Working Toward a More Distinctive Work Culture

At Nordstrom, new employees will either fit into the work culture or they are going to feel uncomfortable right away. This is also true at companies such as Facebook, Deloitte Consulting, Apple, Microsoft, Abercrombie & Fitch, or Boeing.

By “uncomfortable”, I don’t mean feeling bullied or physically intimidated (although that can happen too). I mean the work culture (customer-orientation, the communication style, the work ethnic, accountability, levels of hierarchy, corporate value-system, etc.) will be so obvious that people who do not share them, will feel out of place for better or for worse.

At Microsoft, there is a lot of “mental-wrestling” where meetings are full of critical thinking. Many times, it’s as if people are trying to figure out (or prove) who is smartest in the room. This works for the software industry with dynamic and constant market changes. It doesn’t take long for a person to figure out if he fits in or not.

There are labor unions at Boeing who narrowly define roles. Anyone who tries to solve problems (or do work) beyond those definitions is discouraged. An ambitious young new employee would immediately start to have difficulties working there.

While some work cultures are infamously demanding or possibly bureaucratic, I still believe it is better to have a distinctive work culture than one that is ambiguous or too accommodating to every work style or different priorities. At least it would be immediately clear what any new employee is getting himself into. A distinctive work culture unifies its people on the way to approach the market and how to work together. This isn’t mandated by some HR policy or code of conduct. It’s the over-riding DNA of a work environment. The management has the responsibility to make sure that the work culture is effective and appropriate for the company vision and goals.

For me, I want people to understand and be on board with our vision or find work elsewhere. This does not mean blind faith and devotion, but general buy-in on what we are trying to accomplish and a desire to be a part of that vision. I want them to care enough to provide constructive feedback whenever necessary. I want the people interviewing for jobs with us to immediately get a clear sense of whether our environment is comfortable for them or not. I’m focused on making our work culture more distinctive moving forward.