5 Corporate Culture Myths

mr rogers

Mr. Rogers was a former Navy Seal. Gum takes seven years to digest. Refrigerating batteries makes them last longer. Hair grows back thicker after it’s shaved. The Great Wall of China is visible from space. Undercover police officers have to tell you they’re undercover if you ask them directly. Twinkies have an infinite shelf life. Vikings’ helmets had horns on them. Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death (right, CSI?). And of course, Facebook is going to start charging you next month for one reason or another.

What do the above have in common? You’re smart folks, so I’m sure you put it together. They’re myths that are still accepted by many as legit.

Do you happen to remember the first time you realized some of the above were myths? For some of you, that happened a long time ago; for others, maybe it was twelve seconds ago. (OK, fine. Until I was reading stuff for this post, I actually believed a few of those myths in the first paragraph; and no, I’m not telling you which ones.)

Myths affect us, right? The heights of the euphoria and immense sense of relief that swept over you when you realized that Facebook wasn’t going to begin charging you were matched only by the extreme depths of disappointment that pained your very soul after you came to know that Mr. Rogers wasn’t a stone-cold killer underneath that cardigan. (Come on. Admit it. How cool would that have been? His calling card phrase before offing someone would have been something chilling like “So long…neighbor.”)

Just like myths exist in pop culture, so too do they exist in the business world. Let’s take a quick look at a handful of myths relating to organizational culture.

1. Developing culture is a one-time event or project.

Culture development is an ongoing thing, whether you’re actively managing it or not. There are certainly culture-related projects that may have timeframes attached to them, but culture itself isn’t something that’s somehow completed in six months or a year because it’s not a thing that’s ever completed in the way we normally use that word. It is, and will continue to be, constantly evolving.

[bctt tweet=”Your #companyculture is always evolving, whether you’re intentionally managing it or not. #leadership”]

2. Culture doesn’t really have any bottom-line impact.

People used to make some version of this argument a lot, and I never bought it; but now it’s getting more and more difficult for anyone to make the argument at all. That’s because research and case studies and stories that show correlations between culture-related issues and organizational performance are everywhere now. Depending where you look, estimates are now that culture-related issues are costing organizations up over $500 billion a year in lost revenue. Studies — not to mention boatloads of anecdotal evidence — continue to point to the fact that culture has a real-world impact on an organization’s ability to operate and perform at a high level.

3. Hiring for “culture fit” or “core values fit” means you’re basically hiring people to be Stepford employees.

People sharing values does not necessitate them expressing those shared values in the same ways. Say an organization says having fun at work is a cultural value of theirs. Well, one person having fun at work will look different from another person having fun at work, but that doesn’t mean that either person is somehow more or less a culture fit than the other. Make sense?

For one person, it could mean scampering down the hallway, whistling show tunes, handing out candy like it’s a parade, and sprinkling employee-morale-boosting pixie dust all over the place — all at the same time. For another, it could be a far more subdued, but just as positive and sincere attitude, that’s expressed through laughing quietly with coworkers and watching in bemusement as the aforementioned teammate scampers, whistles, and sprinkles.

We don’t at all want organizations filled with core-value-regurgitating robots. We do want to work with folks whose values and purpose are similar to ours because we know that increases the likelihood of a mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and the team that makes it up.

4. There’s one precise culture formula or template that works for everyone.

Oh how I wish this were true. However, organizations are made up of humans, and are consequently as unique and complex as you’d expect a group of humans to be. They have their own group norms, customs, dynamics, structures, power dynamics, politics, posture towards innovation, and so on.

Every organization will move and shake and respond and evolve differently than any other organization, for better or worse. What works at one place may or may not work in the same way or even at all at another because specific tactics have to be tailored to specific organizations.

5. The CEO and/or Executive Team exclusively owns culture.

People sometimes say culture is a top-down thing, and in some sense this is true; but really, it’s not just the Executive Team’s job to drive culture; it’s everyone’s job to drive culture. It’s everyone’s thing. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. The CEO and Exec Team need to drive and champion the culture, and toxicity at the top can kill an organization’s culture. But a great culture is one that’s owned and lived and driven by all within the organization, not just those with a certain position.

[bctt tweet=”A great #companyculture is one that’s owned and lived by all within the organization. #leadership”]

So hey, all of us believe myths at one point or another. (Remind me to tell you about this Nigerian prince I got to help the other day after he emailed me!) But every once in a while it’s good to take a quick step back, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that Facebook’s not going to start charging you next month.


A version of this ran a while back over on CUInsight.

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