A New Corporate Culture

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced while developing a more desirable corporate culture that is free of the common impediments that creep in through the less illuminated corners of human nature lies in overcoming the entropic tendency to fragmentation and tension between departments. A mouthful, I know, but it’s all there. Everyone I work with is aware of the goal to provide more than just the best products and services out there. We’re eager to produce a new business model predicated on cooperation, original thought, shared purpose and creative freedom.

If I learned anything in my organizational behavior classes in business school it is that human nature is magnified in the corporate setting. Many of the controls in place – corporate handbooks, policies and the like – are there to curb the expression of the darker side of human nature, while hopefully leaving room for the more encouraging and creative elements inherent (you hope) in every employee.

I had the pleasure of promoting a young woman who recently graduated university magna cum laude from her present administrative position to an entry-level management post in our wellness spa, The Spa on Green Street, which, incidentally was just accorded a prestigious award by Les Nouvelles Ethetiques (Best Green/Wellness Spa in the Southeast). Part of her charge is to nurture the interdepartmental relationships, which in the case of this business means refining the flow between the spa, fitness and wellness departments.

My experience over the years working in various corporate settings in a number of small businesses and one large financial services firm tells me that walls can quickly form between departments if you’re not carefully managing their relationship. These divisions have become so accepted over the years in corporate culture that it is almost expected that there will be unrelieved tension between white collar/blue collar workers, management/line level staff, accounting/sales, operations/finance and so on. I am convinced, however, that these conflicts are unnatural, unnecessary and unacceptable.

Whether these conflicts arise out of the personality differences of the various types of people who are drawn to each job function (e.g. accounting-types, according to the stereotypes, are not typically known for their flexibility, gregariousness or willingness to “wing it” neither are those drawn to sales typically known for their organizational skills, administrative-mindedness or love of detailed paperwork) or from some other invisible yet ubiquitous force of human nature, the fact of the matter is that they must all get along if the company is to operate at maximum efficiency and in a way that makes the workplace pleasant, if not absolutely delightful. Conflict and competition are useful in their place, but when misused they make less efficient substitutes to harmony and cooperation.

Management, in a nutshell, is about inspiring people to constantly give their highest and finest, in any and every situation. The most effective means of inspiring people out of the usual patterns of conflict that have worn a rut in human consciousness over time is to articulate your vision for your company, hire those who are first and foremost resonant with that vision and revitalize every stakeholder’s personal connection to the vision as frequently as possible.

This approach provides the necessary lubrication between the various cogs and gears that make up the company. In my observation, most of the friction in a corporate setting appears in the areas where different departments relate or share responsibility. The “no-man’s land” between departments where fools rush in and angels fear to tread. Departmental posturing, managers engaged in empire building or those trying to make a name for themselves at any cost are notorious for laying claim the no-man’s land rather than recognizing that it is a shared area of responsibility requiring delicate and respectful handling.

“My way or the highway!” ego-driven managers declare in their gestures, words and actions, drawing the line deeply in the sand so that others fear or despise them. (As a side note, please remember, dear reader, that when you fear or despise another you are essentially worshipping at their throne). I don’t think that most people even realize that they are drawing such lines and most people I’ve encountered do what they do with the best intentions in mind, but sadly, many corporate cultures are poisoned by this very approach, regardless of whether it is consciously or unconsciously perpetrated.

Managers cannot afford to play favorites. Neither can they afford to react to the various pressures brought to bear on them by virtue of those dwelling in their field of responsibility. A good manager does not try to eliminate conflict, in fact, he or she recognizes the value of opposing viewpoints and differing perspectives and yet has the magical ability to find the points of agreement that ensure steady forward movement. Most importantly, a good manager, in the words of H.S.M. Burns, “…is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him.” A good manager understands the spirit of service.

Any time there is a change in personnel the corporate culture shifts, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. As with gardening, whether you pull out a weed or water a new flower is beside the point, for both beautify and enhance the overall picture. Today I had the good pleasure of watering a flower.

I am excited to see how this young woman will discharge her responsibility and how the lives of those she is now responsible for in a new way will flourish under her careful and intelligent supervision. Aren’t you!?!

9 thoughts on “A New Corporate Culture

  1. Colin

    This is quite the overview of a way to make a much needed change in the corporate culture. A point that really stuck out to me is that a good manager is more concerned with your career than with theirs. This is a highly lauded virtue in large organizations where decisions about an employee’s future can sometimes seem fickle. (I am mainly thinking large corporations and government). People are very loyal to this type of manager, and it is a well deserved loyalty. It is easy to see how the spirit of service would be beneficial in this type of scenario, but I believe that if a person were to really embrace it in other parts of their lives that they would see an unprecedented success. Thanks for a great article.


  2. RJ

    Great advice for business leaders and department managers alike. Friction between departments is often a lack of understanding and appreciation for what the other is providing. Cross-training between departments goes a long way in bridging the void.


  3. Doug

    Corporate culture can be an asset or a liability to a company. I’ve always believed that it does start at the top. While the leadership can’t completely control the outcome, I think most don’t realize they are setting a direction for it either deliberately or de facto. Your points are the seeds for a thriving esprit de corps. I’m not surprised about your award as this type of company is where people and ideas flourish.
    Congratulations on your award but more significantly on your vision.


  4. Kolya

    I can’t wait to hear! Loved this post – so practical and important for anyone and those that work together in a company to seek the improvement of others and be a model of tolerance, flexibility, graciousness and giving.


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