Work Futures Announcement - Time Off/Travel

Two weeks out of pocket

Beacon NY - I think I’ve mentioned that I am headed to Qingdao China for a week of meetings and research with the Haier Model Institute, to learn more about the visionary management philosophy and practice at Haier, under the leadership of Zhang Ruimin.

This week is dedicated to reading a great deal about Haier, and preparing a growing list of questions for my colleagues there.

Because of the travel and work I won’t be posting Work Futures Daily until 16 July. But here’s one link that is too good to not pass along, from Adam Grant.

On Organizational Culture

Adam Grant debunks the conventional mumbo jumbo about companies having unique cultures which differentiate them from others:

“Almost every company I’ve gone into, what I hear is, ‘Our culture is unique!’” Grant said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “And then I ask, ‘How is it unique?’ and the answers are all the same.”

“I hear, ‘People really believe in our values and they think that we’re a cause, so we’re so passionate about the mission!’” he added. “Great. So is pretty much every other company. I hear, ‘We give employees unusual flexibility,’ ‘We have all sorts of benefits that no other company offers,’ and ‘We live with integrity in ways that no other company does.’ It’s just the same platitudes over and over.”

I hear this in companies of all sizes. New startups seem particularly attracted to this paradoxical orthodoxy.

As an alternative, I have suggested for years that we should instead, as individuals, consider ourselves enmeshed in a deep work culture, one that transcends any given organization’s shallow culture. That we share tenets of a cultural milieu is what allows us to cooperate freely, without having to create a manifesto with ten precepts or undergo indoctrination before jumping into a project and getting going. This is how so-called swift trust works in the Hollywood model: we are willing to sidestep the upfront social jockeying for position and power, and suspend our reservations about others by assuming they are professionals expert in their respective domains, just like us.

But this is not an attribute of the companies we work for or in: this is the fabric of modern work culture, and expressed by us, as individuals in our relationships with other workers.

Each of us still have the hard work of deciding what we want to do, and who we want to work with, but we can just drop the pretense of how wonderful and different our company culture is.

Of course, that doesn’t mean companies aren’t different, and working at one is the same as working at any other. But those differences are grounded in something other than what people mean when they say ‘culture’.

PS Grant also calls shenanigans on the idea that you can’t complain about something being broken without offering a way to fix it, and hiring for ‘culture fit’. Go read it.