One of the best parts about being fresh out of college is just how naive you are that you can actually change the world. It’s a belief you’ve been taught since you were little, and by the time you’ve received your last A+ on a college project, you know you have a great skill set to offer.
As you head off to your first job interview, you’re eager to share how you will be an added asset to the company. You luck out and land the job. You bounce in on your first day, and most people greet you with excitement. You soak it all in, and when included, you bravely share your ideas.
But then, overtime, something slowly starts to happen. You assimilate into the company’s culture, and slowly the “you” the company hired for all your creative skill sets becomes a mummified version of the other people who roam the halls at your company.
Why does this happen?
In the book Leading Change, John P Kotter describes this phenomenon. It was something I had never really pondered over the last 17 years of my experience in the working world. As I read this part of the book, I realized I had fallen victim to the trap throughout my career.
If you haven’t read the book yet, I encourage you to pickup a copy. For less than $20 on Amazon, you’ll take away a lot of great ideas that make you more than glad you made the investment.
If you want the Cliff’s Notes version of the phenomenon, keep reading…
Phase 1: Selection Teams Hire for Fit
Let’s face it. Interviews suck. It is truly impossible to get to know someone in a few hours of conversations. I have sat on interview teams at three different companies, and they all have had the same main purpose.
Interview teams are looking for someone who they believe will “fit” into their company’s culture. Most studies show the main reason a new hire doesn’t stay with a company long term is because they don’t fit in to the culture. So “fit” is important.
But be careful what you’re fitting someone to…
Phase 2: Culture Starts Shaping the New Employee
As the new hires start their career, they hear from HR about the written policies that “govern” the company. They sign off on a handbook stating they understand them.
Then they attend their first meeting, and they start to learn the real rules that “govern” the company.
They bravely share their ideas and are met with either dead silence or total skepticism. Those moments teach them the value your company has for their thoughts, and soon, they stop sharing…until they can figure out how to assimilate their ideas to match those of the group.
Next comes the break room gossip. One of the senior employees stops a new employee in the break room to read them the riot act. The new employee starts to learn the ranks of the company, the underground workings, and the politics that govern success. Quickly, they realize they must adapt or die.
Phase 3: New Employees Turn Into Old Employees
As the new employees grow within the company, they become the company. They fit in because they agree. They are promoted because they don’t challenge the status quo. They are rewarded because they successfully assimilate into the “group think” culture that has always existed.
Soon, a decade has gone by, and those same “new employees” of yester-year are now the employees on the interview selection team. The circle repeats and change becomes harder and harder to implement.
Stop the Insanity! Value the Change…
While I took away many good ideas from Kotter’s book, the synopsis you just read stood out above all the others. If you think your company is different, I would challenge you to think again.
I pondered back over my career. I have worked for some amazing companies. But I can also pinpoint moments in my career that changed how I participated in meetings, idea shares, and more.
There was the day I walked into a teammate’s office, and she blatantly ignored me, aside from the moment she made it clear I had interrupted her during her “scheduled” time to be alone. When the CEO walked in a few minutes later to join me, her tone changed entirely. She was eager to drop everything to please him.
She would later read me my rites letting me know she did everything by the book and if I ever crossed the line that hurt the CEO, she would make sure I wasn’t there anymore. I’m sure she was well intentioned in her view of the business world, but on week two, I suddenly felt a need to be overly guarded in my actions.
Then there was the time at a company where I was hired for a specific track record. After less than a month on the job, I was pulled away to focus on other projects and priorities. As I tried to change things that had been done in the past, I was told repeatedly they were done this way for a reason. Eventually, I just kept doing things that way, too. Not surprisingly, our results didn’t show the improvement I had planned to bring to the company.
In both instances, the companies were very successful companies. But I can’t help but ponder how many other people had their talents, thoughts, or creativity stifled by the culture.
Why Millennials are Job Hoppers
As I pondered all of the above, I couldn’t help but ponder the question plaguing my generation…”What are we going to do with the Millennials?”
They are the generation labeled as either “too lazy to work” or “most likely to jump ship”.
Maybe the lazy ones are staying because companies have cultures that allow them to assimilate and fly under the radar. And maybe the great ones are jumping because they truly believe they were born to change the world. You can’t be a change agent if the only path to success requires you to stay status quo.
Maybe we should stop hiring for fit and instead start appreciating and adapting to the change others bring. Change is difficult, but it is the only proven way I know of to get different results.