I recently sat in a facilitated discussion about the development of emerging leaders with a group of my peers from large employers in my area. During the course of the conversation, one particularly seasoned HR leader at the table offered up that one of the most critical characteristics of the emerging leaders within his organization was “cultural fit.” When pressed about what that meant, he explained that culture is something that’s very difficult to define. The obvious follow up question is “if you can’t define it, then how do you measure for cultural fit?” He responded that it’s just something you can tell about the person. I glanced around the room as he said this to see nodding heads around the table. (I am not making this up.)
As I sat a bit stunned to have just heard this exchange, the discussion continued. In less than ten minutes, the same person brought up that attitude was a very important characteristic in their emerging leaders. When asked to speak more about that, he said . . . wait for it . . . “it’s really hard to define, you just can kind of feel it.” Un. Freaking. Believable.
So, to summarize this HR executive leader’s comments: They know that cultural fit and attitude are critically important components for identifying those people who will make or break the future of their company. However, they have no reliable way to measure these things in others, so instead they fall back on the old reliable HR tool, “gut feel.” Is it any wonder that HR isn’t considered a legitimate player at the executive table with this kind of thinking?
I wish this were an isolated or fabricated story. Sadly, this type of scene is playing itself out in HR departments in companies everywhere. Too many of us have fallen into the trap to believe that if something is hard to define, that it’s not possible. Don’t let this happen to you.
Here’s a list of things that are hard to define:
For some reason, it seems that the things that matter the most are also the most difficult to define. However, each of these can be defined. This work is not for the faint of heart because it’s big, ugly, scary work to take on because despite the power that definition brings in alignment and focus, the effort will be met with resistance. This resistance comes because the process of definition not only requires the organization to define and commit to what it IS, but also what it IS NOT. This process takes out the gray area of culture or leadership where it’s easy to hide if you aren’t playing within the rules.
So, yes, it’s hard to define culture. Most people won’t even try. Be different. Do it anyway.