In a recent blog post titled Can You Tell if Your Culture Is Broken?, I shared some insights on how someone inside a company could recognize a breakdown in their company’s culture. That disconnect between what you say you are, versus what you really are; the old, perception-versus-reality dilemma. And yet for all the hype given to the importance of “culture” why is it there are so many mismatches between employees and employers? The reason is due to the lack of chemistry, not culture.
You work with people not an organism.
We’re all different. We have different backgrounds, different experiences, likes, dislikes, and preferences. Each of us have our own unique personalities. What excites and interests me, may be totally boring to you. Things that scare me might energize or thrill you. That’s what makes the world go around.
Yet it’s so commonplace to find signs on company walls, or pages on company websites dedicated to touting its culture. Or better yet, how many of you have seen the big screen TVs in lobby areas that state the mission, vision and value statements of the company? Some companies go to extreme lengths to tell the world how wonderful they are. But saying so doesn’t make it so. People make up a culture. A culture is a living breathing thing, made up of individual personalities. It’s not static. It’s not permanent. It evolves. It’s people.
In Doris Kearns book Team of Rivals, she talks about how Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with a variety of individuals. Many, if not most, were opposed to Lincoln’s thinking on slavery, the war, and exactly how much power he had as President over the states. While I’m not a betting man, if I were to be, I would have bet against Lincoln’s experiment working. Then again, I would have completely underestimated his leadership abilities to bring people together and accomplish great things. The challenge of course was one of chemistry. How do you put together so many different personalities and get them to jell…to be effective working together? The answer is leadership.
Whether you’re assessing the chemistry between you and your boss, your peers, or the team that supports you, pay close attention to your intuition. How do you feel when you’re connecting or interacting with them? Does it feel natural? Forced? Valuable? Do you feel like you can accomplish anything working with them, or do you feel as if nothing will work, nothing will be good enough? Is that little voice saying “you’re so lucky to be here”, or “keep a keen eye open”?
No matter what the sign says in the lobby, or how many values your company posts on its website, it all comes down to chemistry. Can you jell? Chances are you won’t struggle to get along with Integrity, Innovation, and Accountability. Instead your challenge will be with Jack, Jill, and Jane Doe. Take the time to acknowledge your intuition. We were all given the hairs on the back of our necks for a reason. It’s not about optimism or pessimism. It’s about being pragmatic. Recognizing your reality and taking the appropriate action.
Keep your focus on people. Forget about the sign on the wall.