Do Your People Align With Your Corporate Culture?
Why do people stay with organizations and why do they go? What prompts someone to join a company or move to a new one, particularly if there isn’t much difference in salary or position? Thinking about this, I began to reflect back on my recent vacation.
While in Europe, my husband and I enjoyed a river boat cruise for seven days on the Rhone River from Lyon to Arles. During a briefing just before we sailed, John, our cruise director, told the 100 passengers about the many bridges the ship would pass under during our voyage (some of which would be lower than others). He said there would be times when passengers would need to follow the directions of the crew if we wanted to remain on the upper deck during a bridge crossing.
As we sat on deck watching the French countryside glide by, the crew began preparing for our first bridge. Both the sun canopies and the Captain’s wheelhouse were lowered and the crew began telling everyone that we must lie down, either on the deck or on the lounge chairs.
I realized this would never happen in Vancouver, Canada or North America. Passengers would be asked to leave the deck while we went under the bridges.
Another example of Europe in action was in Paris where 12 arteries joined into one massive traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe, where the only rule is that the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way. The circle is shared by cars, mopeds, and bicycles with riders that don’t wear helmets; yet everyone is fine.
I began to think about the parallel between countries and companies and the role that cultural norms and values play in our working lives. At Jouta, we are often asked by clients to help them build a culture of motivated employees that want to stay with the company.
The least desirable situation for humans and companies is probably the most common: when people work within a company where the cultural values and norms don’t align with their own. Many of those people eventually tire of working at such a company and choose to either leave or, even worse, stay.
So why don’t we do a better job of defining and aligning the cultural norms and values of our organizations? It’s often one of those areas that are considered HR mumbo jumbo, and yet everything that happens in an organization is driven by its cultural norms and values, whether or not they are written down.
Cultural norms and values usually originate with the entrepreneur who conceived the idea and built the business. Aligning the executive team’s values and beliefs with those of the entrepreneur and the company is critically important when growing a business because, if they are not aligned, the culture will fragment. Depending on the executive in charge, different areas of the company could develop different cultures, creating conflict and misunderstandings when inter-departmental cooperation is required. Our experience is that too many companies rush to implement new practices, only to have them ignored or misapplied because they didn’t align with the existing culture.
I am not saying executives should think alike, but they should share common values. Yet we rarely see companies who hire based on value fit, in part because they have not articulated what the values are. If you want employees to stay with you long term, ensure that you are clear about who the company is and what it really stands for. Then create practices around that. Whether you write them down or not, cultural values exist; so align to them.
The fabulous thing about businesses is they can be successful in many different ways—with or without following certain rules. Look at Europe and North America, chock full of different rules (some of which work better than others), but somehow things get done, even though they are managed in very dissimilar ways. The same variability occurs in business. Some organizations run like a European country with an emphasis on personal responsibility, while others have a culture more in line with North America, where rules are designed to protect people from themselves.
To what extent can people in your company be who they really are, and to what extent must they change to fit your corporate culture? Do you know what your cultural norms and values are? If you were the captain of a river boat with 100 passengers, would you allow the passengers to stay up on deck or would you keep them below each time you pass under a bridge?
By Cori Maedel, Chief Executive Officer
CEO, Jouta Performance Group Inc.
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