You Gotta Have a Little “Cult” in Your Culture

I was visiting one of our manufacturing plants this week. The operation started in 1992, and as they approach their twentieth anniversary, they are proud to say that they have reached the majority of what was set in place for them. Their safety record is outstanding, and they have shown year on year improvements in critical categories.

Having been part of the start-up team, and responsible for the design and execution of the hiring selection process, I have always been pleased to hear how others perceive the employees at this facility. Spending a day with them after having been away for so long, I walked away with a real sense of satisfaction that we had done something very well.

Then I considered the plants I had worked in that are now closed or substantially smaller than they were thirty years ago. Didn’t they start under a similar set of circumstances, with leaders believing they were creating a long-lasting state-of-the-art workplace? I’m sure they did. They also put more faith in technology than people. When I started in factories, it was all about the equipment and the ability to automate, automate, automate. But the more you automate any process, the more you need thinking, problem-solving people around those processes to assure they remain on track and to identify how to make them better.

At our meeting this week, it was clear that many elements of the culture were still aligned to the original tenets of the organization design. Safety is everyone’s accountability. It should be no one’s job to make sure someone else is doing their job. We need to design out problems and design in quality.

If you went to work there tomorrow, it wouldn’t take you a long time to feel as though there is some kind of cult at work. They don’t gather for a morning cheer, but they do gather for a morning summary to highlight issues and recognize outstanding performance. They don’t have a company song they sing, but the do sing the praises of leaders who they recognize made a difference in their operation.

Most importantly, they recognize leadership within their peers. They respect the formal hierarchy, but they also respect capability and decision-making skill that has been carefully cultivated through experience.

Speaking of Cults - Dragon*Con Parade, 2011

The word “cult” for many implies a certain irrational loyalty, but time and events have given it that meaning. It is just a shortened form of “culture”. It is used in reference to a group with a common culture, a common set of rituals, and common belief system. And when that culture leads to continued business results, we call that success.

Is there a “Cult” factor in your company culture? Should there be?

2 Responses to You Gotta Have a Little “Cult” in Your Culture
  1. Dave "theHRCzar" Ryan
    November 3, 2011 | 12:29 pm

    Hey Tim I love the passion. This is interesting too because my guess is these facilities are unionized too. That makes it an even better story.

    • Tim
      November 3, 2011 | 7:39 pm

      Hi Dave. Some are union, some are not. Looking back, I think sometimes leaders use the union as an excuse not to treat people for what they could bring to the job, only based on least common denominator thinking.

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