The Obvious But Uncomfortable Way Your Company Culture Is Judged

Brass Tack Thinking - The Obvious But Uncomfortable Way Your Company Culture Is Judged

A healthy business culture is something we all aspire to. We hold up shining examples like Zappos or Southwest Airlines when we talk about the kind of personality and mindset we want to portray to our employees and customers.

There’s an important element in defining that culture that we sometimes discuss, but rarely pointedly, because it’s not comfortable.

Your values as a company are demonstrated – and judged – through the people you entrust to embody them.

It’s why having people you can trust on your team is so very pivotal. And by trust, I mean the ability to rely on individuals to demonstrate discretion, professionalism, decorum, and sound judgment in potentially crunchy situations.

Humans become a magnifying glass, especially online. And as much as we’d like to believe that we can separate our personal selves from our professional selves merely by drawing imaginary lines between our profiles, it simply doesn’t work that way.

Emotionally and rationally, those that do business with us connect the dots among the people that comprise our organization, both online and off. We hold individuals in high esteem or not, and in turn extrapolate a picture or a perception of the organizations they represent. We look at them as an indicative, smaller part of a larger whole, for better or for worse. The individuals we choose to represent our collective organizations leave impressions with people by their actions and interactions with others, and those behaviors inevitably drive people to draw conclusions about our business and its attitude.

If we empower and unleash brilliant, innovative minds that contribute to larger ideas and offer constructive, well-thought dialogue or debate, people notice.

If we empower and unleash self-important, arrogant individuals that create or fuel petty conflict, sling insults or make pejorative comments as a way of communicating their position, people notice that, too.

And both of them – however incrementally – create associations between that person, our organizations, and our potential customers. Those associations affect our company reputation, credibility, and brand.

If we encourage our teams to be present and engaged online as I believe we should, we must also recognize that in doing so, we are empowering them not just with the ability to be advocates for our organization, but to negatively influence the perception that others may have of us.

I won’t advocate as a solution to instill command-and-control tactics to try to mitigate the risk, because those are rarely effective and perpetuate a sense amongst individuals of being “babysat” or worse, watched. Trust is mutual in its impact. Nor am I suggesting that interactions and discussions online be devoid of individual thought or opinion. The answer isn’t in locks and keys or overt censorship of ideas.

But it does bring to mind an important thing we must not ignore: using a discerning eye to both bring aboard people that exhibit the same kinds of behavior and values upon which we’d like our organizational culture to be judged, and to have potentially difficult and uncomfortable conversations with the people who exhibit everything from a slip of judgment to an outright abuse of their representative role. Above all, we must be holding ourselves to the same standard to which we’d hold others.

Our companies are judged in large part on our efficacy as leaders and managers, and how we embody our work in the interpersonal dealings we have. It’s always been so, whether over coffee or cocktails or on the golf course.

And in our quest to become more social businesses, we must accept the difficult balance that comes with the rewards of engaging our customers and communities online, embrace the intertwined reality of our personal and professional selves, and insist on standards of behavior and professionalism among our organizational representatives – and ourselves – that do our hard work and hard-earned reputation justice.

  • Drew Hawkins

    Totally agree with this. I have my own personal accounts separate from the corporate accounts I run (like a lot of people). I do however know that many people out there tie me directly with our company, even if I have the “these tweets are my own” disclaim. Having our company’s followers starting to follow me personally made me aware. I now know that I have to be a little more cautious about how I use personal things online.

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  • Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    “And as much as we’d like to believe that we can separate our personal selves from our professional selves merely by drawing imaginary lines between our profiles, it simply doesn’t work that way.”

    I *LOVE* this line in your post Amber!

    When we embrace who we are, we attract clients or business relationships that fit well with our unique personalities and mindsets and abilities. When we try to fit ourselves into some other person’s box of how we should be, we never come across as unique. We just end up being a plain jane who’s interchangeable with the mass majority who are plain Janes.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention as one can never be reminded to often to be true to ones self!

  • Annie George

    You’re spot on. Most recently, I ran into a situation in which my objectivity was questioned. I write a daily news service for the insurance industry (very conservative) on behalf of a client. For five years, I have always just given the facts…if there was ever an editorial, I indicated so. Last week, I ran an article about what is happening in Wisconsin with the unions. My source of information was a progressive publication, which I cited. The next day my client received an email from his customer that he was upset with the content of the news…that it should be objective and not “reflect a progressive, liberal agenda.” My client passed this onto me to address, which I immediately did. But this did underscore for me that my opinions, my view, has to be separate from the work I am producing. I am also aware of this when I post on Facebook. I have a mix of friends, including business. As you say, this isn’t censorship…but being discerning.

  • Michele Price

    Your comment we mus hold ourselves to the same standard we hold others is so true. What is challenging is when you hold yourself to a HIGH standard-others can feel is too much. It certainly starts separating the wheat form the chafe FAST.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I consider this part of the entrepreneurial risk, we can’t (and shouldn’t, really) control what our team is doing online at every time, and I do realize in most situations their actions, even if “personal” may and will be traced back to the organization.
    It’s a matter of educating them of the risks of misbehaviors and make them feel responsible for their own actions.
    From my experience, making your team feel part of something bigger is the first step to avoid your people do something potentially harmful for your organization. They will think twice before risking to harm their own “family”.

  • Sed6erz

    I think that you are highlighting a major issue of the social media society. Our every day life used to be our own, we shared if with family, friends and colleagues, and most of what we said disappeared after a while. But nowadays our social life is partly spent online or recorded on a smart phone, and in the end it is far more public that we were used to.

    So the main issue is you can have perfect employees with a specific views that can shock some of your company clients/customers – what should you do? This employee could be the same that you had 12 years ago but now his reach is global and not local. His “offending” some of your customers but he/she is still good at what she does, can you lay off someone for that or ask him/her to stop what she does? The line between private life, public life and working life is now as thin as some cigarette paper and as a society we need to figure out where we draw the line.

    Thanks for the article it really got into me and made me think twice about the subject. One of the reason I am still using an alias on twitter – don’t want to mix my working and private life together, but wonder for how long I will be able to do this.

  • Mike McCready

    I couldn’t agree more. There really isn’t a way to separate your personal and business accounts. I also don’t think that we should discourage online representation of our employees.

    I believe the key is to have proper policy/guidelines and education practices in place.

    There is a great video from Jeremiah Owyang:

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  • rukallstar

    Okay, you have to be more aware of the private self and public self interplay with the rise of social media. What would be more interesting is that work for the most part, for most people is a bit of a contrived, autocratic environment, so in our private lives we act differently and are usually much more honest. Social media, if we choose to, makes our private lives, public so we should use judgment of what we post for public consumption. I would tell people that just because you can tell the world of your exploits last weekend, why not keep to your private life and not make it public. Just look at Charlie Sheen banging 7 grams. Now some people are like yes, Charlie you are living the dream, while a vast majority are going wow buddy you need help and stay away from me and my family

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  • KareAnderson

    Helpful post. Re trust, the more an organization is clear AND specific about its top goal/mission and values – and the specific behaviors that reflect those things the more likely it is that people inside and outside the organization can recognize and embody them. Having a sweet spot of mutual benefit for the business and all workers helps as does some specific rules of engagement. Then we understand what’s encouraged. That helps people understand whether they will fit in the organization too.

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