If Work Culture Matters, Then Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Posted on March 19, 2014. Filed under: Career Management, Work Issues | Tags: , |

workplace cultureIf you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you have probably noticed that I have been approaching the subject of workplace culture from just about every side over the past several months. The main reason is because HR and career strategists have been touting it as the #1 issue or trend for 2014. It’s all the buzz.

[Plus, every time I bring up workplace culture, I get in a bit of trouble for some reason. So, like the little kid that I still am, I keep doing it. :-)]

BUT there is a very good reason why I do: Client after client after client tells me the same thing. Culture matters, matters, matters to them, but the more companies keep talking about it and implementing “new” programs, the more unhappy they generally seem to be. They sometimes even like the new concepts…more flex time, open forums, brainstorming sessions, less silos, etc. But even with that, they still don’t seem all that happy.

So, obviously, then, something isn’t working.

I have two very unscientific theories for why I think this is, but they are based on lots of experience listening to working professionals and discussing career advancement with them:

1. Employees expect “good” culture to be given to them.

2. Companies think they can do what no other civilization has done before them: successfully define and enforce their idea of “good” culture in a way that doesn’t ultimately lead to revolt.

Listen. It’s wonderful that everyone wants a great working environment, a place where all are valued and respected. But that is where the consensus generally ends because everyone’s perception of what that is and how that should realistically play out is shaped differently…and it is very difficult to bring that into one harmonious reality!

For most people, culture is external…something out there that they must interact in.

So they care about it. They want the atmosphere at work to be right. They want to like what they do and where they do it. Therefore, they pressure their companies to make the environment better. They see greener pastures all around. They’re convinced if the company would just do something to get it right, they would be more productive and stay longer.

Generally speaking, I  think we can all relate with this feeling. BUT at the same time, basically, we are saying that the conditions around us must be just right or we can’t/won’t perform to our best. Hmmm.

The trouble is, of course, that there are 50-100-500-1000 people around us in the office that all feel exactly the same way, but they don’t agree on what those perfect conditions should be like. They just know it is someone else’s responsibility to fix it….or….

So off goes corporate…doing what corporate does…taking polls, implementing programs, forming committees, plastering mantras, conducting workshops, training evangelists…anything it can think of to create “good” culture…again, whatever that is exactly.

Back in my corporate leadership days, we were inundated with calls to improve our culture and respect our “brand,” in particular, for recruiting purposes. And that was before social media!

I mean, you have to admit that companies have poured more energy and resources into defining culture and branding in the last several years than ever before…and yet the polls show more people are leaving jobs because of culture than ever before (of course, companies have laid more people off than perhaps ever before too).

In the technical world especially, the more companies try, the more techies run the other way. And everyone is left scratching their heads.

Why can’t we all just get along?

The truth is, well, we just can’t. We try. We do our best. But we can’t. Conflict happens. (Think about it, if we could, we’d have much better marriages and family relations…all things that matter more than work, right?)

And although we might follow the Golden Rule, not everyone else follows it in return. Or maybe they think they do even if we think they don’t! It’s a rabbit hole that can tie leadership up in never-ending circular arguments. (I remember a previous manager of mine who was sent off to “be nice” seminars for 2 weeks. She came back transformed in such an inauthentic way that we were literally begging for her to go back to her true not-so-nice self!)

Sure there are magical moments of collaboration, unity, respect…all great things…where we start to think we just might have landed some “good” culture…until the wind changes direction and people do what people do: change jobs.

Truthfully, the best innovations, as history bears out, usually come out of the harshest conditions…necessity and all. But we aren’t really willing to endure that. Or we are as long as people aren’t involved. 🙂

Listen. Workplace culture matters…much in the same way it matters to us whether people like us.

We can say that we don’t care about that, but of course we do. Life tends to be easier when people like us.

But not everyone does like us. And at some point, we have to accept it or at least figure out what we are willing to accept.

The last thing we would ever want, however, is for someone to “make” them like us or to “make” us like them. When that happens, you can be sure a revolution is just around the corner.

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Baby Booming to a Millennial Beat in Today’s Workplace

Posted on January 27, 2014. Filed under: Career Management, Job Market Trends, Retirement, Work Issues | Tags: , |

retirementIt certainly is an interesting time to be a professional, especially if you work in the technical arena. Now, more than ever, companies are putting more and more stock into discussions about “culture,” and “cultural fit” is of paramount importance to seemingly everyone. (My HR friends tell me it is ALL anyone cares about.)

The problem, of course, is that culture doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody (except maybe in the vague, general sense of “a nice place to work where all are valued”). And it is especially convoluted when it comes to the mixing of generations in the workplace.

In today’s world of work, with Baby Boomers working longer and with more and more Millennials entering the marketplace, the concept of culture and work environment is taking on a whole new meaning.

And the Millennials appear to be winning.

Companies are now putting huge amounts of resources into massive recruitment campaigns that cater to the work culture Millennials say they crave. Here are some of the things these young workers are looking for:

  • A “flat” work environment. Studies show that because they all received trophies in their childhood sports leagues just for showing up and because their parents let them have a say in making family decisions, the idea of a strict hierarchy in the workplace is not appealing. They expect a seat at the table…just because they are there, not because they have earned it.
  • Immediate attention. With the world at their fingertips, literally, Millennials are used to getting an immediate response. So they want feedback, positive feedback, and they want it now.
  • To work when they feel like it. Generally speaking, they want to make their own hours and to work from their own space. They are asking for more “me” time.
  • To get promoted faster. Although they respond in polls that titles and money “don’t matter” to them, they do seem to want promotions…and they don’t want to wait for them.

To read the latest in HR news, you would think these concepts are revolutionary and “new.” (When I started my first professional job, I thought I had a lot to say and I thought I should be promoted every few months too. So I’m not sure what is new about that exactly.) Of course, these same HR pundits also say that these Millennials have poor skills and don’t seem to be prepared for the professional work environment.

So where does this leave the Baby Boomers?

Well, if you’re like one of my recent clients, in a tough spot. After attending a workshop hosted by her employer’s HR department that was supposed to be a discussion on how the different generations need to respect one another, she walked away with a clear directive: Get on board the Millennial train. Millennials were told to try and be patient with these “poor” Boomers who didn’t grow up with text messaging and computers and who are more resistant to change, while Boomers were told not to “fear” the ultra-creative, innovative, fast-paced genius of their Millennial counterparts…even if they do lack basic professional skills and etiquette. But one thing was clear: It was out with the old and in with the “new”.

And hey, what about us Gen-Xers?

Apparently us Gen-Xers caught in the middle, well, we’re just confused…especially now that so many of us are stuck on corporate structuring panels implementing these Millennial cultural must-haves. What else can we do? Either we try and stretch out our cool, hip youth or we grow conservative and more traditional…either way we seem to lose.

(As a 40-something client told me recently, “I just want the company to be solvent and to offer me upward mobility and a certain sense of stability because, well, I have a house to pay for and kids to support and little hope of a pension. I don’t have retirement just a few short years away, and I stopped living with my parents a long time ago…so….yes culture matters but these other things matter more.”)

Maybe the part I find most interesting in the whole discussion is that no where does anyone seem to be talking about what’s best for business. I know, I know…companies are bad, greedy, etc. But, hey, like my client said, they do need to be solvent, right? I see lots of justifications for the Millennial culture about how companies will be more innovative if they succumb to it, but that’s more of a side note than a real cause-and-effect argument based on longevity and history or any real facts.

So, yes, culture is important.

But what that culture should be like and how it should operate is not a done deal…or is it? Now that so many companies are defining their work cultures in such a public way, through social media campaigns and online videos, are they really willing to sink or swim with them? Or will they just ride whatever tide comes along next?

Either way, Baby Boomers will find themselves marching to the Millennial beat….at least for the short term. And Gen-Xers, well, apparently we are just all out of tune.

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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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