Sounds as if another ubiquitous #CultureChat has taken place at SXSW replete with recycled lines about what culture is to the experts. Could they all be wrong?

While it's relatively easy in anthropological terms to talk about how culture is passed on from generation to generation (or management team to management team, employee to employee, customer to customer) via things like storytelling or analysis of clay pot remnants, it's the initial description of "What is culture?" that vexes almost everyone in HR and talent functions.

Almost everyone speaks of their culture in terms of its uniqueness, how special it is, how different it is from all others – using the same words as everyone else.

Well isn't that special?

When groups of experts gather 'round to discuss the many shades of culture by using the same language how much learning actually takes place?

I think the reason most use the "standard culture word library" is because accurately describing culture is really, really difficult. It's this "lapse" in analysis and erudition that leads to the typical "I'll know it when I see it" action taken during recruiting.

"I'll know it when I see it but I can't really describe it."

How frightening is this? Can you fathom how many great people and performers we're tossing to the side – and yet at the same time claiming to others that we're experts at recruiting?

I liken it to the saying, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"; in reality, most everyone inside a company either experiences the culture of the company second hand or takes the word of someone else.

Does the tree make a sound? Of course it must. Is our culture special? Of course it is.

It has to be.

How many in recruiting – especially those newer to it – actually spend significant time inside the groups being supported, with enough time spent observing and collecting data like the great anthropologists? Yes, it's a rhetorical question.

Instead, most all recruiters simply take the word of their charismatic leader/founder, and/or authentic marketing expert, and/or HR branding guru. Think about how long anthropologists study the remnants of a people who long ago perished before they begin to understand the culture. Yet here in HR and recruiting we take the word of an entrepreneur whose company has been in existence 12 to 18 months?

That's one of the core problems in recruiting – the forest we think we see through the trees isn't what we're describing with our words nor actions. If this isn't what's real then I posit that the profession is comprised of lemmings and sheep who need to have their collective eyes and ears examined.

As harsh as the last sentence is, it it spotlights that we're darn near in the middle of a downward spiraling vortex that's sucking our collective recruiting reputations down the drain then I'll deal with the fallout.  It's time to plug the sink, hire better plumbers, fix the pipes, and enjoy the outcome.

Yes, the falling tree in the forest does make a sound and it's time to prove it.

Starting now...

[cross-posted on]

Views: 342

Comment by Matt Charney on March 16, 2015 at 2:29pm

Steve: I was there, and the fact that such a boring and mundane conversation was happening at SXSW was actually encouraging - the room was packed with a ton of people who aren't in this industry asking the same questions and bringing up the same concerns as any SHRM or ERE show, and while I thought much of the content was stale, the venue was the sign of progress. We can debate nuance or definition, but if this is the stuff that crowd cares about, then it's just a good sign of business for all of us...and while we're tired of this convo by now, it's still new to a lot of people. Fortunately,they seemed to be the ones with P/L responsibilities - which means that asinine or not, they're thinking about recruiting & retention, which I'm pretty sure hasn't always been the case. By the way, I happen to agree with you, Culture Clubs just aren't the same without George Michael.

Comment by Steve Levy on March 16, 2015 at 2:41pm
Matt, these discussions have always been part of the P&L level; the fact that they're now taking place in 2015 at SXSW is actually irrelevant. The lack of content however IS relevant and shows me that "what is the real culture?" is now unknown to the esteemed younger generations.

I think people who are so concerned about culture should spend a little time away from places like SXSW and spend more time on archeological digs. They might actually learn something.
Comment by Steve Levy on March 16, 2015 at 2:44pm
No one teaches recruiters how to have a discussion about culture - with anyone. "We" just take it from Marketing, Hiring Managers, etc. that their definition of culture is correct.

How foolish and shirt-sighted this is.


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