A few months ago, my daughter had gone to Paris for a student exchange programme. On the way back after dropping her at the airport, I sent her a text reminding her that she would be representing her 3 identities in a foreign land – her country, her family and her school and she should do them all proud. Her response almost instantaneously was, let me just say, indulgently dismissive! So what made my perfectly sorted teen-age daughter treat my admittedly sanctimonious advice with such disarming contempt; and with an unmissable “just did not get it” undertone?
She is 18. And I am 47.
And I realised quickly the “mistake” I made. The mistake of mistaking influences of identity to her personal identity itself.
Country. Family. School.
That was my identity when I was that age.
And I believe still is; with Company replacing School!
But here is the thing today. The youth more than anybody have been right and smart in realising that it is only through establishing their own identities and learning about the identities of other individuals and groups that they come to know what makes them similar to some people and different from others. How they see themselves, influences who they choose to hang with and the groups they relate to and want to belong to.
Also, realising rather quickly that the identity that they want to assert and which they may wish others to see them having, may not be the one that others accept or recognize. And they are perfectly comfortable with that.
But how they develop their identity is an organic alchemy of every little influence existing in their eco system, be it home, college, company or country.
I believe that for too long the culture of a company or a country has dictated or at least disproportionately influenced the identity of its citizens or its employees. And I believe to the detriment of both. And it is the youth who will ensure that identity is what will dictate and influence culture. The cause-effect relationship between identity and culture will flip. And the prospect of it happening sooner than later is conceptually just so positive in its myriad possibilities. We have all been intransigently wired to think that “culture” is a given. A given in a home, in a school, in a company or indeed even in a country. There is an element of constitutional stubbornness and sanctified permanence associated with the word.
From a company’s point of view, considering an annual attrition of 20 per cent and an average tenure of less than three years, we are talking of more than 50 per cent of a company that would have spent less than 3 years in a company. At any point in time! So we have two options. We can either ensure this 50 per cent imbibe the “culture” of the company and pass it on…. after about three-odd years!. Else we can see this as an opportunity; an opportunity for this half to help contribute to a new culture for the company. This aggregation of diverse personal identities could ensure over time, that a company is not made of clones, but is diversely brilliant and one that can help side step irrelevance and anachronism.
So the next time you hire somebody, evaluate him for more than his competencies and experience. Evaluate him for a far more critical and sensitive role – what is his personal identity that he is bringing along, how miscible yet unique will it be so as to churn in with the rest of the personal identities that will soon aggregate to become the culture of your company. Don’t get blinded by the “cultural fit” of an employee; focus instead on how the culture of a company can get so much richer if we were to equip ourselves to learn and adopt from a multitude of personal identities.
Value systems existing in a company should not be confused with the culture of the company. Value systems need to be etched in stone. They are your beliefs - the way you treat people inside and outside the company, the way you conduct business, the way you follow laws, the way you give back to society, the belief in fairness and transparency. It is the spinal cord of the company.
So while Hoebel describes culture as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance, culture to me is plainly the vibe, the attitude, the worldview and soul of a place. And I believe it needs to be open to every possible influence. And to every possible personal identity.
Identities can and should make culture. And once we understand and submit to this possibility, the richer we will be as a company or indeed even as a country.
Welcome to Culture Club 2.0.
And everyone is invited.
(Joseph George, CEO, Lowe Lintas + Partners)