Your corporate culture is dead

Do you feel like you belong at work? Do you want to feel like you belong?

What is the role of organisations in creating a sense of purpose and belonging? Is there one, or is it all a waste of time?

When employment was for life, or as near as, there was a sense of belonging and identity. Families worked for the same employer generation after generation, towns and communities were built around industries and employers.

But that time is past and now we move as freely between organisations as we do between pretty much every other aspect of our lives. And with the increase in those that work for more than one employer, can we really expect them to feel any sense of identity with multiple paymasters?

When people no longer come to the same workplace, from the same background or even the same country, can we really expect people to feel a sense of commitment and identity beyond the payslip?

Whats clear is that the way i which we view organisational culture needs to change. No longer can we tell people what our culture is and expect them to adhere. Like the condescending finger wagging of authority that we saw in the wake of this weekend’s rugby result, we can no more tell people how they should or shouldn’t react in defeat than we can tell them who we are as an organisation and how they need to behave. The management of corporate culture is dead.

Yet at the same time, people can feel identity and belonging without being present or managed into doing so. Beatlemania showed that you didn’t have to have ever visited Liverpool or even have seen the band to find some depth of association and belonging, Manchester United have fans that buy their shirts across the world without ever having set foot in Old Trafford. And of course, people are travelling across from across the world to fight and support ISIS without ever having any connection with Syria or the fighters that are there.

What does this mean? I don’t know. More questions than answers once again. But it suggests that the way in which we think about organisational culture needs to change. It is no longer a static managed product that is delivered top down, no matter how many bottom up exercises and listening groups you hold.

It is fluid, transient and needs to appeal more than it needs to dictate. It exists because people say it does and it lives because people want it to. It’s a sum of the parts of the hopes and dreams of every single person that wishes to exist within it is. And it is entirely voluntary, for better or for worse.

Can bad companies do good work?

I was at the Top Employers accreditation dinner this week. I like the idea of these accreditation systems and I particularly like the work that Top Employers are doing around global standards. One of the strong arguments for them is that they’re helpful for those companies that may not be consumer brands or well-known outside of their sector. It sends a message that says, “we are a good place to work, even if you don’t know who we are”.

But should we recognise good employment practice, regardless of the goals of the organisation? Is it good enough to just be seen to treat employees well, or should we be questioning organisational purpose?

Is being seen as a good employer often a tactic to compensate for public perceptions of “moral” acceptability?

I’ve written before about the way in which RBS was heralded for their innovative people management practices, how News International promoted their “culture change programme” and I could go on and provide a myriad of company failures.

But at the same time, we also know that there are societal issues that we need to address: obesity, alcohol consumption and binge drinking, the incidence of smoking in developing countries.

When we recognise employers should we consider what those employers do? Or do we just accept that everything is fair game and let the moral judgments be made elsewhere? Where do we draw the line?

On the podium at this particular event (and I don’t intend to single out Top Employers in any way) were McDonalds, KFC, Heineken, JD Weatherspoons, Molson Coors, British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris International. Not to mention The Co-op Group last week described as “ungovernable” by its own CEO.

Should HR and people practice sit in isolation, or if it is integral to a company culture, ethos and purpose. Should we not take that into account too?