Corporate Culture and Cats

Corporate CultureI recently learned a lot about corporate culture from my cat, Jack!

You are probably wondering what I could learn about corporate culture from the cute guy in this picture. Jack is pretty cute, but what the picture does not tell you is he is quite large.

Jack is 17 pounds and, as you can see from the picture below, when stretched out against a meter stick, he is quite long.

Jack is that guy or gal at work who seems likes a really nice guy until… something changes.

He or she then becomes a completely different person.

Maybe you just hired someone new into your department and, suddenly, the dynamics change.

Maybe your company was acquired and the corporate culture shifts.

Changes in Corporate Culture

Corporate Culture

Click to Enlarge

A couple of months ago, we took in a stray cat who we call Rex. Rex was probably abandoned by college students who live in the apartments behind our condo unit. Rex is quite gentle and much smaller than Jack. Rex is eleven pounds.

We kept them separated for about a week, letting them get to used to one another. What we discovered was that Jack is a real bully.

The corporate culture in our household changed dramatically.

Jack would try to monopolize space. He was protecting his turf.

Have you seen this at work?

Rex figured out how to sit on the bar and watch Jack. At the right moment, he jumps down and walks by Jack. Suddenly, he runs up the stairs with Jack in close pursuit. Rex is a lot faster than Jack, and he knows it. Rex knows how to bait Jack.

Just like office politics.

Rex and Jack’s behaviors are slowly getting better. We are policing their behavior and rewarding good behavior.

Life after Acquisition

I have worked for two successful tech start ups. The cultures of the two were polar opposites of one another but that only became apparent after there was an acquisition.

In 2000, I went to work for a semi-conductor start up that was acquired in 2001. After the acquisition, not much changed. We added new people and they seemed to seamlessly fit in. The founders were very clear on the culture they wanted to create, and hired only people who fit their vision. I stayed for almost four years after the acquisition because of the corporate culture.

In 2007, I went to work for an HD video start up that was later acquired in 2009. Almost immediately after the acquisition, the culture changed. It was just like us bringing Rex into our household.

  • Bullying behavior started
  • Managers and their teams started to protect their turfs
  • Hiring practices became very political

I left thirteen months after the acquisition when my ethical boundaries were crossed.

The similarities between what happened after the acquisition and bringing a new cat into our household was striking!

What Was Different?

In the first situation, management clearly defined the culture and their hiring practices mirrored the culture they wanted to create. After the acquisition, that culture endured for a very long time, even in very tough economic times.

This did not happen in the second situation—the culture they created was only skin deep. The corporate culture was only a facade which they were able to maintain in good times but not bad.

A good litmus test for a prospective employer is ask what changed in the last recession? Did the corporate culture change?

Have you experienced a corporate culture that can endure change?