I was so close to getting fired, and I 100% deserved it. I was a twenty something year old punk sales rep doing crappy work and I hated my employer. And I’m not talking about some schleppy company that couldn’t get it’s act together. This was a white hot software company. Darling of Wall Street. People lined up begging to work there.
But I was miserable.
The culture was strong, but unfortunately for me, I clashed with it. Square peg round hole. Didn't get the jokes. Couldn't or wouldn't embrace the model. The place felt unfair - like it lacked integrity. Just being there was exhausting. Depressing.
Even worse, I was in a cage match with my bosses boss. I was almost certain he was creating a paper trail to fire me. So I, being a semi-professional smart ass, fired back. I started documenting his shortcomings and sharing them with him via email.
Suicidal, but entertaining on some odd level.
Anyway, flash forward to my next job. A sales position at a shit little start up that offered these amazing advantages…
A large paycut
A buggy pre-release product
Zero name recognition in the market
To top it off, I was spending my days cold calling Technology Managers and begging them to meet with me.
A recipe for misery, right?
Wrong! Just the opposite. All this crap at the new place, and for some reason I couldn’t stop grinning.
WHY THE GRIN?
How can someone that’s about to start a family be grinning about less pay and crappy benefits?
Because that second company also had a strong culture and it FIT me like Under Armour on a fat man.
If you read last weeks post, you’ve figured out by now that the company that wanted to fire me was Oracle. And the place where I FIT was Powersoft.
And that FIT at Powersoft was a game changer. I felt at home. I understood that little company inside and out from the day I walked in the door. I got the culture and the attitude. I shared the values. The way people treated each other was in line with my upbringing.
Work became a source of energy for me.
And yes, we fought and bitched and all the other stupid stuff that people do at work. Maybe even more than most since we were sitting in a venture capital funded pressure cooker. Win or perish. But it was all done within the context of a culture that FIT me, which took the edge off.
And I wasn’t alone. The management team had done a great job of hiring others that also FIT this culture. So I went to work most everyday feeling like the organization as a whole had my back. Think about the potential of a team of mere mortals rolling into work each day with this extra lift in their step. It’s a superpower.
THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL BEST
Now, to be clear, wonderful people came to that company I loved, Powersoft, and didn’t like it. My perfect fit was their kryptonite.
Likewise, talented wonderful people loved working for Oracle, the place I despised. My kryptonite was their perfect fit.
Point being, this stuff is not about good versus evil. There is no universal best culture. All that matters is creating a strong culture and filling the place with people that FIT.
Which, unfortunately, also means deleting people that don’t fit. People like me at Oracle. My bosses boss was right to come after me. He should have moved more aggressively the second he realized I was a cultural misFIT.
REMOVE misFITs - LIKE ME - QUICKLY
My time at Oracle, where I didn't FIT, was one of the lowest periods of my life. Both professionally and personally.
The experience crushed me. Up until then, I’d considered myself a bit of a natural. At previous stops I’d won awards for performance. Gained admission to a top business school. Landed a coveted Wall Street internship. And constantly bragged to my newlywed wife that we were on a rocket ship to the good life. That I was going to make our dreams a reality.
Instead, I came home every night feeling like dogshit. A failure. Embarrassed. Withdrawn. Not an optimal partner. Not the husband she’d signed up for. And regardless of how supportive and understanding Joyce was, she couldn't help me. This burden was on me.
Then things got worse. We were out for a walk a few blocks from our apartment in downtown Chicago. I felt the familiar rumbling in my stomach. I needed to find a restroom - immediately. No such luck. I let go of Joyce’s hand and sprinted down a dirty alley. I whipped around behind a nasty graffiti-laden dumpster and dropped my pants.
That’s enough detail. You get the picture. And it wasn’t an isolated incident. I was a mess. My mismatch, or lack of FIT, at Oracle was putting my health at risk and impacting my every waking moment. Something is wrong when a job has a 20 something year old contemplating wearing Depends.
Contrast this “shitty” experience with my life just a few months later. Once I'd landed at Powersoft. A place where I FIT.
I was on top of the world. I smiled more. I wanted to talk when I came home from work. I wanted Joyce to know all the names and stories of the people I worked with. I wanted her to be a part of this great experience. And, almost overnight, I regained full control of my digestive tract.
Point being, tolerating poor cultural FIT is not an act of compassion, it’s an act of torture. Everyone is better off when you set a cultural misFIT, like I was at Oracle, free to find better FIT and a better life.
Be compassionate, be generous, but be swift. DEMAND FIT.
I get that I might be coming across a little harsh today - FIT or get out. So I thought I’d call in some backup. On page 122 of the classic business best seller, Built To Last, the authors discuss visionary companies…
“Joining these companies reminds me of joining an extremely tight-knit group or society. And if you don’t fit, you’d better not join. If you’re willing to really buy in and dedicate yourself to what the company stands for, then you’ll be very satisfied and productive - probably couldn’t be happier. If not, however, you’ll probably flounder, feel miserable and out-of-place, and eventually leave - ejected like a virus. It’s binary: You’re either in or you’re out, and there seems to be no middle ground. It’s almost cult-like.”
Bingo! He just described my exact experiences at Oracle and Powersoft. Two companies with deep strong cultures. At Oracle I was a virus. At Powersoft I was a willful cult member.
I’ve lived both of these extremes with every cell of my body. And I’m left with the strong conviction that the most humane AND profitable thing you can do as a business owner is to help people find extreme FIT. Inside your walls, build a strong culture and ruthlessly defend it. Outside your walls, help folks that don’t FIT your culture find their best FIT. Everybody wins when you compassionately DEMAND FIT.
(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)
So where does this intolerable defense of culture sit on my map? With BE FAIR DAILY (BFD).
If you go back to the beginning of this post you’ll find this sentence.
“The place felt unfair - like it lacked integrity.”
The key word here is FELT. The place FELT unfair and without integrity because I didn’t FIT the culture. I didn’t get the place. Things didn’t work as I expected.
This is exactly what our friend, psychologist Frederick Herzberg, would predict. Fairness, when we’re discussing corporate culture, isn’t universal. It’s an opinion that is driven by whether or not you FIT.
So, in order to underline just how important FIT is, I’m adding these two words to my map - DEMAND FIT. And, just like BE YOURSELF from the last post, DEMAND FIT will be a sub-bullet under BE FAIR DAILY.
I chose the word DEMAND to emphasize that this isn’t optional in a great company. You must DEMAND that all employees FIT your culture or your WHY/ME/IF/CAN.
And to end on a positive note, realize that you don't have to be great to win at this culture stuff. Most companies talk a great game, but their implementations are random. To be in the top 10% of any market I've ever seen, all you have to do is NOT SUCK.
That’s all for today. Stay tuned for next time when I talk about the number one FIT killer…the person at the tip top of the org chart.
***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.