Too Much Culture is a Bad Thing

When choosing which ISIS culture to follow, choose this one.

Most American firms, and probably firms from other places too, look for more than just technical skills and experience in interviews. As it turns out, if you’re not a person I can sit next to for the 8 (more like 12+) hours 5 days a week, then you just ain’t getting the job.

This makes perfect sense. Teams have to like each other, they have to communicate, be comfortable, and at least cooperate. You don’t have to love each other and party on the weekends and help each other move, but it wouldn’t hurt either.

But!

Lots of buts.

This is often taken too far by some managers or founders or people that just be power-trippin’. The biggest hedge fund in the world (go look them up), and a former employer of mine, is probably the most clear case of culture going too far. They’re so much like a cult that if you do not adhere with zealous vigor to their principles and policies, they’ll accuse you as a heretic and purge you one way or another.

That’s an extreme case and some will even justify that behavior by evidence of their performance alone. Many places around the world, across industries, have accepted their own form of dogma though. In most firms in the Philippines, time in office matters more than knowledge or proof of skill. That’s obviously backward, but enforcement of a culture of nepotism over meritocracy is pervasive beyond a small country on the edge of the Pacific.

Dilbert. Hah.

What’s a better way? Well it starts and depends on you. Whether you’re the boss or the founder or some random guy in department C, you are a part of a culture and you affect your environment as much as anyone else affects you. Focus on what matters (customer service, code quality, etc). Create rituals and practices that emphasize these focus points. Then be consistent. That’s really it. Find your values, enforce them everywhere from your hiring to your product lifecycles, and be flexible enough to know that there is more than one route to achieve those goals.

Hooli is not a role model.

Too many people focus on the big guys (and they’re not necessarily right or relevant), affix themselves to some rigid ideology, or don’t focus on the end rather than the means. Do what’s best for your company. If you don’t know what that is…then I recommend asking your clients. And they won’t always have clear answers for you.

Loosen up. Focus. Execute. And do it with a team that sees the same goal as you...even if it doesn’t match the same social structure as wherever you spend your Sunday mornings.