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How Is Your Culture Affecting Your Success?

By Rob Zell:

It’s soccer season again and I’m reminded how culture and fit impact performance. Your organization depends on both elements to be successful. If you ignore the impact of culture and fit, you are doomed to fail. In this post, I’ll be discussing a bit of both.

I was reminded of fit this evening after speaking to a parent who wants to pull her child from my team of eight year old soccer players. She has some very compelling arguments as to why he should no longer play, the main reason being that he has never played the sport. Imagine being dropped into the design and development space at Valve computer games directed to code the next great game and you have no experience coding! Granted, my boys’ team isn’t World Cup caliber, but they have played for a few years and at least know the basics. In recreational soccer, I don’t have the luxury of “hiring for fit”; I play the hand I get dealt and we do the best we can. At the same time, soccer is the beautiful game and a ripe ground for creating a space in which youngsters can learn some basic skills and then should be innovative and creative about using those skills to achieve a common objective, namely, scoring more goals.

In your organization you do have the luxury of hiring for fit. In fact, it should be a priority. There is plenty of research out there that says if you do it, it results in a happier, more productive work force. Your people will have a sense of belonging and that makes them more likely to be successful. If they don’t “fit” they will consistently struggle to perform the basic functions of the organization. Making sure a hire is a fit in the organization means defining the culture.

In a post I wrote some time ago, I reflected on how coaching soccer can be compared to creating a culture of learning and development. It involves a lot of trial and error, awareness of what works and what doesn’t and plenty of positive reinforcement. I started wondering if my team culture was driving that behavior or driving it to extinction. After a hard look in the mirror, I started questioning my performance as a leader of culture.

Culture can be defined a few different ways and has been in plenty of literature. You can start at Wikipedia and continue your research from there. I recently facilitated a workshop in which I presented several elements of culture, namely: Symbols, Stories, Relationships and Rituals. Without exposing too much information, let’s just say that after quick reflection, I don’t think I’m creating the best culture for brand new players to join my team! Luckily, I have the insight (from my recent workshop) to know what my options are. I can either:

  1. Change the objectives. Kind of difficult. We do want to win games but I could take some emphasis off that point.
  2. Change the culture. That’s a tough one. It means changing my behavior which will require tremendous effort.
  3. Prepare to fail. Okay, #2 is looking more realistic. I don’t want to fail as a coach or leader of a team.

You can look at your organization in a similar light. If the culture clashes with the objectives of the organization, then the culture will undermine your efforts. It is usually easier to modify your goals to fit your culture than change the entire culture. I’m not proposing you abandon them. I am saying you tweak them to fit the culture. In my case, my goal might shift from “Win as many games as possible” to “Demonstrate learning the game of soccer every time we play”. I think I can live with this, since we all get trophies regardless of how we perform (that’s a post for another day). Furthermore, I can change the culture of my team by working on my behavior during practice and during games.

You have a choice in your organization – define your culture and leverage it to be successful or be ignorant of the impact on performance and muddle through as you always have. Culture can be defined at the level of the organization all the way down to the business unit or work team. First, take some time to examine your culture and the fit of the team. Second, develop a plan to adapt for maximum success.

I’d love to hear what you think. How is the culture of your organization driving your business results?

2 replies
  1. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    Rob- You are spot-on. Culture is a very real aspect of an organization and when people are not a match for the culture or don’t choose to adapt to a culture then there are challenges. Zappos is a very successful company that goes as far as creating an annual culture book. Talk about important. And in their interview processes they search for people that will fit the culture — with the notion that they can teach them the job skill if needed — but culture comes first. Great points you bring up. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Rob Z
    Rob Z says:

    Kerry – thanks for your comment. Zappos has a great culture! How many CEOs sit in the work space with the team? Not many. If memory serves, they also put their money where there culture is: they have been known to offer to pay people to leave after the first week of orientation. They would rather pay a new hire to leave if he/she feels the fit isn’t right rather than experience poor performance and culture clashes.

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