An Individual Ingredient is made of several different elements in varying quantities. These elements, in turn, have individual qualities such as taste, odour, texture and so on. And the ingredient as a whole has qualities that make it unique and different from the comprising elements. And yet, during the process of preparation of food or cooking, the qualities of the individual elements can be unlocked and broken down to some elementary state such that the ingredient as a whole and the elements can combine with other ingredients to create a new identity we call a dish or a culinary preparation.
Individuals and organisations have a somewhat similar interaction.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet many people who were good managers, mentors and leaders. I have also been fortunate to have worked in or associated with many different organisations (and I don’t mean just companies but also institutions, societies, firms and so on). Further, I am blessed to be a part of several families, each different in ethnicity, race, culture and social norms from the other.
Given such an experience, I have often wondered why a company (any company) or corporate leader – any business leader – talks about culture. I know they know they can’t really build a culture. Cultures are built on common core values and shared beliefs; and I know they also know that values and beliefs are not built in years or decades – they are built over centuries and then they are passed down as customs, rites, rituals, norms, protocols and etiquette – process and procedures are not even a token replacement of any one of these strategic elements of a culture. Process and related norms create fear and conformance therefore. Cultural customs create social confidence and conformance therefore.
I have been trying to figure out why managers or aspiring managers carry the Company Culture flag around. I have heard people spend a year or two in companies and then lament the lack of culture in companies. I find it odd when people leave companies due to lack of culture – corporate culture somehow seems an oxymoron, a mythological mechanism even, that is deliberately evangelised to create an artificial equivalent of deep rooted social cultures and marketed by gullible people to even more gullible people who really should know better if they have held more than two jobs already.
The questions I have been asking myself are:
Will a company stand with you if you make a blunder that costs the company time, money and face in the industry?
Will a corporate stick its neck out if you repeatedly turn up drunk for meetings or throw temper tantrums without apparent reason?
Will a company loan you money repeatedly to bail you out of debts on account of gambling or financial mismanagement?
Will a company not judge your professional capabilities in light of any of the above?
Now let’s try it the other way:
Will a family stand with you if you make a blunder that costs them time, money and face in the industry?
Will a family stick its neck out if you repeatedly turn up drunk for social functions or throw temper tantrums without apparent reason?
Will a family or family member loan you money repeatedly to bail you out of debts on account of gambling or financial mismanagement?
Will a family head not judge your personal worth in light of any of the above?
These are two goal posts I am taking, and the answers are not as simple as one might think. If we add a degree of separation, and say “community” instead of “Family”, the answers will vary to some extent. If we replace “Family” with “Religious congregation”, the answer will again vary. From the other end, if we replace “Company” with “Team”, the answers will vary to some extent; If we replace “Company” with say “Professional Group” answers may vary too; if we replace “Company” with “Society” (as in a professional body), or a “Firm” or “StartUp”, the answers will vary maybe by a greater degree.
I don’t have any answers and so I go along because both sides of such a discussion make perfect sense when presented eloquently enough by a skilled proponent. But I do have a theory. There is a reason why some types of people prefer to work in startups or small companies, while others prefer to work in large organisations and yet others who are mercenaries. I believe the reasons are related to the cultures they come from, the kind of leaders those cultures create, and the idea of community those cultures foster. After all, what is culture (even corporate culture) at its very core if not a carefully cultivated, some what symbiotic mechanism for the survival and continuity of a vast multitude of people?