Culture: You Can’t Fake It

Nancy Drew Old ClockI think by now we all have a pretty clear sense of what company culture is: the collective behavior of the people who are part of the organization as formed by organizational values, norms, systems, beliefs, symbols and traditions. Culture affects the way individual employees and groups interact with each other as well as how they interact with customers, clients and other stakeholders.

It’s the foundation that impacts ‘how stuff gets done.’

In any given organization, there is not one person (or group) who defines culture. There is not one person (or group) who owns it. There is not one person (or group) who controls it.

Yet many who work in HR and Recruiting (or, sometimes, those who advise them) dash around in misguided efforts to categorize their culture as something it’s not.

Perhaps there’s a need to pump up college recruiting efforts to meet projected growth and hiring needs. It’s entirely possible that turnover is picking up and there’s a mass exodus of employees so the HR Department feels an urgent need to re-brand because a member of the HR team sat in a session about branding at a local SHRM conference. Employees (per the latest annual engagement survey!) are demoralized, un-challenged and just not feeling it.

“Hey,” says Debbie the HR Leader, “until we can change the culture, let’s promote what we want it to be.”

See what’s wrong there? First of all, neither Debbie nor her team should believe they can change culture through some sort of voodoo HR. And they most assuredly should not communicate a misleading version of today’s reality. Their culture, whether they consider it great, mediocre or downright evil, is-what-it-is.

But Debbie and her team may still persist in promoting the organization’s ASPIRATIONAL culture as opposed to the ACTUAL culture.

I sat through an event the other week in which the speaker (who had no specific recruiting experience by the way) promised to share the secrets to winning various recruiting and retention wars, battles and skirmishes.

At one stage she advised the audience members to review their company’s career sites. ‘If you don’t have any smiling faces on your career site make sure you show people being happy at work!’ she advised. ‘That’s how you’ll get people to apply!’

Oh bullshit. For so many reasons.

Stock photos on a company career site are as inauthentic as Kim Kardashian. A contrived employer brand is false advertising. A counterfeit value proposition is worthless. And the goal (no matter what this speaker told audience members) is not to get more people to apply; it’s to get the right people to apply. If a company culture is controlling, formal and efficient then THAT is the story to tell; there are candidates who desire a work environment like that – and they can be found.

So Debbie feels good (and HR smart!) when she heads to the quarterly Executive Team Meeting and unveils new tag lines for the company career site: “We have a collaborative culture” “We’re creative and innovative!” “Our culture promotes teamwork and consensus building!”

But she’s just gotten into TAO Nightclub with a Fake ID. She bought a rip-off Gucci bag. She pulled a Nancy Drew.

Is she really satisfied? Or is she just glad it’s over?


image courtesy of Nancy Drew Sleuth

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