When I was younger, I used to think company culture was a frivolous marketing gimmick which HR departments would spend inordinate amounts of time and effort on.
Like company sponsored events such as outdoor BBQs, Christmas parties, and other rah-rah events.
Sure, I like BBQ hamburgers just as much as the next guy, but that’s about as much importance as I placed on those kinds of events… I could take it or leave it. And that was my perception and understanding of company culture for many years.
But as I grew older, I came to realize how company culture is much more than face value company events.
I’ve been on both sides of the job interview table, and a phrase you often hear bandied about by interviewers is something referred to as “culture fit”.
Why Hire for Culture Fit?
As a person who makes a living using technology for a living, I used to believe the only qualification a job candidate should need is his level of technical skills and abilities.
And at surface value, it does make sense, right? If you’re a hiring manager and you’re looking to add a new techie guru whiz kid to your IT team, naturally you’re going to want the best and the brightest.
Yet I’ve been through enough tech interviews on both sides of the table to know that the sharpest and brightest job candidate can get turned down in favor of an employee who doesn’t have anywhere near the stellar level of technical skills and ability of the first job candidate.
What the heck is going on?
It usually goes something like this.
The first job candidate with the super whiz kid technical skills gets discussed with the interview team. While the candidate has plenty of technical skills, when each member of the interview team is asked whether the potential job candidate would fit well within a team environment, inevitably one or more team members says something that expresses doubt the job candidate would work well with others and be a team player.
The other job candidate, while not possessing the super duper level of technical skills as the first candidate, inevitably ends up being the one picked for the job offer.
Because the interview team likes the second job candidate’s personality. The interview team gets a strong sense the second candidate would work well in a team environment. They like the fact he appears to be enthusiastic about the kind of work and projects their company produces. In essence, they sense the second job candidate has strong soft skills.
I’m not making this up because this is the kind of feedback I heard when I personally got hired over stronger job candidates with much stronger technical skills than myself.
When this happens, you can bet it doesn’t happen because of random chance. It’s because the company culture dictates and demands that their employees need to have good culture fit with the company, which in this case, means employees who work well with each other in a highly collaborative environment.
The “lone wolf” employee will have a very short shelf life at an organization that favors this kind of company culture, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that most companies desire this kind of company culture.
It’s very rare that I find people in my line of work who PREFER to work in an isolated environment.
So it’s important for many organizations to want to build a work environment, aka “company culture”, that fosters collaborative teams. Otherwise, it will be hard to attract and more importantly RETAIN good employees who are interested in sticking with the company in the long run.
And there’s nothing that will kill morale and team collaboration faster than an employee who doesn’t seem to fit within the company culture. A toxic employee will end up at odds with everyone else on the team and can foster resentment, conflicts and many other negative attributes, which in turn, could end up causing good employees to leave.There’s nothing that will kill morale and team collaboration faster than an employee who doesn’t fit the company culture Click To Tweet
As I’ve grown older and more experienced, I’ve really come to appreciate how important the culture of a company, and more importantly, the actual team I work with, matters.
As a software developer, I find it extremely important to work on a team with coworkers who work and mesh well together. To know your coworkers are willing to give you a hand when you need assistance.
Why Culture Matters for Teams
From a technical perspective, the right attitude about software development matters too.
For instance, how does the manager of the team take care of his employees? Does he have regular one on one meetings with each member of the team and address any concerns the employee may have? The last thing an employee wants to see are any negative surprises during their employee performance reviews. A good manager will make sure any potential issues are communicated to the employee in an open and transparent way and offer suggestions as to ways to help the employee show improvement in time so that it reflect well on their next review.
How does the manager feel about training employees? Of course, there are budgetary constraints to keep in mind, but managers who are interested in retaining good talent look for opportunities to help enable employees to keep their technical skills sharp and up to date.
Oftentimes, the technical team can clash with the non-technical members of a company. It can come from many directions…the product owner, the sales or marketing teams, or anyone else who needs the technical team to do something for them. Does the manager help buffer the technical team from unreasonable demands?
A good manager needs to possess both the technical AND business knowledge and skills to be able to interact successfully with the technical and non-technical members of the organization.
Say a salesperson demands some new software app from the IT team. They’ve already promised the sun and the moon to the prospective client, and to land the sale, they’ve already promised a completely unrealistic deadline to deliver the new software app to the prospective client.
A good technical manager, armed with the right technical knowledge, will know what is and isn’t realistically possible to deliver to a customer. He will know he’ll be risking burning out his technical staff if he agrees to make his staff work crazy hours to deliver a bug-ridden software app which doesn’t impress the prospective customer and leaves a bad impression of the company.
Does the company treat the technical staff of their company like a cost center? That is, a “necessary evil ”company expense? Or does the company treat the technical staff as a powerful ally to help enable the company to become more efficient and help create potentially new profitable revenue streams for the company?
All these things depend on the right kind of culture the company wants to foster.
By themselves, they may not seem to matter much. But added up all together, I believe they can have a HUGE influence on whether employees choose to STAY or LEAVE the company in droves.
And unfortunately, it can be a lemming effect. Once enough employees decide to jump ship because they feel the company’s culture doesn’t align with their own personal and career goals, more and more employees will follow. A company can end up suffering through a huge exodus.
So these days, while I might not be excited about the annual company picnic, it doesn’t mean I think company culture doesn’t matter. It really makes the difference between job satisfaction or uploading your updated resume on monster.com.