noquest3Building a culture should be founded on the principles of inspiring your employees to work towards a central purpose, values and vision that give life to your business goals.

As you build your team, you should of course be mindful of those knowledge, skills, abilities and personal attributes that lend themselves to success in your organization. In fact, you must define it to be able to seek it out. However, once you define it and seek it out – what does your workforce makeup look like?

It is my experience, that although companies speak about multiple profiles of prospective hires that would be the ideal fit for their culture; they end up hiring one specific type of individual. In time, these people become conditioned to the “way” of the company and in effect “drink the Kool-Aid”. They are not in control of themselves – they think, speak and behave alike. Essentially, they have become a little too engaged in the company culture and as a result they are cultish too.

Too much engagement? 

Yes, too much engagement is entirely possible. We know the issues that arise with disengaged employees and we know the benefits of an engaged employee. I’m talking about over engagement whereby the employees no longer think for themselves- where no one dares to challenge rules, policies or procedures no matter how ridiculous they are. It is a condition by which employees have been suckered into believing the company’s every word and no one can counter their beliefs.

CULTure much?

Cults are groups of people with evidence of extreme devotion to a person, place, thing, idea or movement. If we examine the darker side of cults, they usually have a leader that spoon feeds them bits and pieces of disjointed or erroneous information. Often times, these leaders instill fear to keep their followers loyal, fearful, and ignorant enough so they don’t stray. The followers hang on the cult leaders every word never questioning his or her intent or purpose.

Just like a cult, some companies prefer like-minded people to enter their circle of trust. As such, you may hear of diversity and inclusion for superficial purposes, but in practice it will be non-existent. Innovation or creativity are usually curse words in these companies so beware the usage of them.

In more damaging news, this CULTure will inevitably chew you up and spit up you out if you are different, a disruptor, mover and shaker or change influencer. It usually appears in the form of warnings and eventually if they don’t think you have been brow-beaten enough it will turn into bullying. What’s even worse is the HR departments in these companies have usually had a sip of the Kool-Aid as well and will do very little to alleviate the situation.

What is HR to do? 

Here’s the disclaimer- I recognize that not all HR departments would condone this behavior in their companies.  I’m not speaking about every HR department. However, it is clear that nothing like CULTure could go on unless our HR friends in the organization allowed it. I have personally experienced this and many of my HR colleagues have experienced working in companies with this cult-like behavior. That tells me that my “well-intentioned” HR brethren were purposely sleeping on the job so as to please senior management and/ or others engaged in this behavior.

We are in the pleasing game, but not at the expense of turnover, bullying and other workplace atrocities. In HR, if you see something, say something or at the very least probe and investigate any signs of issues or upticks in turnover. Additionally, I see HR as a company culture originator and catalyst-which means any culture built upon a singular mindset, group of people, etc. is limiting and isn’t likely to bode well for your recruitment, retention or succession efforts in the long-term. We are living in a hyper-connected world where dissatisfied employees like dissatisfied customers will expose you and your CULTure online and beyond.

If everyone in your company is starting to finish each other’s sentences or are skipping to the same beat- it may be time to shake things up, rethink and redefine what your company culture stands for.

Ask yourself are you building a culture or a CULTure?

Janine Truitt

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