Culture Without Labels

Monday, November 4 2019

We hear a lot about culture: hiring for culture fit; how culture can help accommodate five generations in the workplace; or the five types of corporate culture….in fact, when I Googled “corporate culture” I got almost 1.5 billion links!

That’s a tremendous amount of information, so it should be a no-brainer to define what culture is and how it should look. And yet, when I asked a dozen people from the HR field to describe what corporate culture means for them and their organizations, each told me something different. They all provided a list of “must haves” to “fit” into their definition of culture such as:

  • “Millennials are our target as they have the same values we are promoting.”
  • “We want people with positive personalities.”
  • “If you are not a supporter of multiculturalism and diversity – you are not a right fit for us.”

I believe these “must have” labels are dangerous. Sorting everybody into boxes with preassigned labels might make our life simpler and our choices more obvious, but it can also lead to missed opportunities.

You might ask how can we create and support something without a strong definition? How can we make our choice without the list of distinctive features we should focus on?

My answer:  try discarding one label at a time.

Let’s start with the noise around five generations in the work force. I often see more differences between people from the same generation than between people from different ones. My teenage daughter is more “baby boomer” than my parents. Let’s forget about these generational differences and focus on individuals, their values and who they are. How will their differences enrich the rest of us?

The next big no-no for me is the “culture fit” concept. How can we achieve diversity and inclusion goals if the only people we are trying to bring on board are just like us, a right fit?  Why don’t we believe that a strong culture can influence an individual more than this person can influence the culture?

Finally, there is the definition of culture. More than 20 centuries ago, the philosopher Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Whether we like it not, we live in an era where the speed and magnitude of changes occur at an unprecedented rate. We can no longer make our choices and decisions based on static definitions. Corporate culture is not an exception. Even companies that boast positive and effective cultures should take a look at their definitions every year, more often if warranted. This constant attention will help secure the ongoing success of the organization.