Tenet 5: Workers Rarely Conform to a New Culture

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Last week we looked at Tenet 4: There is No Right Culture.  This week we’ll look at Tenet 5 and on Thursday, why M&A can be so difficult.

5. Workers Rarely Conform to a New Culture

One of the main reasons that culture initiatives fail is that organizations attempt to change the values of their employees to match those of the organization. On the face of it this seems like a good enough idea, but in reality, this action is more of a mistake than it is helpful.

The reason for this is that after your second decade on th

e planet, your personality and core values as an individual are (for the most part) completely set. This is not to say that people cannot change. Traumatic life events can change people as can intense dedication to doing so. But, it is very rare.

This principle is relevant to two problematic philosophies that are quite prevalent in the corporate world:

  1. Many believe culture changes can work because people are flexible enough to adapt to a different environment.

  2. Cultural red flags are often overlooked when hiring because we assume teammates can influence a person to adapt to the system.

It’s a simple concept, but try to remember this: people are who they are.

Putting some real effort into shifting how people are prone to work (for example, autonomously vs. collaboratively) may work for a while. People will adapt over the short-term because their job depends on it, but it is not sustainable. Ultimately, people will revert to their
 natural tendencies.


Culture change efforts and big events like mergers or acquisitions are rarely successful for this very reason. The expectation placed on people is too great and the support structure is rarely there.


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