Born in Paris Raised Everywhere – Cultural Mélange

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Having spent a few days at Illinois SHRM this week my head is buzzing trying to categorize and manage all the new names, faces, concepts, ideas, facts and figures.  The conference was just a great learning experience for me and based on the widely imitated but rarely matched, quick non-scientific “Paul Hebert Poll,” it was a great use of time for many of the attendees.  Lot’s ‘0 Info!  Major props and shout-outs to the conference organizers and volunteers (special nod to @SabrinaLBaker who ran this event like a boss.)

Engagement and Culture

There were a lot of sessions at #ILSHRM13 focused on the traditional transactional part of doing great HR – but there were a few about culture and engagement (one of those might just have been me…) and I attended as many as I could.  I heard a couple of folks say things like “you can’t change culture” or “your culture is hard to change” or “you have no control over culture.”

I’m hoping they were putting an implied “you personally and alone” in front of or next to those statements.  That then would be a true statement.

Individually it is almost impossible to change a company’s culture (unless you’re like Dr. King or Gandhi – those guys were pretty special and pretty much changed things through sheer force of will – oh, and by enlisting an army of change agents.)

But when I hear that kind of talk, I think we resign too easily in face of tough company culture problems.  I often hear that culture is too engrained because the company was built out of a “sales” culture or an “engineering” culture and therefore they think it will always be that way.

Where Are You From?

I heard something the other day that struck me as a great way to think of culture in a company – and as an individual. Someone on a talk show about food said…

“I was born in NY but raised in Chicago and my food style reflects that.”

They gist of the comment was they were a mash up of those two cities and their approach to their recipes was based on the experiences in each.

Born Here – Raised There

Now, I have a bit of a problem when I have to answer the question of – “Where are you from.”

It’s tough because I was born in Paris, France, and lived in California, Alabama, Virginia, Tokyo Japan, upstate NY, Ohio (Dayton, Columbus, Dayton, Columbus – yeah I yo-yo’d back and forth), Minneapolis, Kentucky and South Carolina.

So how should I answer that “where are you from question?”  Most people would say they are from where they were born – but I was born in Paris – didn’t stay long and then never really stayed in one place too long after that. (Military – not witness protection.)  I’m not French.  I’m not Cali, nor am I “southern,” or Asian.

I am an amalgam of all the places I’ve been.  That is what makes up “me” – my personality, my behavior, my approach to life, my personal “culture” so to speak.

And your business is the same.

Your culture isn’t what you were “born” into.  And it’s not just the last place you landed.

Your company culture is an amalgam.  Each change in market, each new product, each new person you hire – subtly, quietly, profoundly, changes your culture.

Being in HR you CAN have a role in changing culture through:

  • Who you hire.
  • Who you fire.
  • Who you promote.
  • Who you reward.
  • How you do all the above.

Now – you’re not alone in this quest.  Marketing, Sales, Ops, Finance – they all contribute to the culture stew as well.

Culture is a mélange… and the fact that you don’t see quick and sudden changes to it when you want it – doesn’t mean it isn’t changing.  Trust me… it’s changing.

You and your company may have been born one place… but I’ll guarantee it’s been raised like me – all over the place.

And that surely impacts your culture.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Vice President of Solution Design at Symbolist. Paul’s mission is to humanize the business relationships needed to drive greater employee, channel and customer loyalty. His is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? And are there psychological principles that drive your employees’ behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow.

2 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Paul,

    Love the story of your life as a metaphor for culture. It reminds me so much of my company. We started out as a diversified industrial holding company and starting in 2004 divested all of our industrial businesses (aerospace, automotive, marine, industrial) to become a pure play medical device company in 2011. We grew the medical business by acquisition, of which some companies were just tech start-ups, but others were well known brands and strong cultures (one more than 100 years old). And we have never been pushy about culture, allowing a lot of the acquired companies to infect our culture with theirs. So your story kind of sounds like ours.

    Last year our EMEA business decided to introduce a culture and they started a dialog with employees culture about who we want to be. That dialog has traveled to Asia and is coming the North America. I’m a little cynical about whether it will work, but I’m keeping an open mind about it and enjoying the conversations. I like what you said at the end of your piece about how HR can influence culture, especially “how you do all the above”.

    Merci.

    Reply
  2. bien dit Paul! I am a bit of an international mongrel myself.. lived and worked in France. Switzerland, UK , Spain , California ‘s Corporate HR & staffing circus oops I mean industry for ten years and now back on a Spanish island off the Coast of Africa working in a global recruitment/HR role for a sales and marketing company. I spend my days interviewing via Skype a variety of European candidates. Sales reps interview bullshit smells identical in various languages ! I married a Spaniard and have bilingual childred raised in UK US and Spain. I speak 3 languages fluently and would agree that you are not ” where you are from” in Life – you are ” where you are” and sometimes you carry where you have been and where you are going -and if you are smart enough you can cherry pick all of the best bits from your life menu and discard the rest -

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