikes.

I am running my own company and trying really hard to instill a culture into our days/weeks/months/life. Is this a fool’s errand? Does it make sense to even try? Or will my efforts ultimately fail?

Laurie Ruettimann, cynical girl, punk rock HR queen and the only person I know with an expletive for a middle name, wrote this:

For years, I’ve been saying that your company doesn’t have a culture. 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. That’s it. Your shitty software company or little marketing agency doesn’t have a culture — it has a CEO and a leadership team that has particular points of view about how work should “feel.”

You? You show up and go along with the flow. You cash your check. If you don’t like the vibe in the office, you eventually quit. I’m on record saying that “culture” is what we talk about when a company’s products and services are unremarkable. We pay employees in culture when we can’t pay them in cash.

Sad trombone indeed! I took a wildly unscientific poll here at our little marketing agency and by and large, we all agreed that we certainly do have a culture. And while, as CEO, I’d like to think our “work hard, play hard, be passionate about HR Tech every day of your lives” culture (my preference obvs) is the one we have, it’s not. Our culture started the day Eric Foutch walked in and has changed and grown with every new hire. (Also if I am in charge of it, would someone please tell these people? They do not know that.)

Finally, the lack of belief that a) culture exists and b) that it’s something worth trying to impact and build; frustrates me because I do want to believe the world of work can get and be better than what generations before came up with and/or experienced. Because honestly, just because I had to go through something doesn’t mean the generations that come later (i.e. employees today, millennials, whatever) should have to go through the same thing. If that were true, we’d be a remarkably petty and punitive society (and basically be living in The Jungle). We have new technology and the ability to create different workspaces and cultures than we did before.

Now I will say that my marketing agency is very little. My best is that culture is easier at 20 than it is at 2000 or 20000. But I am encouraged by the efforts of leaders like Kelly Robinson, who together with his team, created a culture that transcends growth, mergers, acquisitions, multiple international locations and persists even when all the executive team is out of the office. That’s culture that’s damn near palpable.

I think in the end, my ethos aligns most closely with that of Robin Schooling, who has this to say:

I think by now we all have a pretty clear sense of what company culture is: the collective behavior of the people who are part of the organization as formed by organizational values, norms, systems, beliefs, symbols and traditions. Culture affects the way individual employees and groups interact with each other as well as how they interact with customers, clients and other stakeholders. It’s the foundation that impacts ‘how stuff gets done.’

In any given organization, there is not one person (or group) who defines culture. There is not one person (or group) who owns it. There is not one person (or group) who controls it. Yet many who work in HR and Recruiting (or, sometimes, those who advise them) dash around in misguided efforts to categorize their culture as something it’s not.

Culture. It’s not dead yet, least not around these parts. What about you? Do you think culture is overrated, boring? Do you think culture is an important part of the workplace or just another buzzword that makes HR’s job harder?