If you’ve been in the HR biz long enough you’ve surely seen your share of well-intentioned programs fall flat on their face. In fact, you’ve probably championed a few of these programs yourself – I know I certainly have! Now having the benefit of a few years of work under my belt I’ve come to the conclusion that most failures are due to one simple fact: we don’t really understand how the culture of the company drives performance. As a result, we propose programs that don’t hit their mark – at best and often times make things worse! Yes, you could hire any number of fancy consultants to help you figure out your culture but you’re better off saving your money. All you really need to do is ask enough people in your organization this question:
Tell me about where you work?
I told you it was a simple question. But in my experience, the answers you get are actually reveal quite a bit about the core culture of your company. Why? Because you’re likely to find that your culture falls into one of 3 categories.
The Mission-Driven Culture – The person giving this answer talks first about what it is the company has set out to accomplish and how what they’re doing is driving towards that objective. They talk about a world where they work they’re doing will impact a person or society for the better. They’re passionate about the cause and would probably do the work for free!
The Expertise Culture – This person immediately jumps into the detailed minutia of the work they’re responsible for doing. They’re telling you about the complexities, the challenges, and why it’s really cool and interesting. And they’re probably speaking in tech-jargon that you don’t fully understand!
The People Culture – This person is all about the people they work with on a day to day basis. You’ll hear stories about the caliber of people, their intellect or just that there are some really great people to interact with. You’ll probably hear about friendships that have developed as well.
Yes, your culture can (and likely does) have elements of all three but I’d be shocked if there wasn’t one that was slightly more dominant. Why is this important? Well, I go back to my original point – if your goal is to have your culture drive performance and you design programs to support a mission-driven culture when in fact you’ve gotten an expertise driven culture, it’s going to fail. As much as you may think people are getting up every day and coming to work to help the world become a better place by developing the next iPhone they’re probably coming to work because they love the technical challenge. You’d be much better served by focusing your efforts on making sure there are some really challenging technical questions to work on instead! So the next time you get inspired to introduce a new initiative, make sure you don’t forget to ask this simple question.