Collisions of Fit and Culture Change

It’s “fit” week here at the HR Introvert. Does anyone really know what that word means?

Good fit isn’t always about a hiring decision. Sometimes it is about a firing or resigning decision.

For a brief period of my career, I worked for Crown Zellerbach, a paper company with headquarters in San Francisco. My role was to assist a small union mill in upstate New York in their transformation to a skill based work system. I was sent to a lot of training with organizational effectiveness specialists, and the company invested a lot in a whole group of us working in US plants and headquarters attempting to modernize the work culture.

It was too late. CZ stock was bought up by Sir James Goldsmith (mentor to Al Dunlap who would later invade another of my employers) and the company was eventually sold to the James River Corporation. Never heard of them? Oh, yeah, they merged with Fort Howard Paper to become Fort James. They were eventually sold to Georgia Pacific, which was later acquired by Koch Industries. Industrial consolidation.

The day Goldsmith took over, my boss told me to have my resume ready, because there would be no room for someone doing the work I do. A new culture, and a new strategy, assured I no longer fit with the organization.

The case of Dunlap taking over as CEO of Scott Paper is well documented. In his version he is a hero. I saw the carnage. In his case the only culture that mattered was the culture of carrying out the boss’s orders. No questions, just results.

One of the reasons people liked working at Scott Paper was the quality of their co-workers. Top notch, good people to work with. What seemed a standard quality was now a liability. For one friend of mine, the decision to move to the new headquarters in Florida was a no-brainer. It was the opportunity to resign. I saw people turn down significant retention bonuses because they couldn’t take it any more. The company no longer fit them.

The other type of collision I see from time to time is what many of us refer to as “organ rejection”. A new leader comes in and just cannot seem to find the right way to effectively work in the organization. Someone hired them or selected them for the role because they thought the assignment would be a good stretch for them, or that it would change the organization’s culture in a good way, but they never communicated that to the rest of the organization.

The key word in the above paragraph: stretch. If you think it might be a stretch, then you need a size larger.

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