As she thought more, Susan started to notice a pattern. In a considerable departure from routine, the Collins board had just declared a dividend that had produced a favorable, though temporary, lift in the stock price. Around the same time, Susan had been advised that the payment term Deer would be expecting on all its owed invoices was now 60 days, a full 30-day extension beyond the customary length for as long as Susan had been on the account.
As she watched the traffic slow to a crawl below her, a long-forgotten conversation flashed to mind. Some months ago, at the bustling local airport, she had bumped into Phil Woods and owing to a short delay on both of their flights, had sat in the lounge and shared stories with him.
Phil had been CFO at Collins for nearly fifteen years and was one of the few that knew the business and company from back to front. The original “Collins” had an eye for growth and a kind heart, and the business that grew up around him was known in the industry as a unique combination of his qualities. Phil Woods had known “Mr. Collins” personally.
Phil was a shrewd character, and renowned as a tough but fair negotiator. He always asked after Susan’s family and seemed to delight as much in Deer’s success as his own company’s. As Susan recalled their conversation that day in the lounge, she remembered a certain wistful tone to Phil’s stories—and a subtle change of tone—but characteristically he had been quite discreet about his own intentions. She wondered at the time what would happen when the last clear link to the founding culture left the company. She realized that she was in the process of finding out.
Susan fixed her gaze back on her desk, where a small pile of performance appraisals required her attention. As she began to work her way through the assessment criteria, it struck her, as it always did at review time, that the numerical scores she was entering seemed so far removed from the people whose bonus would be impacted by her decisions.
What sustains the culture of an organization and keeps it true to itself? How did the training and appraisals and hiring criteria influence the sort of company Deer was becoming?
It was clear to Susan that her primary customer, Collins Communications, was becoming a different company. But why? Many of the same people were still there, but she had no doubt that things were changing.
She paused in her thinking and turned back to the next performance appraisal. Anna Jacobs. This was a tough one. Anna was the consummate sales person who had closed more deals in her first six months – difficult ones, at that – than anyone Susan could remember. Anna’s results alone should put her in line for promotion, but Susan knew that Anna did not really fit. She got the numbers, sure, but she did so in a way that wasn’t true to Deer. So what mattered? The numbers? Profit? How could her gut feeling or some vague notion of culture stand up to hard-nosed performance?
Perhaps she was facing exactly the kind of small, yet consequential choices that Collins had made in recent years. And it made her wonder, “could one lousy hiring decision change a culture?”
“It might,” Susan muttered. While she didn’t yet know what decision she’d make, Susan was pretty sure that these little decisions about what does and does not matter are the ones that sustain or erode a culture. [TWEET THAT!]
For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.