Dealing with Cultural
Jeff Backal & Merrick Rosenberg
They’re productive. They meet
their goals. They’ve been around for a long time. And, although they don’t
model your organizational values, you keep them around. They’re the cultural
misfits and most organizations have them.
In order for a company to have a cultural misfit, the organization must
have clearly defined values that describe behaviors that will create the
desired work environment. If you work for a large corporation, you most
likely have a clearly defined mission, vision, and values. Examples of
values are Customer Focus, Excellence, Integrity, Quality, Respect, and
You can see these words listed as values and proudly displayed in your
lobby. You can find them in your employee handbook. The public can view
them on your website and maybe even in your annual report. Your
organization proudly announces what you value, or at least what your
senior managers say you value.
And yet, organizations do a poor job of holding people accountable for
living the values. While some organizations include the values in the
performance appraisal process, the lack of adherence to the values is
rarely grounds for dismissal, especially if the individual is meeting
A 2002 American Management Association study found that 86% of company
surveys have formally stated values. Fifty-nine percent of people
reported that failure to adhere to corporate values has a consequence.
The impact of not enforcing the values is tremendous. Studies have
repeatedly demonstrated that people generally do not leave companies for
money. They leave because of the work environment, their coworkers, and
their manager. By allowing misfit behaviors, organizations are
ultimately creating an unfriendly work environment for those who buy
into and demonstrate the corporate values.
Basic truths about managing cultural misfits:
Managers must take responsibility for not only modeling the values, but
also for enforcing desired behaviors and rewarding those who exhibit
Managers must accept that:
Telling people that their
behaviors are inappropriate is uncomfortable, but necessary.
Behavior that is rewarded
tends to be repeated. Therefore, managers must praise and reward those
who exemplify the corporate values.
Behavior that is tolerated,
persists. Negative behavior that is exhibited without consequence will
become a pattern and must be addressed.
You cannot expect
improvements in performance with any greater degree than the frequency
in which feedback is given. Coaching is key to redirecting misfit
Holding people accountable for their behaviors and performance
What get measured, gets
done. Values must be identified in the performance management system and
there must be clear consequences for not exhibiting the values. Beyond
stating the consequences, they must be imposed when necessary.
Individuals are not
just their behaviors
Cultural misfits may be effective in their roles. They may be meeting or
even exceeding their goals. But if they do not fit into your culture, they
are hurting your company more than they are helping. You dont want to lose
them because they clearly add value. But you owe them the courtesy of
investing in helping them to change behaviors that allow them to be a better
fit. Perhaps they need
building, coaching from their manager or an external coach. Maybe they
just need training on specific skills related to areas such as
communication, conflict management, or their overall leadership style.
Given the opportunity, people can change their behaviors so that they are
aligned with the stated values. But as Jim Collins said in Good to Great,
You have to get the wrong people off the bus, the right people on the bus,
and the right people in the right seats.
Sometimes cultural misfits need to find a new bus in which their behaviors
are a better match.
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