Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Does corporate culture matter?

I know that you typically turn to this site for my witty witticisms, crude/hilarious cartoons and leaked pictures of my abs*. I thank you for that. 

But today I want to talk about culture. Corporate culture. Actually, talk is a misnomer. Rant is what I want to do. I want to rant.

There’s a lot of lip service given to corporate culture. Heck, there’s a lot of time and money and energy given to it as well. In all likelihood, you’ve probably heard something along these lines:

“We’re creating a culture of success.”
“We want to foster a camaraderie culture.”
“Here at Corporation X**, our goal is to implement a culture of caring.”

If a corporation truly embraces and commits to these virtues—even at the sacrifice of potential profit—then I have nothing to rant about.

But that’s the rare exception, isn’t it?

How many companies are brave enough or honest enough to face the hard truth that the culture they think they have isn’t the one they actually have?

I’ve worked at and worked with a wide range of corporate clients and I’m continually disappointed to see how many have a culture of fear***, whether they intend to or not. Buildings packed with people too afraid to make a decision one way or another. Boardrooms filled with people unable to share their honest opinion. Cubicles staffed by people who are forced to suffer inhumane indignities under the guise of efficiency.  

These corporations would probably even describe their corporate culture in positive terms: “extremely collaborative”, “very creative”, “pretty fun”.

But can a place be “extremely collaborative” if its employees are siloed off in different departments?
Is it fair to say a place is “very creative” if you can’t even paint the walls the colors you’d like?
Are places that block employee access to websites, like ESPN or YouTube, “pretty fun”?

To me, culture is the cumulative alignment of words and action.

Every time a corporation implements a policy that is counter to its predominant culture, it isn’t being honest with what it is. Now, that can be a good thing if your culture is one of fear and you’re actively working to change that. But it’s a bad thing if you think you’re at an innovative company, and yet nothing ever seems to change.

Thankfully, I’m lucky enough to work in an industry that values casual attire, occasional swearing and male-patterned baldness. Which, knowing my jinx track record, will mean that I’ll have to start wearing toupees to every corporate client meeting.

*What? Those haven’t leaked yet?
**If there’s actually a “Corporation X” out there, my apologies in advance.
***I do find it interesting that “culture” is a wholly white-collar luxury. Maybe I’m over simplifying things, but when I worked as a dishwasher at a family restaurant, I didn’t care what the “culture” was. I knew that I was making four bucks and hour and if I didn’t get the dishes out fast enough then customers wouldn’t have a plate on which to eat. If “sloppy and humid” is a culture, then that was it.