In parts 12 of this blog series, we explored a critical question on the minds of many people work in organizations. Even more than free beer, employees often wonder if their company exists for them or if they exist for the company. Too often being one of 100 or one of 15,000 can make it feel like you do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That said, your organization does not exist so you can be happy. It exists to serve its interests, and your employment is seen (at least for now) to be one elements which helps the company serve its interests. That will likely change one day, and then, things about your employment will likely change. The same is true for benefits your organization offers or does not offer. Companies do not have to offer most of what they do offer, such as the amount of vacation a person receives or a cappuccino machine in the break room. Benefits come and go as the company makes choices about what it needs to provide (or does not need to) in order to stay competitive and, ultimately, fulfill on its concerns. (side note: you might want to take advantage of the free treatment on the next Massage Monday as I hear inflation will be rising soon)

Without much inspection, we might think that people work in particular organizations because of the benefits. All things being equal, that might be the case. However, all things are not equal. In fact, very little is equal and it all exists in a dynamic balance of worth and value based on an infinitely long number of elements, a situation technologists refer to as a complex and adaptive system. So why do people stay and why do people leave, if, indeed, there is no free beer?

We know why many people leave. Part of it is found in the long-held axiom in human resource departments that “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.” Experience tells us that this is true, whether from our own personal dealings or what we see in the realities of our colleagues, family, or friends. A bad boss can kill off even the most enthusiastic, committed, and selfless employee’s zest for the work environment. We have all either seen it or been there ourselves.

Perhaps more interesting to explore is why people stay as long as they do. One answer could be simply momentum and pattern, often described as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It is amazing how much we can tolerate when those with whom we work the closest – colleagues, teammates, and our manager – are the kind of people who help make the day-to-day experience of work satisfactory. In a word that is culture.

Insigniam distinguishes culture as what is rewarded and what is reinforced in an organization, most of it typically unofficial and unnoticed. These are the patterns of thinking and the patterns of action – that is, what people do and say and how they be, as well as what they do not typically do or say or how they be – which people in an organization point to when they talk about an organization’s corporate culture.

Building an intentional corporate culture is not about having ping pong tables, nor is it (gasp!) about offering free beer. It is about putting in place the patterns of action, of conversation, and of interacting which provide people the opportunities and pathways to fulfill on the interests and concerns of the company in ways beyond what is typical or likely. A starting place to consider in your organization is to ask, “What is that we really reinforce and reward here?” Look at how people act, as that is the window into what is rewarded and reinforced? At what is your company really good? Where are you sloppy? Where do people say one thing and do something else? All of this points to your culture.

You can give people free beer for awhile, but eventually they will want to build something. What is it your organization is building?

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