Many years ago, a colleague of mine left the consultancy we both worked for to join a competitor.
Shortly after, word got around that her sales figures went through the roof in the new firm.
I was curious to learn what helped her be so successful at the new company. When we met for dinner, I asked her what she thought was different.
She reflected on potential reasons: “It can’t be me. I’m still the same person I was three months ago. It’s not the services, either — we’re still doing the good old OD consulting. It’s not the market — that’s the same, too,” she continued. “It must be the company culture,” she finally concluded.
Individual performance = (person x culture)
Company culture was never discussed openly at the firm we both worked at. Our employer wanted us to believe that individual performance was merely a function of our personal traits, motives, grit, discipline, knowledge, and experience.
One of the first things I realized after following my friend’s footsteps and leaving the company was that it was a big, fat lie.
Just like my friend, I was able to accomplish and contribute way more in my new company simply because the culture was healthier and more supportive.
If you want to get the best out of your people, you need to remember that individual performance is a function of a) what people bring to the table as individuals and b) their company’s culture.
It won’t matter if you hire the most talented people in the world. There’s no amount of talent and determination that can overcome a toxic culture. But a healthy, adaptive, and supportive culture can help people overcome their personal limitations.
Culture is a set of expectations
The first step to cultivating a healthy culture is understanding what culture is.