I’ve worked at places with really good corporate cultures, and some not so good (a huge national advertising agency comes to mind). I worked for one of the not so good ones one summer that had this ridiculous testosterone-overdrive culture where if you didn’t challenge the CEO for his job, you were weak and a loser. It was as though it was run by the preppy football jerks in Revenge of the Nerds–really over the top. But nothing has ever come close to working for a city government office. I think they need to create a new word for the corporate culture there–negative 10 times over just doesn’t paint a picture ugly enough.
I started working for this big city government in 1994 as a purchasing agent. On my first day, I was shown to my office, which I shared with another employee. Sitting behind one of the desks was this older guy with one eye and a long, bushy grey beard. When I was introduced to him, he shook my hand, told me he had worked there for 27 years and then, without skipping a beat, he told me that only losers work for the “this city’s government” and I should leave as soon as I can. That was in the first five minutes and it only got worse from there.
The city was broke. We were on a forced 10 percent pay cut. Productivity was beyond poor. People were literally angry. “It’s not my job,” was the official battle cry of hordes of angry short-sleeved-shirted civil servants. While most assume this overused excuse for not working is a result of laziness, I have to disagree. After spending seven years there, I really think the “it’s not my job” mentality is more a result of a fear of being held accountable for something that will probably fail. It’s more like “I’m not getting blamed for that.” Also, there was always the possibility of being called to task for doing something that was someone else’s job. Each civil service job has strict specifications and duties and I was personally reprimanded several times for helping someone out and crossing over into someone else’s job duties. You can guess what I started telling people after I was told “this isn’t your job, Clayton.”
I could go on forever about that place, but I’ll leave it with this: you can never please everybody. That’s obvious. But if the majority of employees are disgruntled, angry and territorial, the organization has a sickness. Whether it be big government or small business, the same basic tenets of corporate culture will either make or break the organization. I have no idea what the place is like today; I just know what it was like then and it wasn’t good. I’ve seen the best and I’ve seen the worst. The best is definitely the place I want to be.
And on that note, here is a statement from Tim O’Hara of Quicken Loans, who raises the issues of empowering employees (funny how those two words begin with the same three letters); expanding your mind; and changing the way you think about how business should be run:
WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?
The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?
Think about that and about the culture of the company you work for. Ask yourself:
- What if you actually could go and talk to the person who could solve your issue?
- What if you actually spent money on making employees happy?
- What if you took everyone’s ideas and made the whole company work collaboratively toward goals?
I am sure these ideas were thought of as dangerous once…