Tag Archives: Culture

Dysfunction Wanted

“Before we start, I want you to know that you’ve never worked with an organization like ours…”

This statement, or one like it, generally marks the start of my work with any organization. Global enterprise, mid-sized regional player or single shingle start-up – clients want me to understand the unique nature of who they are and how they operate.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about that statement and why clients are universally compelled to establish that they are one-of-a-kind.


For many years, I took the comments at face value; believing that I’d soon see the operational or cultural unicorns, of which my clients warned. Inevitably, each organization came to resemble every other organization; a group of people just trying to make sense of a business world that doesn’t come with a manual.


Later, I began to wonder if claims of uniqueness sprung from pride. Were they bragging? Were my clients calling attention to some hyper-successful operational cultural aspect of their organization? The idea didn’t last long, as I soon realized the warnings were almost always about bracing me to witness some dysfunction.


Often, we distance ourselves from our work, openly promoting the precedence of our personal life over our professional life. We say, “I work to live. I don’t live to work!”

But that’s not really the case, is it. Our work lives generally include high-value, family-like relationships we cherish. Most people can name their work spouse and may have even discussed the title openly. Many bosses mistake leadership for parent-like oversight; making an office atmosphere resonate with the tension normally produced when real parents interact with unwilling teenagers.

I came to realize the warnings were a form of vulnerability and a show of trust.


I was getting the business version of the talk we give our partners before they meet our parents for the first time. “Ok, this is what you are about to walk into…”

People often ask me how I define organizational culture. In the end, culture is simple – the sum of the interactions of the people comprise the organization. Organizational culture is sort of the same dynamic as when our families get together for the holidays.


Are you hiring for capability and competency or are you really looking for someone to play the role of weird uncle Fred?

It may sound crazy at first, but ask yourself, what’s the dysfunction your organization keeps hiring? Look around, whatever it is, that’s your organizational culture.

As always, I invite you to share your comments and experiences directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Until next time. Stay connected.


Failure Becomes You: Why Failure Is So Hot… (Part III)

Success is exhausting!


Because success isn’t enough – we want perfection.

We want the unbeaten, perfect season.

We want it all and want to break every record along the way.

There’s is only room for one at the tippy-top of any endeavor, which is a real math problem in a world with 7.5 billion people.

If the pursuit of perfection weren’t tiring enough, we go to great lengths to avoid opening up about our failures.

We hide our insecurities.

We protect our secrets.

Up and coming transformationalist, Kyle Cease, suggests we acknowledge our shortcomings, “embrace our insecurity and stop trying to please others.” (Don’t know Kyle? Watch this video!)

The impossibly exhausting pursuit of perfection makes acceptance of failure seem like a breath of fresh air!

The founders of the demotivation website Despair.com have turned our growing interest in failure into a commercial venture stating,

Motivation products don’t work butour demotivatior® products don’t work even better… When we started Despair, we had a dream. To crush other people’s dreams!

The TedTalks.com library is fast developing a robust selection of failure talks, includinghiring people with imperfect resumes, admissions of organizational failure, thebeauty of being a misfit among many.

Acceptance of failure can benefit us personally, interpersonally, as parents and as business leaders:

  • Personally. Perfection requires rigid adherence to protocol and process, a little failure reduces formality, relieves the pressure and loosens everybody up,
  • Interpersonally. Admissions of imperfection allow us to act more genuinely, making us accessible and allowing others to connect with us more quickly and more deeply,
  • For Kids. Failure is crucial to healthy development. If they don’t fall, how will they ever learn to get back up again? (so no ribbon for coming in last again for 15-year old Jimmy Bobby) and
  • In Business. Celebrating failure is a powerful culture change tool, giving employees permission to try new things without risking the penalties failure typically brings.

Thanks to all of you that have shared your insights and perspectives. This topic has created several interesting conversations and I welcome hearing your thoughts by writing me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Until next week, stay connected!


Do You Belong Here?

Few topics stir more emotion than organizational culture. Over the last year, we’ve spent a great deal of time examining what organizational culture is and how it affects individual performance and health.

Here are a three fallacies of organizational culture to consider:

  1. Organizations Have One Culture = FALSE

Organizational culture is an elusive, transitory and intensely personal description of the characteristics of your workplace. Within any given organization, Culture varies over time and differs across departments, functions, hierarchical levels and geographic locations, among other factors. In practice, organizational culture is in the eyes of the beholder – it is the aggregation of how you and others in your organization perceive it.

  1. The Larger the Organization the Less Important the Individual = FALSE

A commonly held belief is that the sense of belonging, so often associated with start-ups, is lacking in larger organizations where people can often feel isolated, unappreciated or worse – unnoticed. In practice, organizational culture in larger enterprises is a mosaic of micro-cultures created by the regional or functional areas and often fostered by the executive in charge – change the executive and change the micro-culture.

  1. My Values Must Align with Organizational Values = FALSE

Most organizations, explicitly or implicitly operate with a formal hierarchy and an informal network organization. Hierarchies are designed to keep the factory running while networks are designed to assess and respond to environmental changes. So, when it comes to values, the more aligned you are, the better positioned you are to work within the hierarchical structure of the organization. The more aligned your values, the better you fit with the rhythm of the business – the way the business is run today. The less aligned your values are with the organization’s, the more likely you are to provide the networked side of the organization fresh ideas and new ways of thinking(innovation) and working (collaboration).

If you find yourself asking do you belong here, it’s worth exploring how you, as a leader, can become an agent of change and right the wrongs you see in the system. Sure, some people and organizations just don’t mix, but before you jump ship, consider how you might turn a cultural mismatch into a career accelerator by considering the fallacies of culture discussed here.

Have an idea or story about culture that you think should be included in our work?  Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with me at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.