Corporate Culture and Cats
Several years ago I learned a lot about the corporate culture from my cats, Jack and Rex!
You are probably wondering what I could learn about the corporate culture from the cute guys in these pictures. Jack is pretty cute, but what the picture does not tell you is he is quite large.
Jack is 14 pounds and, as you can see from the picture below when stretched out against a meter stick, he is quite long.
Note: This post was originally written in October of 2014 and was updated in February of 2018. Jack has slimmed down since this was originally posted.
Jack is that guy or gal at work who seems likes a really nice guy until… something changes.
He or she then becomes a completely different person. You might say a ‘Jeckll and Hyde’ personality.
Maybe you just hired someone new into your department and, suddenly, the dynamics change.
Maybe your company was acquired and the corporate culture shifts.
Changes in Corporate Culture
We acquired Jack as a stray kitten in the spring of 2011. He just showed up on our doorstep and we suspect he was dumped there by some of the local construction workers.
During the summer of 2014, we took in a stray cat who we call Rex. Rex was probably abandoned by college students who live in the apartments behind our condo unit. He is quite gentle and much smaller than Jack.
We kept them separated for about a week, letting them get used to one another. What we discovered was that Jack could behave like a real bully.
The corporate culture in our household changed dramatically.
Jack would try to monopolize space. He was protecting his turf.
Have you seen this at work?
Rex figured out how to sit at the bar and watch Jack. At the right moment, he jumps down and walks by Jack. Suddenly, he runs up the stairs with Jack in close pursuit. Rex is a lot faster than Jack, and he knows it. Rex knows how to bait Jack.
Just like office politics.
Rex and Jack’s behaviors are slowly getting better. Four years later Jack tolerates Rex and Rex will manipulate Jack to get what he wants. Rex became very politically astute about how he could sneak up on Jack, poke him and then run away. A little hit and run tactic to get Jack to move.
A definite pecking order started to appear. Jack would always enter the condo first. When they are outside and it is time to come in, Rex will wait for Jack to get in front so that he can enter first.
Like I said – just like office politics.
Life after Acquisition
I have worked for two successful tech startups. The cultures of the two were polar opposites of one another but that only became apparent after there was an acquisition.
In January of 2000, I went to work for a semiconductor startup that was acquired in 2001. After the acquisition, not much changed. We added new people and they seemed to seamlessly fit in. The founders were very clear on the culture they wanted to create and hired only people who fit their vision. I stayed for almost four years after the acquisition because of the corporate culture.
The culture was deeply ingrained in the organization. Everyone walked the talk.
In December of 2007, I went to work for an HD video startup that was later acquired in December 2009. Almost immediately after the acquisition, the culture changed. It was just like us bringing Rex into our household.
- Bullying behavior started
- Managers and their teams started to protect their turfs
- Hiring practices became very political
- Several of the executive staff would shift their positions to get others to shift theirs
Are you seeing the similarities?
The culture of the organization changed dramatically. Coworkers who used to be very cooperative and share information freely now would hoard information.
The organization became highly political. This happened very rapidly just like bringing Rex into our household.
The difference was I could not tolerate the dysfunctional behavior, the lying, and cheating that occurred. About 13 months after the acquisition, I resigned when my ethical boundaries were crossed.
The similarities between what happened after the acquisition and bringing a new cat into our household were striking!
What Was Different?
At the first tech startup, management clearly defined the culture and their hiring practices mirrored the culture they wanted to create. After the acquisition, that culture endured for a very long time, even in very tough economic times. I credit the two company founders for great vision and execution in the hiring process.
This did not happen in the second tech startup —the culture they created was only skin deep. The corporate culture was only a facade which they were able to maintain in good times but not bad. As long as the company grew, everyone behaved. However, as the great recession set in, people saw the possibilities of a big payoff diminish and the company was acquired for far less than management had expected, so behavior started to change. It was just like bringing in a new cat.
How to Protect Yourself
How companies handle a setback is a good indicator of the culture.
A good litmus test for a prospective employer asks what changed in the last recession? Did the corporate culture change? How did the corporate culture change when there was a change of leadership?
Ask former employees of your potential employers why they left. You can find former employees quite easily using LinkedIn advanced search and most will give you an accurate picture of the corporate culture.
Have you experienced a corporate culture that can endure change?
Note: Jack and Rex live in the same condo together and manage to avoid one another most of the time. However, there is the occasional 4 am dispute where we have to kick both of them out the front door.Marc Miller
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