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Instilling Corporate Culture

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The pandemic stopped people from going to the office.  We can see a time where that won’t be the case anymore. Herd immunity by April is the projection of some scientists.  For sure by the middle of summer if governments do a good job of distributing vaccines.  Of course, relying on the government to do anything well is a lesson in mismanagement but I digress.

I wonder about how companies and firms will instill corporate culture into new employees.

When I was 21, I took a job at 3M.  The first order of operations was decamping to St. Paul, MN for the entire summer.  We started training in June after graduation.  I had around 15 people in my training class.  We stayed at a hotel right by the HQ and every day we’d put in 8 solid hours of training.  In the evening, my class would hang out.  We’d hang out on weekends too.  My wife had a similar experience with Johnson and Johnson.

You would meet rising stars in the company and relationships would be formed.  Mentorship happened.

You’d learn skills and facts about products, but you would learn things like, “25% of our top-line revenue is generated by products introduced in the last five years.”  You would hear stories of how a salesperson or scientist or marketing person created something that contributed to that top line.  That tells you, “we are innovative and we expect you to be innovative too.”  We even had informal rites of passage.  I still have my “short snifter” dollar bill around somewhere thanks to Tom McCaleb.  When I was trading there was another ex-3M’er on the floor in a different pit and he had his short snifter bill too.  I think Jeff Minch calls the sum of all these things “The Wisdom of the Campfire”.

When we were done, we were sent to a branch office and supervised by a manager until we received our sales territory.  You’d have at a minimum a weekly call with that branch manager, and often a meeting.    When you got out of programs like that, you were indoctrinated into, and steeped into the culture of the company.

That culture wash brands you as a member of the organization.

Accounting firms and professional firms weren’t that much different.  They embedded their culture into their recruits.  Arthur Anderson, Ernst and Young, Peat Marwick, and the rest of the Big 8 accounting firms were not the same.  They prided themselves on being a bit different.  Consulting and law firms were the same.

This past summer, interns at firms didn’t go into the office.  It was all virtual.  I am hearing anecdotal stories that there was virtually no difference in experience from one firm to another.  No differentiation. Plain vanilla.

When that happens, you don’t feel the pull, the tie to an organization.

However, people that all were in the same town commiserated with each other.  They worked at different firms. But, they bound themselves over the same what I believe to be a very marginal experience.  When we think about their experience and the future of work, will it be easier to form independent pods of independent workers that are more efficient and cheaper than the old big firm?

The independent pods will require some overarching resources that a larger firm can give them.  But I think the biggest thing large firms give companies is an assumption that there is less risk in using them.  They also give them a brand name.  “Our attorney/accountant/consultant is XYZ so you can rest assured that…”  Big firms also have lots of people they can toss at a project to get things done quickly.  But, software and a transitioning workforce might be able to help independent pods flourish and compete.

During the pandemic, we saw a centralization of business in large firms. They benefitted while small and medium-size businesses were artificially crushed.

I think in the short run, all firms will be hurt by this.  For the small and medium-size businesses that survived, I think they will be able to instill culture and adapt faster simply because they are smaller and should be more agile. As we emerge, I think that big firms are going to find holes that could trip them up.  Firms won’t have the same culture among newer employees.  That will affect their business.

I wonder about the interns and trainees.  This is a generation that has already been stung by a financial crisis.  They are not as “loyal”.  Their macroeconomic statistical prediction for long-term earnings is lower than the previous generations.  We saw that play out in the generation that came of age in The Depression.

My gut tells me that people will be flexible about coming into the office until 2022.  If their top-line revenue suffers they will quickly revert.  They’ll want to see smiling faces in bright shiny places.  Remember this ad?

It will be interesting to watch.

The post Instilling Corporate Culture first appeared on Points and Figures.


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