There’s no such thing as ‘company culture"... but yours still might be awful.
Updated: Apr 5
👨🏻 George is leaving.
He’s worked at the international recruitment company for 3-years. He’s had enough. He can’t wait to walk out of the door. If he never hears the company name again that will be fine.
They know what they can do with their job.
👩 Martha from HR sits at the other side of the desk.
👩 ‘Laptop handed back – tick,’ says Martha.
👩 ‘Mobile phone back – tick.’
👩 ‘Canteen card – tick.’
👩 ‘So far, so good.’
👩 ‘Now let’s do your exit interview – and I’ll have ticked all the boxes on my list,’ says Martha reaching in her bag for her notebook.
👨🏻 ‘What happens to these exit interviews?’ asks George.
👩 ‘They’re written up and go to the leadership team and well…..nothing 'lol',’ replies Martha. ‘Actually, I tell a lie. When Donna left the canteen did start putting tomato in the ham sandwiches - but that stopped.’
👨🏻 ‘Makes sense,’ says George
👩 ‘So, George, why are you leaving?’ asks Martha opening her notebook.
George looks at the clock on the wall, plays with his cufflinks and thinks for a few seconds.
👨🏻 ‘I hate the culture,’ says George.
There’s a pause.
👩 ‘What do you mean, you hate the culture?’ exclaims Martha, looking shocked.
👨🏻 ‘I hate the culture, Martha and I can’t stand all the hypocrisy and nonsense a day longer.’
👩 ‘I can’t believe what you’re saying George,’ replies Martha. ‘That’s so ungrateful.’
Martha points the wall. There’s a framed certificate confirming that the company was a 2020 ‘recommended place to work.’
👩 ‘Why George, the company invested a lot of money to be a ‘recommended place to work’ and we’ve a lot to be thankful for.’
👩 ‘Look what came out in the report the ‘recommended place to work’ people did.
We have a great recruitment process (well, we would, wouldn’t we?), solar panels on the roof, a table tennis table, company mugs, yoga on a Thursday night, free donuts and yoghurt, cut price tickets for the cinema, Spanish classes and 10 per cent off at Peter Jones.
Do you know, the twins even received Peppa Pig Easter eggs from the company?
We also have a subsidized canteen selling great snacks and sandwiches.’
👨🏻 ‘I like ham and tomato,’ replies George, ‘and I have no plans to visit Barcelona. By the way, your twins are 19.’
👩 ‘Why only last week I was at the senior management offsite,’ continues Martha. ‘The CEO gave a great speech. She said our culture is what makes us stand out and people are our greatest asset. We put our company t-shirts on and sang the company song.’
👩 ‘So, come on, explain.’ Says Martha.
There’s silence – then George begins to answer.
👨🏻 ‘Before I came, I did loads of research on the company and I knew I’d made a good decision. I wasn’t disappointed,’ explains George.
👨🏻 ‘I started at the Newtown office. There were 5 of us – we had a great manger, Sally.
Every morning we’d all meet and make sure the work was covered. If anyone was behind we’d help. Some of us were better at certain work so we played to our strengths.
We discussed performance every Friday and we knew what we had to do.
👨🏻 Sally was always giving us articles to read, self-development videos to watch and she sent us on all the courses available. She was brilliant. We took charge of projects to make the office better. We all went to lunch together. On a Friday night we’d go bowling. The office was full of energy and enthusiasm. Best of all, Sally sent us a questionnaire which we answered confidentially each month. I remember the detail.
(True or False):
I am enthusiastic about working in our team.
I know what is expected of me.
I use my strengths every day.
I am recognized for good work.
My team mates have my back.
In my work, I am challenged to grow.
I have confidence in our future.
I am surrounded by people who share my values. (1)
The results got better and better.
We were top performing office two-years running - it was no surprise.
I would never have left the company then.’
There’s a pause.
👩 ‘So what happened?’ asks Martha.
👨🏻 ‘They had to close the office due to a big redevelopment in the town,’ continues George. ‘I was devastated but nothing could be done. I was transferred to the City office and we all went our separate ways.
👨🏻 What's more is I was forced to take leave during COVID, I had to work 0.5FTE but worked 50 hours a week...and the company have since posted "record profits".
👨🏻 Also, I’ve been working on the fourth floor in the finance and admin team.’
👩 ‘So?’ Says Martha.
👨🏻 ‘Well,’ continues George, ‘perhaps it’s because I’m not a finance person and the other 4 are. I’ve never fitted in.
👨🏻 They all come in late every morning and I don’t like that. Nobody talks – if they do they moan about the company and how they’re hard done by. The work is of a really poor standard. All the other teams complain. Deadlines are never met. I’ve seen reports ‘made up’ to get the customer off our backs.
👨🏻 The office is a mess and the manager is hopeless. He goes out with the others but I’m never invited. He has his favourites. He undermines me in meetings. He talks over me. If he’s ever challenged, he’ll spend hours digging until he can prove he was right.
👨🏻 Nobody has a clue what we’re doing. I spent 2-days on a report and then found out he’d told Rita to do the same thing. I got the blame, of course. He stopped me transferring out – saying I’ve only been there 12-months and it would set a bad example.
👨🏻 There’s no point complaining as he lives next door to your boss, Martha. The two of them drive to work together. They play cricket in the same team at the weekend.
👨🏻 I am so glad to be leaving…….I hate the culture in that team.’
Martha ticks the box that says "Leaving for Career Progression" then says:
👩 "I wish you all the best in your future role, Legal will be sending you a letter about a restriction. You won't be allowed to say goodbye I'm afraid, we'll be walking you from the premises immediately as you're going to a competitor. I'll give you a call to arrange collecting your personal items."
George stands up, tucks his chair under his desk, thanks Martha and then leaves.
Your Task :
Thinking about the story above
Answer true or false to the following statements (answers at the end):
People join companies – and leave teams (or managers)
If a company has 20 offices it has 20 cultures – each one is different
So strong is our identification with our team, it is hard to imagine that others in the same company are having a totally different experience – yet they are
It’s the day to day stuff that matters - more than solar panels on the roof
The overemphasis on ideas like ‘company culture’ reduces focus on where responsibility for engagement really lies – the local manager
It’s the day-to-day stuff that matters – more than speeches by the CEO
Culture is abstract – teams make work real
People who are 19 shouldn’t be eating Peppa Pig Easter eggs
It’s the day-to-day stuff that matters – more than putting your company T-shirt on and singing the company song
When it comes to the components of ‘culture,’ there are as many differences within companies as between them
If there is such a thing as ‘company culture,’ - the experience of working anywhere in the company should be the same
There’s no such thing as company culture.
‘The next time you look to join a company, don’t bother asking if it has a great culture – instead, ask what it does to build great teams.’ (2)
Answers: (1) T (2) T (3) T (4) T (5) T (6) T (7) T (8) F(9)T(10)T(11)T(12)T
and (2) – 9 Lies About Work, Marcus Buckingham.
For research that backs up a ‘true’ answer to question 10 see chapter 1 of the same book.