Culture – the reality versus the myth

You may have read about the sad death of Moritz Erhardt, the young intern at Merrill Lynch, who seems to have met his death as a direct result of the pressure cooker environment created by the bank he hoped to join.  They take on about 30 of the brightest and hungriest gradates each year as interns and let them ‘duke it out’ throughout the seven week period in Battle Royale style to see who can survive the process. Polly Courtney, author of ‘Golden Handcuffs’, who also went through this process wrote in the Independent today, wrote:-

“The firm ticked all the boxes on the HR front. We were assigned “buddies”: full-time bankers to whom we could go with any questions or concerns. (Nobody I knew ever approached their “buddy”; bankers didn’t have time for questions.) We attended lectures and talks on the values of the firm (Client Focus, Respect for the Individual, Teamwork, Responsible Citizenship and Integrity) and we were taught the procedure for surfacing concerns. (We found these laughable at the time; with hindsight, they were ludicrous.) The reality was that we had all signed away our right to the statutory working week; for one summer, we were the property of the firm.”

I first came across the concept of company culture in the 90’s when my company was part of the biggest corporate merger ever.  I was astonished at how different the cultures of the two companies were and impressed by their willingness to create a brand new and better one.  That was the start of my personal journey into this work.  Back then we were all taught the importance of values to underpin this culture and how they were meant to guide our decision making.  However, since then, as the vogue as spread, every big company can spout out this kind a stuff but most, like in the above example are nothing more than meaningless platitudes.  If your values don’t guide your behaviour, then they are worse than useless.

They can be hugely powerful tools to build your team and guide your decision making but if you don’t lead by example, if you are seen to not let them guide your actions then forget about them because everyone else will…. and worse, they will be used in evidence against you.

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