Pearls of company culture — cultured pearls?

Big Red Car here.  Turned out to be a nice day in the ATX.  Getting a bit sunny.  Big Red Car likes sunny.

So The Boss was talking to one of his CEOs about the issue of a company’s culture.  An interesting and timely chat, indeed.

What the Hell does The Boss know about company culture anyway?

The Boss has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of two meaningful enterprises.  One was private and had international investors with substantial real property assets.  One was public and had multi-unit, multi-state operating units.  He ran each one for 12 years each.  That’s a long time.

Each of these companies had a distinctive and different culture.  In neither company did it happen by accident.

If you know The Boss, you know he is a driven type of personality and that he leaves an imprint on any organization with which he in involved.  He can’t help himself.  Poor baby!  [Better watch yourself, Big Red Car, The Boss may not think that is funny and you may spend the summer in the garage.]

Cultural imprint

The Boss’s first experience with “culture” was in the Army in which he served in elite units whose very nature was that of almost a cult.  In the Army, all officers are trainers who must train their units to accomplish a mission which is precise, specific and non-negotiable.  The training flows from the mission.

In this manner, Army officers imprint their own personalities on a unit and its performance is a function of the strength of the leadership of the unit commander.  This application of leadership is the same in business and the military.  The leader’s vision and expression of the mission and strategy of the enterprise are the foundation building blocks of the enterprise.  It does not happen by accident.

Remember our little graphic from the other day?  Click on it to see it at a bigger size.

The military speaks of “esprit de corps” or “morale” or “unit cohesion” — as the yardsticks held up to describe qualitative measures of culture.

They also test like Hell with unannounced annual tests to see if the unit as a whole can perform their war time mission.  This is in addition to individual general soldier skills like marksmanship and physical fitness.  MOS (military occupational specialty) skills like explosives and fortification construction and attacking a developed position are also tested at the subunit level.  The Army is tough on testing at the individual, subunit and company level.

The best performing companies have strong leaders and strong company cultures.  There are no exceptions.

And, when a unit does not pass its tests, the Army replaces the unit commander.  Immediately.

How important is company culture?

There is a bit of a “gee whiz, Mom, look what I made” note to the discussion of company cultures in the Internet Age but apparently companies are willing to make hiring decisions based on something called “culture fit”.

These decisions are veto proof decisions, as if culture fit were the single most important element of a prospective employee’s fitness for hiring.

Is that correct?

How would you recognize a strong company culture?

The big question is how would you recognize and measure a company culture?  Test it for strength or measure its elasticity?   Huh, Big Red Car, how would you do that?

Well the Big Red Car is going to waffle just a bit on those questions and suggest that sometimes the culture of a company (such as Special Forces or Navy SEALs or Apple?) is so strong that one does not “fit” but rather begs to join to be transformed into a fit.  You do not have to worry about whether someone fits, they will be made to fit by the culture itself.  A transformational culture?

Let me say that again — the individual conforms to the culture rather than the culture having to be a good fit for the individual.

In the weeks ahead, we are going to explore the elements of culture — how it is identified, measured, created and strengthened.

We will explore actual, real world applications because like sex this generation did not invent company culture.

Stay tuned.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.

Have a great weekend and be nice to someone who looks like they are having a tough day.  Buy someone a bagel and a cup of coffee.  You are a great person.  Let everybody else in on that secret.