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  • Christiane Wuillamie

4. Corporate Culture works on human logic, not business logic

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts from 10 Culture Principles.

Humans evolved as social creatures and fitting into the group is hard-wired into our human DNA and reinforced through social networks. Belonging to a group or tribe was necessary for survival in prehistoric times, and the same is true in modern organizations.

Imagine a newly hired employee with a family, mouths to feed, and a mortgage. The most important thing for that new employee is to fit in; to get along with new teammates and the boss. Fitting in means understanding and matching “how things are done around here”.

It’s the same social and peer pressure process that drives fashion trends; the need to fit in and be part of the group. In the 60’s there was no official declaration that acid-rock music, bell bottoms, long hair and tie-dye t-shirts were cool, yet within a few short months kids the world over were now belonging to a distinct tribe, Hippies. Even if you didn’t follow the Hippie beliefs, many of us dressed to fit in. It was a social trend turned into fashion.

When people are alone, their behaviour tends to be a product of numerous personal beliefs, attitudes, morals and habitual approaches to rules and regulations. We each follow our own internal code of conduct and ethics. However, when becoming part of a group, especially one where a pay check depends on fitting in, many people adopt the behavioural norms of the group, even if they tend to be different from their personal beliefs and behaviour.

What drives employee behavior?

When alone:

  • Personal Values

  • Goals or Desires

  • Risks and Rewards

  • Rules or Laws

  • Emotional State

  • Hunger

  • Fear

When in a group:

  • Peer Pressure

  • Demands from the Boss

  • Desire to Fit In

  • Group Norms

  • Fear of Being Ostracised

  • Recognition

Peer pressure and social groups are key in how corporate culture is formed and sustained.

Research by academics and behavioural scientists has shown that individual behaviour at work is determined more by peer pressure than employer proclamations, decrees, controls, rules or regulations. Companies are composed of numerous sub-cultures, each of which have strong unwritten ground rules for how members should behave in order to “fit in” and remain a “part of the group”.

Experiments in group behaviour have consistently proven that even when individuals know what is right and know what should be done, many will not take the important step of speaking up or going against the “collective group” to which they belong.

Most people think of an organization as a hierarchical structure, with a boss at the top and various people with different skills and responsibilities cascading downward. The fact is, most organizations don’t work in a top-down hierarchical fashion, but as a social network with a few key individuals seen as informal leaders with a great deal of influence in how things are done.

As a good example, think about who has the strongest influence on how a hospital runs. The CEO of the hospital? The Hospital Administrator? The senior doctor? We all know who really calls the shots; the Head Nurses. It’s the same in the military, where the Master Sargent tends to be the key influencer.

Corporate culture is a product of human logic, not business logic. If you want to improve performance, learn how subcultures operate in your company.

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