Why Managing Your Culture Is Important

One of the challenges many HR folks have is helping employees understand that diversity is a broad topic. I had one employee say to me “If we are a diverse culture, than do we have a definable culture”?

Yes, our culture is diverse, but we also have behavior expectations. It is the common elements of “how” we work that define that culture. When those go away, or when they change substantially, things can fall apart quickly.

My personal experience with this involves the period when Al Dunlap ran Scott Paper Company. I was serving a dual role at the time – leading the team that managed HR, training, and safety for a new plant while at the same time having responsibility for part of the operation. Dunlap was wanting to accelerate everything about the project, and we were having some trouble getting employees hired at a significantly greater pace than we had been following. A director from the marketing and sales team called to tell me he was coming to visit, and he wanted to understand our plan to get to the production volumes expected. No problem, we had a good plan.

When he arrived we went into a conference room, and I pulled out the copy of the plan I had prepared for the discussion. It was the two of us and my manager.

“I don’t need to see that,” he told me as he slid the folder back over to me. “You just need to know that if you don’t have this operation at 125% of current learning curve in 6 weeks, then you won’t be here. And if, in the meantime, I’m sent out, you’re going with me.”

Nice, huh? It didn’t take many months, but Dunlap had effectively cleared Scott of our previous culture and replaced it with fear and intimidation. At least at the corporate office. I was lucky – my manager had a plan that took care of the need and took the bulls-eye off my back. I had never been spoken to like that, and haven’t since.

When Scott was acquired by Kimberly-Clark, my manager gave everyone the best advice. “We are part of a new tribe. They have different customs and methods, and it is in our best interest to first learn them before we suggest how we did it at Scott.” What he was saying is good advice to any new employee – and we were all effectively new employees.

Taken during photo walk in Little Five Points – Atlanta

Could your culture be better than it is? Managing actions and behaviors is key. Dunlap managed culture. When he met resistance to his methods and people were not responding as he requested, he demonstrated how the culture works. Remove the dissenters. It didn’t take long for people to learn the game and then decide to find a better job or learn to intimidate others.

You can have diversity and still have a strong, identifiable, talent-building, and performing culture. But you won’t have it by accident. You have to guide it. You have to demonstrate it. You have to correct the missteps of leaders. If your culture corrects with ousting, so be it. If your culture goes to the other extreme and allows poor performers multiple second chances, then your culture is probably not performing or building talent.

Management action dictates the culture, it shapes it every day. Understand what you want from your people, be committed to that understanding, and you will forge a culture to achieve it.

2 Responses to Why Managing Your Culture Is Important

  1. All the generations that share a world, potentially experience the same infinite dots – the same infinite things that are seen, heard, said, thought and done. From that, they see and hear what they see and hear. By choice, capacity, accident, influence or focus. Hence there are inherent diversities, whether we like it or not. The thing to focus on is how far we go to kill them and how extreme we get to promote them. I’ve written about this and about the progression of generations, borrowing some references from the theory of relativity, in my post ‘understanding and managing gen y, relatively speaking that is’, in my blog eyeseework.blogspot.com
    If you happen to read it, let me know if it makes sense.

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