Many years ago when I started down my professional path my views on culture were undefined.
My initial career path was in law enforcement (that’s a whole other post) and that led me into joining the Army. The Army has a very interesting culture, more on that later.
From the Army I changed paths and got into sales. One of my first sales jobs was in the proverbial ‘boiler room’ where I was given phone-books for the metro and surrounding cities in Idaho.
The Yellow Pages were my leads and my job was to “dial for dollars” as my manager put it. I was young and invincible so I dialed as much as I could and rubbed the numbers off that ancient desk phone. I was selling junk marketing programs. The company is still around so I won’t name them but the premise was selling new leads that were captured through my company’s programs.
It was right out of a bad movie. The dynamic of the teams were an encouraged cut-throat mentality of produce or get fired and the clock was reset on the first day of every month. Because of this every man for himself environment, the employe turn over rate was around 85% with new sales reps coming in weekly to get an hour of training and then handed a stack of phone books. You can’t make this stuff up.
If you made it through a QTR, you were basically a team manager, you got a raise and became responsible for getting the newbies up to speed fast.
I lasted 4 months and only because I wanted to get the $5 an hour raise after the 3 month mark. Not because I needed the money, but something inside just felt good about lasting longer than most. The Army taught me to “embrace the suck” and they tested my resolve on many occasions. There is a sense of accomplishment knowing you can go through hell and come out on the other side with some great stories to tell. Even with work.
I quit that job and I had to sit in the sales managers office and explain to him why I was leaving. I think he was so used to firing people that having someone leave voluntarily was just bizarre. I told him I was leaving because it wasn’t a good fit for me. He proceeded to attempt motivating me to stay by quoting chapters of Tony Robbins books to me. I was already reading Tony and his perceptions of what was in the books was on the opposite spectrum of what I thought.
I quit that job when I couldn’t stomach selling what I amounted to garbage, which left me feeling like I was stealing money.
That place was toxic. That was the job that taught me the most valuable lesson in culture. That job taught me just how bad it can be when not a priority.
One of my later sales jobs was nurturing and almost familial and though it was pure enjoyment 99% of the time, where work was being done and people got along, it was almost seen as hurtful when someone’s work was criticized or when leadership was challenged.
That place was wonderful. It was where I learned to appreciate work and to enjoy the people along with the journey.
Now let’s backup. When I was enlisted, I was surrounded by a bunch of Type-A people. High speed and low drag soldiers that could do anything. There was no room for being timid or sensitive. They could smell fear like animals and it just made them hungry. The bravado and aggression was encouraged because…well…I think it was because that’s what soldiers need to become in order to survive. I choose to think that because against all the odds, we did survive.
The Army culture I experienced was no bullshit, high tempo execution and the ability to enjoy downtime to excessive measures, just followed by another day of work. The men and women I served with never gave up and held to a standard that I still admire to this day.
The Army was amazing. Not for the weak but I was given some experiences of a lifetime with some really good people.
Culture drives work. In every job I’ve had consciously or unconsciously, culture was at the center. Learning to adapt is the only way to achieve success. Good, bad or ugly, It’s the soul of your company.
Each of us will fit better in some cultures than others and it will be rare to find a culture that so closely aligns to your own that you can transform yourself and the company.
Culture needs to be specific and defined. It should be a focal point for every company, big or small. If you don’t define it, it’s bound to become harmful. Maybe not this month or next, but eventually it will break things.
Culture is everything.