Pandering HR Can Mess Culture Up

Accountability Contribution Organizational culture


Key Point: People change behavior based on social interactions NOT because of some pay or performance system. Speaking as a former Chief People Officer, I think too many Human Resource (HR) professionals screw things up with good intentions, by pandering to business leaders who want some “silver bullet” HR tool or system to do their work as LEADERS.  When “bosses” don’t have the skill, will, or capability to inspire people to contribute in ways they want, they sometimes plead for HR to come up with that magical “talent performance system” or “ pay incentive plan,” so suddenly we might all snap to attention and behave just the way we are supposed to. By the way, how do you like to be “performance managed?” And don’t you like the idea that because someone “drops a few more pellets,” you and I will somehow jump up like a lab rat to behave differently? (Don’t get me wrong… I like to make lots of money. However, no pay system, however it’s designed, is going to be the prime driver for what I do and stand for).

As leaders, our job is to create a culture, a “social construct” in which people can embed themselves. Being part of that culture needs to become far more important than any punishments or rewards an employee gets. Being a member of the group becomes an end in itself. If you’ve ever been part of a team or group that you deeply care about, you know what I’m talking about. It’s about the gratifying connection of being in a band of sisters and brothers, working towards a meaningful purpose, and never wanting to let each other down.

Jason Korman, the co-founder and CEO of Gapingvoid (an innovative and leading culture design firm), describes culture as a social construct. Ben Hardy, an organization/industrial psychologist, writes about Korman’s views in a great Huffington Post article. The following captures some key points I fully resonate with:

“Change doesn’t happen through training or rewards, Korman argues, it happens socially. Rather than raises, being a part of THIS TEAM is how an employee will gain a deep sense of meaning, purpose, and connection in their life. Thus, according to Korman, leaders need to move their way up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and stop focusing on the base needs. Move up to the esteem needs, the needs for connection, and ultimately self-actualization, which can and should happen as a member of the in-group or social culture. Getting people embedded into the social construct.

So how do you get people embedded in such cultures? If you look at organizations like Zappos, when you become a member you become a ‘Zapponian.’

In other words, a person needs to tie their identity to the group. There needs to rituals and relics. There must be buy-in to the shared beliefs and behaviors that are part of the in-group. There needs to be deep connection-making happening, where people in the group learn from each other, become comfortable with each other, and develop trust. It’s not about punishments and rewards. Once a person is experiencing deep meaning and purpose from being a member of the community, their performance will naturally rise. In other words, once a person is experiencing deep connection and purpose from being a part of something bigger than themselves, you won’t be able to stop them from performing. Why? Because company outcomes will become EMOTIONAL. It won’t be about not getting a raise if an organizational outcome isn’t hit. It will be about the group not fulfilling its mission. When such is the case, good luck stopping people from working until the results happen.

When organizations can create true social cultures, wherein their employees experience a deep of meaning and purpose, and thus org outcomes become EMOTIONAL, then clients and customers will become very happy and business will become highly profitable.”

And yes, HR systems can really help. However, they need to help with attractive “pull” rather than “command” push. Advanced HR leaders know this and design accordingly.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Do you know what and how to grow a great culture? Or do you think it’s just kinda topical to talk about it? How would you go about doing it? Could you outline your leadership construct for doing so ?
  2. If you want to add a cultural framework to your leadership practice, understand how to create incredible purpose that advances humankind and and an environment that emotionally connects people towards travelling to that never-end. It’s hard to do and yet magical when the movement becomes a wave with its own energy system.
  3. I’ve offered our 8 ingredient system for building a great culture . Let me know if you want it and I will share it. If you want me to personally present it to your team or company, as ATB’s Chief Evangelist, I would be happy to do so on a Google Hangout on Air or Google Meet. Send the request to my EA, Your investment is to join in serious conversation and make a modest charitable donation through our giving vehicle, ATB Cares. ATB is committed to making banking work for people AND wherever invited, we openly share the learnings of our imperfect journey to help organizations develop more meaningful and adaptive cultures.

Culture in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: This seems spot on. As stated above, anyone who’s been part of a team they care about knows that it’s much more about performing to better the outcome for everyone than just one self. That’s why good coaches condemn selfishness. But also, more “wins” for the team at large should also equal more personal victories. So essentially, being an unselfish team player is how you earn the best results for yourself.

– Garrett