People Shape Culture

I am struggling with an idea here, so I have decided to blog it out…Let’s see where it goes.

I used to believe that culture trumped everything.  If you were good at your job as a leader, and you built the right culture, once you left, the culture would sustain.

I am not sure that I believe that anymore.

As I have connected with many educators around the world, they have often confided in me how different their school or organization has become because of that one person in that one new position.  Sometimes it is a superintendent, principal, curriculum director, or a myriad of other administrative roles.  Once in a while, that person makes it better, but more often than should be acceptable, one person in a short time can change the trajectory of a culture negatively.

You see, “culture” is made up of people, and people shape the culture, not necessarily the other way around. 

The notion of “addition by subtraction” is sometimes the right decision, and it goes back to the Jim Collins notion (Author of “Good to Great”), that we need to put, “the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

Let’s just get something clear…I do not believe that people go in trying to destroy a culture, but they just aren’t a fit for what has been created in the past and what is needed to move forward.  There is a great story (I cannot remember where I read it, so if you do know where it is from, please share in the comments below), about a company looking at their culture and deciding to fire their top salesperson.  On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense to remove the person who is doing the best at the job that they are expected to do, but once they were let go, sales for the company went up as a whole.  The reasoning behind it was that the person who was let go from their position was so competitive with their colleagues that they would not only hide their secrets, they would seemingly sabotage people to ensure that they were always the best.  If they were focused on collaboration leading to higher sales, the people in that culture would have to exemplify that.

Earlier in my career, I remember interviewing for a job that I really wanted in a school.  From what I had observed from the interview, I had done extremely well, so I was disappointed when they contacted me and told me that although my interview was great, they were not ready to hire me at that time.  What they had shared at the time didn’t make sense then, but does more now.  They communicated that they loved my vision for education, but it was so far ahead of where many of their staff would be, that they were nervous that I would intimidate some of the team members and I would quickly become ostracized. Hiring me, as they saw, would not be the best use of my talents, and not the best fit in their culture at that time.  What I admire now is that they were not only looking out for their school, but they also wanted to help my career as well. You see, it is not always about hiring the best person for the job, but hiring the best person for the culture that you want to create.  They are not always the same thing.

The scary reality is that it is often easier for a new person to do damage than to make something incredible.  It is why when you hire someone, it is not about just thinking of their qualifications, but looking at where they fit and how they will build on what has been done, while also leaving positive fingerprints on the organization as they move forward.

As I said earlier, people make the culture, whereas culture doesn’t necessarily shape people.  I know people who have had their career rejuvenated by a fantastic leader (I am one of those people), and unfortunately, I know people in the opposite position. One person can make the most significant difference on the whole.  Find the best person for where you have been and where you need to go.

Source: George Couros