A Tale of Two Cultures

August 7th, 2012 by

The post below is a guest post from Buzz Rooney, a practicing HR professional with more than 10 years of experience in the production, manufacturing and retail industries. She currently works for a large retail franchise handling employee relations, health benefits, compliance and more. Read more of her writings, connect and contact her through her website, The Buzz on HR.

Company A had a very strong culture. When you entered their offices, you could feel the positivity exuding from every cubicle. It was clear that people loved working there and that the company worked hard to make the employees feel valued. The office was brightly decorated, the equipment was state-of-the-art, and the break area was stocked with yummy snacks and fun games. The employees always spoke of the company as “us” and “we.” They could recite the history of the organization. They knew how their work connected to the work of others and how it impacted the bottom line of the organization.

Their pride in their practices made them cocky. Over time, the organization began to think their way was the only way to do business. They criticized and ridiculed organizations that weren’t like them – including clients and vendors.

Company B also had a very strong culture. When you entered their offices, you could feel the negativity exuding from every cubicle. It was clear that people resented working there and didn’t feel valued. The office walls were dingy white and undecorated, the equipment was older, and the break area was tiny and full of not-so-gentle reminders (don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink; don’t take people’s stuff out the fridge, etc).  The employees spoke of the company as “they” and “them.” No one knew the history of the organization. They didn’t know how their work connected to the work of others or impacted the bottom line organization.

Their acrimonious attitude made them tense and guarded. Employees were constantly fearful of losing favor with decision-makers. Bullying and passive-aggressive behavior abounded. Every change was met with resistance, reluctance and reticence. When asked to define the culture of their organization, everyone from the owner to the receptionist said “We don’t really have one.”

Wrong! Every organization has culture. It might be a cult or it might be a crock – but it exists and is always there.

Culture is what your employee’s think, feel and express about working there. Most companies actively work to define their culture. Others let it develop organically.

How can you figure out and fix the culture of your organization?

Ask. Employees generally want to give feedback. They want to tell management how they are feeling. Give them the opportunity to do it without fear of retaliation. Also ask your customers and vendors about their experiences working with the employees of your organization and their perceptions of your culture.

Assess. Once you have the feedback from your customers, employees and vendors, examine it against the mission, vision, values, goals, policies and procedures against the organization. See if the feedback matches. Where it doesn’t match up, determine the cause. Watch for patterns and common threads, such as employees from one area being more or less happy than others. Stay open and willing to embrace the feedback, especially the hard truths.

Adjust. Now that you have the information, it’s time to do something with it. That starts by deciding if you are OK with the feedback received. If the organization does not disagree or isn’t disturbed by the perceptions, there is no need to do anything. However, this isn’t usually the case. More often, organizations are horrified to learn what everyone thinks about them. You have to own the shortcomings in your organization that created those perceptions. Then you have to address the issues at every level. For awhile, all of your decisions and business actions will have to be scrutinized for culture alignment. Eventually, if you don’t give up, the culture you want will take root, blossom and grow.

Culture manifests itself either positively or negatively in the effort and attitude of the employees. Regardless of how it develops, we must know what the culture is – and take the steps to change it when it is not what we want it to be.

Photo Source: Victor1558

3 Responses to “A Tale of Two Cultures”

  1. Colorado Gal says:

    We have had tons of surveys and “tell us what you really think in confidence” (not really confidential either!) and it just goes in one ear and out the other. I have as yet to see this place actually “listen and take action”. We lose alot of good folks and Im on my way too…funny…I feel the most appreciated and valued by the people that cant really do anything about the situations and those that can do something about it, dont.

  2. Buzz Rooney says:

    Thank you for your comment, Colorado Gal.

    It is always disappointing when organizations collect surveys and don’t seem to take any action with the feedback. Sometimes, changes take time — just remember that slow progress is still progress. Other times, the organization collects the survey before it is really ready to take action on the feedback so a lot of time will pass before they do anything with the results. Still, there are times where the organization has no intention of making changes based on the feedback they receive. Organization get into the routine of surveying feedback and just keep doing it. I don’t think this necessarily means the organization doesn’t care, I think it may just mean that correcting culture issues isn’t the priority. The better practice is to wait to take the survey until 3-6 months before the organization is ready to deal with the feedback and/or to let the people being surveyed know when action will be taken on the feedback.

    It’s never fun to work where you don’t feel like you’re being valued for your contribution. Until you find a new position, it is best to focus on doing a good job at the work you’re assigned and collaborating with others so your work doesn’t bottleneck others. That will definitely keep your co-workers valuing you and make work more bearable in the meanwhile.

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