Perception, Reality, and Stealing Employees

Posted on December 30, 2013. Filed under: Career Management, Job Market Trends, Recruiting, Work Issues | Tags: , |

cultural fit[I’ve been posting a good deal of content lately that has generated some great discussions on my Twitter and Google+ feeds. As a result, I wanted to post a follow-up to some of the feedback I’ve been getting.]

So recently I published a post called “Does Your Career Hinge on Perception or Reality?” The main discussion in this post “hinged” on a particular management style laid out to a friend of mine by her newly appointed telecom director in which he stated that to him the perceptions of those around you made up “reality.” In other words, how your staff and colleagues saw you was how he saw you and it didn’t really matter whether you agreed, if it were “true,” etc. What mattered is that it was up to you (as his direct report) to fix it.

At no point during her meeting with this new director did he mention results or performance or objectives. He kept it all to culture.

One thing I did not mention in that post is that he also went on to tell my friend that because some colleagues perceived her to be argumentative that he would not at that point consider her for a promotion. When she asked about other measures, such as results, performance, etc., he said that they were less relevant to him. When she mentioned that she had the highest ratings of any manager in the entire company (and it is a VERY LARGE company) for employee satisfaction, he said, “yes, but your peers are not happy.”

Now, I’m not exactly sure what the end game of this conversation was supposed to be, but he clearly wanted to get his point across that culture matters, and in his mind, it rests on the perceptions of everyone around you (I did bring up the point that I am not sure how he reconciled differences of opinion per se). As a result of this post, I received some great comments from around the blogosphere. So I thought I would share them here:

  • “Both [perception and reality] are important aspects!” by Jill S.
  • “All decisions are based on perception! Whether perception is right or wrong will determine the outcome.” by Bruce G.
  • “Whose perception/reality?” by Denton H.
  • “I care about what other people think, but I can’t always ‘fix’ that, especially in my job. Sometimes I just have to move forward doing the best I can.” by Stacey S.
  • “Your friend’s opinion should matter too in how he weighs things. Otherwise, she really has no way of defending herself.” by Joe T.

I’m not sure we can really resolve the philosophical debate about whether perception is always reality, etc., but I do think this managerial style in regard to culture is interesting (and was the real point of my post).

How responsible are we for cultural fit? And does culture trump performance in the workplace?

Because the “reality” for my telecom friend is that her performance results are very good and her employee turnover is very low (these are not perceptions; they are measurable reality). The “argumentative” comment is coming from peers who do not have these numbers and who have shown weakness in some areas, which my friend has voiced her concern over…whether her approach was “argumentative” or not is, well, a perception made by underperforming colleagues, which she felt she was trying to help when she voiced her concern. Now, she is being asked to fix that perception regardless of the reality of the situation with these colleagues.

In my mind, it brings up an interesting discussion in regard to all the initiatives to make “culture” more of a hiring/promotion issue. Just how much should it matter?

And that is where the “stealing employees” part comes in.

In another post, “Getting Stuck in the LinkedIn Wasteland,” I made the comment that recruiters like to “steal” employees away from other companies. Not surprisingly, this drew a little bristle from some of my recruiter pals who essentially said, “We don’t ‘steal’ candidates; they want to leave out of dissatisfaction with their current corporate ‘culture.'” (I will admit maybe “steal” is a little harsh, but surely “entice” would be fair. My point in the post was that recruiters prefer currently employed candidates over unemployed ones…they like to “woo”…a pronouncement they don’t like to admit but one that bears out in their actions.)

So, there it is…”culture” again.

This belief that people jump jobs primarily based on “cultural fit.” It sounds nice, and I would imagine if you took a survey, many candidates would rank it highly (creating a nice “perception”). But I don’t see it played out in “reality” very often.

Most candidates, especially technical candidates, are looking for an environment that is relevant to their experience and interests. And that pays them decently…with good benefits…and won’t go bankrupt or lay them off in a year or two. Even with this ongoing “war for talent” in the tech arena, candidates still don’t seem to be prioritizing culture over the basics…a thriving company offering competitive pay and room for advancement…as much as companies are banking on them doing.

Somehow techies are being perceived as only caring about the “cool” factor (offices without walls!) and about flex time, and these are the tools being used to try to “steal” or “entice” them away. It’s not surprising, then, that they are not being all that effective either. Many top tech pros aren’t leaving, even when they don’t “love” everything about the culture.

The reason? Because results, opportunity, and performance matter more.

Yes, it would be nice to have a boss who worries about how you perceive him or her. But it is much nicer to have one that recognizes the results of your work and rewards you for it (with more than just letting you wear jeans to work).

I mean, don’t get me wrong, the young, hip vibe has its perks, but eventually you get tired of being treated like a college kid. You grow up and understand that everyone isn’t “nice” all the time and that sometimes out of “argumentative” debate come the best ideas.

And you want real recognition for the real work you’ve done, not because you beat everyone at the cultural perception game.

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2 Responses to “Perception, Reality, and Stealing Employees”

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Ah… well culture can work against you in the interview process as well. During a few recent interviews I have mentioned that I don’t care for the ‘fit’ of my current position, and when pressed for details, I mention how I just don’t care for the culture of the current company. Some have seen that as a positive, meaning that I am looking for somewhere I can be comfortable long term… while others have seen it as a direct negative… thinking I am bad-mouthing my current company. It is a bit of tightrope.

Yet culture is important. Especially in IT. Too often we are seen only as ‘firemen’ looking to fix whatever problem is at hand… many of us though want to be deeply involved in driving business, improving the company and getting bottom line results… yet since we are viewed as just ‘technicians’ it is hard to rise above it.

[…] I have waxed philosophical about perception versus reality, I have asked just how much culture should matter in the workplace, and I have discussed the age of systems thinking in the workplace. In each case, I have received […]


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