Thoughts on CulturePosted: May 25, 2010
Three years with barely an update, now I’m at least cranking out content on a once a week basis. I only know of a couple of people who still read my rantings, but it feels good to express opinions after 4 years of attempting to claw my way to middle management by biting my tongue and playing nicely. What a perfect segue into my thoughts on culture.
If virtual ink were a tradable commodity, I’m sure there’d be a playboy trading magnate who made his entire family fortune from selling virtual ink to people who like to write about what makes one company’s culture so successful versus another. So I suppose I’m walking a well-trodden path, but after spending much time analyzing why culture can go from good to bad, there are a couple of things to do (or not do):
Hire Slow, but Make Hiring Easy
Choose your employees very carefully. Only hire the best. One bad apple will certainly spoil the bunch, but make it easy to bring people on. If it takes more than 2 weeks from when the candidate is identified, after the interviews have completed, from the day they could start, your HR processes are broken and you need to fix HR.
As I said earlier, a bad apple spoils the bunch. If you have a low performer, move them out quickly. Give them a month or two of severance, apologize for it not working out, and wish them the best with a good reference. Just because they’re not working out at your company does not mean they will add no value anywhere.
Accountability, Accountability, Accountability
Failure happens, even at the best companies. Adjust, move on, but hold people accountable. This doesn’t mean your first or second failure means you should exit, it simply means if you’re not being successful then it needs to be analyzed and corrected. Maybe you’re in the wrong seat on the bus. Nothing frustrates your workforce more than seeing someone still in the same position, still failing, a year after it was obvious to everyone they weren’t succeeding. Your personal relationships can be difficult to untangle from your business relationships, but the phrase “it’s not personal, it’s just business” exists for a reason. Everyone should be measured, graded, and held responsible for the areas for which they are accountable.
“What Gets Measured Gets Managed”
Everyone’s heard this quote. S.M.A.R.T. goals, etc. You would think it’s a bunch of management school bullshit that they teach to people to allow them to become HR Generalists. You would think that, until you’ve been somewhere it isn’t practiced. The fish out of water analogy is a very graphic way of describing an organization where the rank and file are flapping around without direction. Goals should be clear, everyone should be marching in lock step towards achieving them. Giving your teams freedom to work on their own is awesome, in moderation. An organization where everyone is marching to their own drum breeds frustration and malicious compliance.
Ok, so it’s not a word. It conveys the point though. Being wishy-washy, constant direction changing, and a lack of consistency will drive morale through the floor. Nothing will demoralize a group of people who have been working hard towards a goal than to see that goal shift, morph, move, etc, on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t guide the ship, correct course, and be proactive about hitting a moving target. However, large scale about-faces will certainly destroy productivity.
Most of the points were written on what not to do, but these points are very binary. Each has two sides of the coin, the right way to function and the wrong way. Avoid the wrong way, the right way finds itself. Create a performance culture, foster a meritocracy, and smart and motivated people will find their way to you. An organization full of the best people has no option but to succeed.