What are Your Company’s Cultural Norms?

Robert Trajkovski
4 min readNov 2, 2021
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I am 55 years old. In most places I work, I am a senior guy. The gray hair helps add to that image.

When I started my career at 23 I walked into a group of 10 people where I was the youngest and most of them were on average age of 55 and older. This seemed normal. There were a few people close to my age but mostly 50+.

What was interesting about that group was that most of them had 30+ years of experience in one department with one company. WOW!!!

So 30+ years of experience with one company was the cultural norm for that steel company and probably the majority of the companies in existence in the 80s and early 90s.

Then the world changed. Companies got rid of the pension guarantee and moved to the 401k. They did not want the responsibility of providing a pension. They only saw the cost side BUT not the loyalty side.

What happened to that group? Well because of their longevity with the company and their healthy pensions within one year 3 people retired. That was a 100-year loss. 100+ years of experience walked out the door.

How can a company recover from such a loss? It was mostly because we had people in another wave that had 20+ experience that were hourly that could be brought up to the management ranks.

After the 90s and dominance of 401k, most companies stopped providing pensions. HR even inserted the game that you had to stay 5 years for you to be vested. It was usually not a problem with the individual staying 5 years BUT the companies found all kinds of funny ways to reduce the time people were able to stay with a company.

GE and other companies would just get rid of 10% of the workforce. Well within less than 7 years you have a brand new workforce at hopefully lower rates because their seniority is lower. This became the cultural norm for most companies.

Where is the loyalty?

The question of loyalty was raised by many BUT quickly people started to believe that 5 years or less is the new normal. Why be loyal to an employer that will push you out before 5 years? It became all about the skills you were exposed to and can turn into an advancement elsewhere. So the company got fresh new people AND you got skills that would help you transition to a higher level elsewhere.

I even sat in many presentations when I was with one of the major oil companies where their managers showed their resumes. Most showed 18–24mo transitions between roles within and external to the company. My boss even told me that he has had 28 bosses in 24 years with the company.

18–24 months!!! New boss every year!!!

That is nuts but it was a cultural norm for the “top performers”. I believe that we are moving towards these 3 yr position transitions for everyone. This is why the 401k vested amount time has moved down to one year or less.

So what are the problems with this cultural norm shift?

There are two that I can see: Responsibility and capability

If a person is in a role and they know that they will be in that role a short time, their behavior might be to think short term instead of long term. Any key decisions made by them will most likely not see the results AND might even be changed by the next person in the role. This creates a situation where no one is responsible and change happens for change's sake. I have been with companies that were so in love with change that they could not wait for a change effort to play out before they changed it.

For most roles, it takes more than 3 years to develop expertise. So a person that has been in a role for less than that time is getting close to becoming capable but the company will never see the benefits of that development. Their competitor will because they will transition out to get a bigger paycheck.

As you can tell HR has set up unhealthy cultural norms within which we all must operate. Their drive is not clear except it will result in creating a lack of knowledge base that some of the older companies had in the past. It is hard to get gains if a team member is constantly being changed and they have no accountability for long-term decisions.

My four cents…

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Robert Trajkovski

I have led people and projects in Steel/ Power, Refining, Chemicals, Industrial Gasses, Software, Consulting and Academia. I have instructed 73+ courses.