Disney, Zappos, and What I Mean By Taking Company Culture Too Far

March 27, 2013

Taking Company Culture Too Far

Obsessively pursuing cultural fit may work well for companies like Zappos and Disney, but for most of us, this isn’t a magical kingdom — taking company culture too far has its risks.

In my last blog post, “Is Zappos Taking Company Culture Too Far?I played devil’s advocate by taking Tony Hsieh & Co.’s infamously fervent approach to company culture to task and asking whether it might be possible to place too much emphasis on cultural fit. The response I got was mixed, and so with the jury still out, I thought I would follow up with a post on what I believe constitutes “going too far”.
Let me start by saying no, I do not believe that a homogeneous culture inevitably results in a successful company. I never said that, nor do I believe it. What I do believe is that companies that obsess over cultural fit often run the risk of missing out on diversity. And I believe diversity helps move companies forward.
One reader pointed out that Disney also has an incredibly strict set of cultural guidelines and is clearly doing very well as a company. Does anyone think that Disney has a progressive culture? I sure hope not. People who work for Disney are the ones who actively seek out Disney because that is their ideal place to work. In my opinion as a recruiter that is limiting, but then again Disney will never change — it’s purposefully built to be timeless — and that is difficult to divorce from the company’s values. At its core, unchangingness is what makes Disney, well…Disney.
Zappos was one of the pioneers in the recent company culture phenomenon. They were among the first to be outright with their quirkiness and to create a manifesto on their cultural ideals. Is Zappos doing well? Yes they are (and they have excellent customer service, which I know from personal experience), but they are also lacking in diversity. Before you attack me, let me clarify that I don’t mean diversity based on nationality, religion, or anything of that nature. I’m talking about diversity of opinion, skill, work history, performance etc. A company like Zappos that is focused on company culture to the extreme is lacking in this department.

When a Company Enforces a Lack of Cultural Diversity It Is Going Too Far

In my opinion, lack of diversity in the way people work and think is what constitutes going to far. I do agree that if everyone has the same goal the likelihood that they succeed is high. But what about moving ahead? What about when your company is doing fine, but it could be doing better? Do you smile and say, “At least we are weird and creative!” No. Chances are you need someone to shake things up and question the status quo, but you do not have that person because you’ve hired 800 variations on the same person.
Moving a company forward means challenging the way things are and pushing your peers to think critically and challenge each other. Focusing creative efforts on how to be “weird” and “do more with less” and build “family spirit” do not really mean anything. That doesn’t challenge people to be better at what they do, challenge the way things are, and push the company to be greater. It simply asks employees to be consistent and to be “humble” (aka content) with the way things are.
THAT is taking company culture too far. There shouldn’t be anarchy, but there should always be an acknowledgement that it is okay to be different and think differently. Because this isn’t Disney World.
It seems that in today’s workforce company culture has become a whizzing contest, and that can sometimes even be more about showmanship of company culture than about employees and customers and the product, itself.

This to me is taking the company culture too far. What do you think?

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="http://www.acquia.com">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.