Bollocks to Cultural Alignment?

As Groucho Marx perhaps once said, I would never work for a company that would have me as an employee.

I paraphrase a little, but it’s an interesting thought. Do we hire people because they’re like us? Do we hire people because we think they might ‘align culturally’?

And do we avoid hiring certain people because they might not align?

It’s a curious word, isn’t it. Alignment. Do they ‘get in line’ and behave as we do, or are they ‘out of line’. I wonder if, among all of this buzzwordy talk of culture fit, we might have been getting it wrong.

Hold that thought a minute.

Don’t Rock The Boat

There was a company I once did some digital marketing work for. Lovely people. Their motto was “don’t rock the boat”.

And, hands-up, I tried to poach their marketing manager on three separate occasions. I dunno, I just had a sense that she wanted to rock boats, and I wanted a boat rocker. Someone razor-sharp and clever who could do great things.

But she’d managed to navigate her way through not-rocking-boats and proved quite hard to tempt away. Obvs, she has gone on to great things. But that company – would I have lasted five minutes there myself?

There’s a reason people start their own businesses. It’s often because they want to rock the boat and they want to shake things up. Cultural alignment – on this occasion – is probably quite the thing.

Same goes for the hugely sales-led organisation I landed in not so long ago. Am I a sales-led kinda guy? Whaddayouthink? Am I someone who likes an aggressive environment of people shouting at each other because sales have been down in the last 10 minutes? Whaddayouthink?

So cultural alignment, maybe it is quite the thing.

Or… and let’s be a bit more Groucho Marx about this… what if it weren’t?

Nobody wants to hire an arsehole.

Forgive my French. I do hope you have screening processes for this. But what if we looked to hire people who complemented our team rather than ‘fitted in’ with our team.

Neither of the organisations above would have been able to cope with certain character profiles. Like me, for instance. A not-a-salesman-boat-rocker. The culture is so entrenched that cultural alignment is a pre-requisite. And in these cases, what can you do? Nothing. You align to what’s there. It reduces friction.

But what if we loosened things up a little.

What if we built teams that were designed to inspire each other through their differences. I wrote on LinkedIn earlier about my colleague whose EQ was far in excess of mine and who shouted at me when I needed to be shouted at. I hired others who hustled, some who didn’t, some who liked to hide in the corner and some who had proper gobs on them. So to speak.

And yet they always seemed to get on. They always seemed to work well together.

Funny, that.

Hustlers didn’t have to be with hustlers all the time. They could bring others out of their shell. The quieter, more discreet people could teach hustlers to calm down once in a while. Take their time. The high-EQ people can teach low-EQ people to understand more about people.

You would hardly call it ‘cultural alignment’, more ‘cultural adjustment’.

I think now of where we have opportunities to hire multiple people, and how it would be great to find two people who slot in like pieces of a jigsaw. They’re not the same shape (metaphorically), but together, they begin to make a picture.

So yes. Bollocks to cultural alignment. Think instead about fostering cultural adjustment and how you can build teams that don’t align, they just work.

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