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If Company Culture Really is That Important…
Blog / Business Culture / Dec 13, 2019 / Posted by Ann Zaslow-Rethaber / 4357

If Company Culture Really is That Important…


Why Doesn’t Everyone Have a Great One?

The US is currently reporting the lowest unemployment figures since the 1950’s. As a direct result of this, many hiring managers and recruiters are not surprisingly experiencing markedly stronger Demand than Supply for mid to high-level candidates across the country.  This translates into companies having open positions remain unfilled longer because the candidate pool is smaller. We are also seeing many companies finding their attrition levels are increasing as their competition is enticing their employees to make a move.

So how can you increase the odds to attract and land highly coveted talent to join your team?

And even more important, how can you ensure that your current employees will not succumb to the siren song of your competitors?

Study after study tells us that millennials place a company’s culture at an equal or greater value than compensation when making a decision regarding their career.

It is therefore wise for companies to also place a great deal of weight on creating the type of culture that will be considered positive. Yet incredibly, the vast majority of companies in the US place minimal to zero effort into ensuring that they have a positive workplace in order to attract and retain staff, mistakenly believing that the singular most important factor is financial.

A famous management consultant, Pete Drucker, is credited with the quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, implying that culture is the most important ingredient for a company’s success

Assuming that once a company understands how important it is to have a good culture, they all will quickly have a wonderful one, right? Wrong. Because creating a positive company culture, or changing a bad one, is easier said than done.

So why don’t all companies that are aware of how critically important they are, have wonderful cultures?

Because make no mistake about it, every single organization has a culture, regardless if it was strategically designed and crafted, or if it just formed by happenstance.

Let’s talk about that. Note: this article will not delve into “how” a leader shapes culture. That topic will be discussed in a follow-up article.  The intent of this article is to discuss the fact that a consistent challenge for companies once they are aware of the importance of culture and make efforts to improve it, is the fact that people are generally resistant to change. It takes a very concerted, strategic effort to create a different culture. It can absolutely be achieved,  but understanding the challenges at the onset will make achieving the end goal easier.

Characteristics of Culture

What is culture?

In short – a culture is ultimately nothing more than a bunch of individual behaviors mixed together.

It is generally defined as the norms, beliefs, and values of a group of people, and it is often unconscious. As they say, “If you want to know about the water, don’t ask the fish”. The fish lives in the water, but it has never seen otherwise. People that have traveled to other organizations, other states, or other countries generally have a better understanding of the concept of culture than those who have not, as these experiences can open a person’s eyes to the notion that everyone and every place is not the same.

Where does culture come from? It is formed by the founder(s) of an organization. Take any organization, no matter how old, examine its culture, and you will find that it is almost always reflective of the organization’s roots.

Cultures are Deeply Rooted and Resistant to Change

If you search on for “change management”, you get over 20,000 results. If you do the same search for leadership, you get over 50,000 results. There is a reason for this. Both are incredibly complicated and have many variables. Change management primarily deals with changing organizational culture. It certainly can and has been done successfully many times, but it is challenging because cultures are typically anchored in years of human behavior, and it takes a concerted, focused effort to genuinely change them.  As recruiters, we occasionally get calls from companies requesting ‘a change agent’. Ultimately what they are looking for is a manager that can come in, accurately assess the organization, and begin to shape it in a positive way. These types of leaders are unsurprisingly rare and in high demand.

Cultures are ingrained because most people are wired in a way in which they find their comfort zone and they don’t care to move out of that zone, even if it is no longer working. In the book, ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, author Spencer Johnson tells an incredibly simple story about two mice in a maze, yet it is a best seller because it captures the essence of how most people resist change; even change that is needed for sustainment and survival! Often, not just one, two, three, but all four wheels have to fall off the car before someone is willing to change. That is too late. Let us share a humorous illustration of why cultures are enduring; sometimes illogically enduring, even to the detriment of the team as a whole.

Cultures Aren’t Always Logical

In our world today, change is happening at exponential speeds. What we did 20 years ago may have made perfect sense then. However, much has changed since and if we don’t raise our hand and ask questions, we can find ourselves doing things that make no sense. Cultures often work like this.

5 Monkeys in a Cage

To illustrate this, let us share with you a great story that provides a fantastic example of how behavior can be passed on to others within an organization, regardless of whether it is good for the team as a whole.

An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.

The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.

This illustrates how we sometimes fail to think about why we do the things we do. If we are not careful, we end up carrying on blind traditions that may have been supported by good reason at one time in history, but no longer make any sense at all.

It’s a valuable task to do a periodic review of your current policies, to ensure that they all genuinely do make sense, as opposed to just being the way things have always been done. Having fresh eyes on a company’s protocols is an added benefit from hiring outside the company on occasion. But that is yet another topic to cover at a future date. And before we talk about how to go about changing a culture, we must first understand why people are resistant to change, in order to most effectively overcome those objections.

Understanding the motivation to keep things as they are, creating people to be resistant to change, needs to be addressed in order to be conquered.

Hopefully, after reading this article, we can all pay more attention to creating positive work environments and overcoming the natural reaction of some to be resistant to those positive changes.

As always, we look forward to your feedback. Please let us know your experiences with company cultures and what has worked best for you when tasked with changing your teams work environment. We just may interview you for our next article!

About Author

A recruiter since 1996, president of International Search Consultants, a global executive recruiting firm launched in 1999. ISC has become one of the country’s most reputable search firms, earning more recommendations on Linked In than any other 3rd party recruiting agency in the entire country.


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