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Fit in or F*** Off? – Safeguarding SME Company Culture

I first heard this phrase many years ago from a friend recently returned from a hen weekend in Paris. It was used by one of the women present to another. The recipient had failed to grasp that this weekend was all about drinking pink wine, eating chips and accommodating the flirting of the Hen with any bloke that looked her way. It was not about soaking up the internationally recognised art and architecture. As a result, she sulked and trailed along at the back of a long carousel of bars, restaurants and clubs huffing, puffing and being generally passive aggressive. Whilst the woman who voiced this opinion was particularly straight-talking for what was meant to be a jovial affair, she was only saying out loud what everyone else was thinking: “This is what this weekend is about. You signed up for it. Stop spoiling it for everyone else…”.

Cultural Fit Must Be Assessed Early On

While the Hen scenario may seem a long way off a typical working environment, a company is made up of a bunch of people, flung together on a daily basis, many of whom have little in common aside from their technical expertise and desire to earn a living. But all of whom are expected to rub along together and adopt universal norms almost immediately. Getting this right is mostly addressed at the recruitment stage by the business owner or hiring manager: Interviewing candidates against clearly defined values, spending time matching up their motivations with those of the company and weeding out those who are not strongly aligned with what the business is all about. But sometimes the urgency of a skills gap eclipses a question mark over cultural fit and a square peg is hired in a company of round holes.

Many SMEs Simply Can’t Afford to Accommodate Cultural Bad Apples

In a small business, culture is particularly critical as you don’t have the latitude to just ‘lose’ someone into a different team. One person huffing and puffing at the back can de-rail months of hard work with customers, employees and partners alike. This can be true even if their intentions are honourable and they display loyalty to their leader. Often every effort is made to try and get these squares onside by adopting different ways of working and facilitating lengthy discussions with the whole team on the importance of holding diverse points of view and supporting each other.

A Direct Approach Is Often Best in The Long Run

I’ve seen people spend vast amounts of time (and money) trying to straighten a situation out or letting things lie in the vain hope that it will simply get better in time. Occasionally, this softly-softly strategy works. But most of the time it doesn’t. And by then it’s obvious to both employee and manager that the spark is never going to be there. In this situation, there are few people (me included) who would ever speak to an employee in such an extreme manner as the title of this post suggests. Nor would it be recommended. But there is something to be said for being very direct on what is expected in terms of company culture and for using everyday language rather than terminology traditionally associated with ‘performance improvement’ while your at it.

Be Sure To Make a Stand When Culture is Threatened

If it is not acceptable for someone to bcc another team member in on emails, then call them on it. If it is not acceptable for someone to move resources around to suit their own agenda without the agreement of others, then call them on it. Do it quickly and always follow it up. Because if you don’t, 9 times out of 10, the situation will just worsen and no-one will be happy, least of all your newly hired employee.

The reluctant Hen-go-er did in fact, F*** off (she was on the Eurostar back to London by midday on Saturday). The result? The rest of the weekend free from acrimony. A more relaxed Hen. No more time spent decoding several “I’m fine”s. I guess the group could have spent more of the weekend amending their original plans to accommodate her wishes. But ultimately all were thankful for the courage of their new-found friend in speaking up and making everyone’s weekend a darn sight more enjoyable.


Photo Credit: 057: 26 February by Darren