What’s Your Corporate Culture?

By Barry Maher

The culture of an organization is often hard to define. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t as powerful and as pervasive as gravity. In my dark and distant past, after running my own business for a number of years, I joined a multi-national Fortune 100 company. They’d just finished a record-breaking year, and shortly after I started, the local region decided to hold a lavish Superbowl party, with entertainment, drinks and a huge buffet.

As the memo said, “This Super-Extravaganza is your Leadership Team’s way of rewarding those who—each in their own small way—helped make our success possible.”

Of course, I hadn’t had very much at all to do with making their success possible. Not in my own small way or any other. Plus it meant a 200 mile round trip to Pasadena, fighting L.A. traffic and dodging Superbowl drunks. And regional management had decreed that since the party was for the benefit of the employees, “Hotel rooms for the night of January 27th are NOT to appear on expense reports!!!!” (Four exclamation points seemed to indicate they were probably serious about it.)

I tried to beg off.

I was informed in writing in no uncertain terms that not only did management want everyone to come and have a good time, they insisted on it. “Party attendance is not optional!!!” (Three exclamation points still seemed pretty serious, if not quite as serious as four.)

Never one to miss out on any fun I can’t possibly avoid, I arrived at the party just before kickoff. I helped myself to a beer. (I’d pay for my own damn hotel room!!!!!) Then I got a plate of food and sat down at the only open table anywhere near me: with my boss and the Division Manager and the Regional VP, all of whom had always been extremely friendly while recruiting me.

“Not here, Barry,” the regional VP told me, rather harshly I thought. “This is the management table.”

“Oh,” I said. “Corporate strategy and all that, huh?”

“No,” he shot back impatiently. “No business today. But this IS the management table!” With or without verbal exclamation points, his tone immediately told me everything I needed to know about the rigidity of this particular corporate culture.

It was a rigidity that I never got used to and usually tended to ignore. The good news was that, through a lot of hard work and even more good luck, eventually I reached the point where the regional management team needed me more than I needed them. Then like any young, slightly obnoxious 800 pound gorilla I got to sit any place I wanted, any time I wanted.

I decided to sit someplace else, someplace that suited me far better. Just like most of the company’s budding young stars.

By the way, I’ve still got stock in that multinational. I should have sold it years ago. It’s worth less than 50% of what it was.

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