Do You Have the Culture You Want?

I know that it’s not in fashion to talk about organizational culture anymore as the concept of engagement has taken over.  But there is something still to be said about how people think they should act and the social norms that influence them.  These influences exist whether you talk about them at the country, state, or organizational level.

A good example in the US is a recent story with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Employees in one office admitted to putting more scrutiny into tax-exemption applications from political opponents of the president than other groups.  Best that we can tell now, there wasn’t an effort coming from the White House to do this.  But, at some point someone thought that the new approach was a good idea and went ahead with it.  Maybe there’s data which shows that those types of applications are more fraudulent than others.  Or, the culture of that office was one that made assumptions about one political group versus others.

Every company has a culture.  Some, like Hewlett-Packard and Google, wear it on their sleeves.  Others only think about their culture when something that completely goes against it occurs.  For example, a utility company may have an unspoken cultural norm of “keeping the lights on” that’s never really talked about until they suffer a massive failure.

When working with companies on their culture, it’s amazing how consistent employees are in describing it, even across departments.  Comments about what it is like to work at a company, such as “Do what you are told,” “You can question authority,” “It’s all about profit,” or “It’s all about the customer” are heard consistently.

Where does culture come from?  Sometimes from stories passed down (apocryphal or not) from something the founders did or said.  More likely, culture comes from the behaviors that are rewarded.  If working 18 hours a day gets people promoted, then people will work 18 hours a day.  If doing outside charitable work in the company’s name gets recognized, then employees will think of the company as one that gives back to the community.  If you want to change your company’s culture, you must examine what truly gets rewarded and recognized.  Only after those changes are made, and the passage of time, will you see a difference.  There is no culture change because a leader says so.

Your engagement survey results should be able to tell you quite a bit about your culture.  You can get a sense of your company’s culture by looking at your performance appraisal form.  If you want to be innovative, are you recognizing and rewarding (reasonable) risk or cost containment?  If you want engaged employees, are you recognizing managers who have low turnover?  While the saying “What gets measured get done” is a cliche, it also happens to be true.  The corollary is “What gets measured and recognized is your culture.”

What steps are you taking with senior management to develop the culture you want?

For more information on employee engagement, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or

Those Who Want to Lead vs. Those Who Can

I am a guest blogger this week on the Human Capital Institute website (and will be monthly for the next 6 months).  This month I write about managing the leadership identification process at  Feel free to comment here or on that site with your thoughts on leadership identification.  I’m interested in hearing about your techniques as well.

For more information on pre-employment testing, leadership, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or

To Retest or Not to Retest

When giving tests, especially for promotions, candidates who don’t move on in the process due to their scores always want to know when they can take the assessment again.  Their assumption is that they’ll do better the next time they take the test.  This is often a fallacy as they are as likely to do worse as they are to do better the next time they take the test in most situations.  The issue from an employer’s perspective is when should someone be allowed to retake a test?  These considerations should include science, employee relations, and cost.

HR should first manage the expectations of people retaking tests.  Unless the test in question measures job knowledge (where studying or experience is very likely to lead to improvements), a person’s test score is unlikely to change much.  For example, personality (conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, etc.) is a trait, meaning it is pretty constant over time, unless the test is unreliable.  Any movement in the test score is going to have more to do with changes in how the person answers the questions (faking or guessing) than a shift in personality.  Likewise, general mental ability is not something that is going to change very much in adults either.

Second, it’s understandable that companies have an employee relations nightmare on their hands if they tell people they can NEVER retest for a job.  A good rule of thumb is that tests that measure traits (e.g., personality and general mental ability) should have a longer amount of time between retests than for those assessments where a person can reasonably be expected to improve after receiving feedback and training (e.g., a knowledge test or assessment center).  For the latter, management can reasonably ask the person to demonstrate that s/he took some concrete steps to improve in the areas measured by the assessment before taking it again.  Due to cost constraints, you don’t want the same person going through an assessment center every 90 days.

Third, if you’re going to allow people to retest, you should have parallel forms of your assessment.  This means having separate versions where the average and distribution of the scores are nearly identical.  For tests available for purchase, you can ask the publisher if they have a parallel form of the assessment (they should).  For interviews, role plays, etc., you should change things around some so subsequent administrations are not exactly the same.  My experience is that the same version will normally do fine, but it will make others feel better knowing that you’re not giving exactly the same assessment to people over time.

If assessment is part of your promotion process (and it should be), I can guarantee you that people who fail will want to retest.  What you need is a policy that takes into account the employees’ need to feel that they have a fair chance to do well during the process, the science behind the test/assessment, and reasonable cost controls.  This happens to be a situation where that is not hard to do.

For more information on pre-employment testing, skills assessment, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or

Mentoring Lasts

Several years ago, my graduate school mentor was talking to me about family trees and the conversation moved to academic ones.  We talked about some people in the field and who their mentors were and how these branches formed different thought areas.  I’m sure the exercise can be done in any area of study (it’s been done extensively in mathematics) and in the business world as well.

We’ve all had mentors and there is a good deal of research done on what makes a good one.   Many companies have formalized mentorship programs, often to improve the promotability of women and racial minorities and/or to increase employee engagement.  The data also shows that the process is good for the mentor as well.  These relationships tend to be long lasting, even past the initial setting.  In fact, you’re probably thinking of a mentor or a protégé right now.

This all came together when I read an interview with Ilene Gordon on the importance of mentors.  She provides a very concrete example of how her mentor helped her early in her career.  It’s clear that the lessons she learned from him are still affecting her some 30 years later.

Now, she provides her high potentials with opportunities to be in front of her board.  Interestingly, she gives them 3 minutes to talk about themselves, adversity they have faced and how they bring value to the company.  That’s a lot for 3 minutes!  I would think that this exposure leads to some of these managers finding mentors (and probably doing some great networking among themselves).

Gordon returns to this theme when asked about interviewing.  She asks candidates who their mentors were to get a sense of the person’s knowledge lineage with the idea being the person’s thought process is highly influenced by his/her mentors.  There’s certainly a discussion to be had as to whether this unfairly places the candidate in a particular box, but it does show the importance of what we learn from mentors and how we are perceived differently based on who they were.  Whether that’s considered baggage or a seal of approval is in the eye of the beholder.

Whether it’s through the opportunities it provides us or how people think of us, mentoring relationships stay with us far longer than when we actually interact with the person.  Something to think about when choosing a mentor or a protégé.

For more information on pre-employment testing, leadership and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or

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