I have a “balderdash” problem.  I’ve had it all my life.  Pretty much on a daily basis, I read or hear something, and immediately I think the b-word …

The only person I ever heard use the word “balderdash” was an elderly primary school teacher in the 1970s.  It’s a great word – respectable, in a fuddy-duddy way, but still has the spit-it-out vituperative appeal of its many less parliamentary alternatives. “Nonsense” is largely synonymous, but doesn’t work as well as a palate cleanser.

This <report> on RTÉ ponders, in usual managerialist fashion, about the so-called difficulties of “maintaining company culture” while remote working:

Balderdash”, I immediately thought (among other things).

I sometimes write and post on the car anoraks site, Pistonheads:

There is a very definite culture on this site full of strangers. Rudeness is self-policed out. Politics is self-policed out.  Chavvy car culture is self-policed out.  The culture is very definite, very strong, and bought into by everyone.  And it’s just a bunch of random blokes on a website who largely have never met each other at all.

Culture isn’t difficult folks.  And it’s muddle-headed thinking that a mere building can ever stand in for culture.

Company culture is a synonym for whether the CEO is a decent person, or a sociopath.

Nothing more, nothing less.

If your company or firm is ran by a prick, everyone has low level anxiety, everyone is operating below par, everyone is dusting off their CVs, apart from the headcase’s coterie of pets, who get away with murder.

If your company is ran by a fair-minded person, everyone is happy.  You will have small silos of misery, where an underling manager is a prick, but such issues can be negotiated, provided the CEO is decent, and strong.

When I worked in various jobs, the guys who set the tone often weren’t even in the same building as me.  I might as well have been working remotely, for all that I saw them.  In other cases, I was in boardrooms with the top dog every week.  2 dimensions, 3 dimensions, didn’t really matter – what mattered was the *personality and values of the CEO* – that’s what shapes company culture, not whether you park in the same carpark every morning.

Bullying and micro-management and a lack of vision versus empowerment, generosity and inspiring goals – either can be disseminated just as easily in a virtual environment as they can in a bricks ‘n’ mortar environment.

Here’s how to set culture:

1. Get rid of assholes / pyschos / micro managers / bullies in senior positions.

2. Set audacious company targets.  (At the start of the year, the sports team wants to hear the coach say that “we’re aiming to win the cup”.  Not that “we’re aiming to avoid relegation”.  Or that we don’t seem to have any goal in mind at all.)

3. Pay people fairly, but not extravagant, *but build in chunky bonuses / options, dependent on group targets*.  Forget about individual targets (it’s a team – apart from when we want to lord it over you) and all that performance assessment charade / coded bullying crap.

4. Tolerate mistakes made in good faith, and actively encourage people to “break out of their roles”.  (“Breaking out of your role” was a favourite corporate mantra when I worked in a great start-up in the ’00s.  Great idea, but most companies would run away in horror from such an empowering mantra.)   Empowerment means being able to tolerate mistakes made in good faith.  In our previous start-up software company at the turn of the century, I remember being very impressed by our CEO’s statement that inevitably, we would all make mistakes, but that, provided that such mistakes were made in good faith because we were trying to move things on, then they didn’t bloody matter.  Most entrepreneurs screw up massively, often several times, before they achieve anything, so their subsequent intolerance of mistakes is the rankest hypocrisy.  Samuel Beckett, the Irish writer, had his first novel, Murphy, rejected 40 times.  40 times!  One of these told Beckett that “the novel racket has reached such a pass today that a book, such as yours, which makes real demands on the reader’s intelligence and general knowledge has less chance than ever of gaining a hearing.” Well, it did, eventually, and Beckett won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. In 2013, the Murphy manuscript sold for almost $1.5 million. Sadly, we’ve all been in environments, where the slightest transgression, real or imagined, is used by desk jockey lifer assholes to punish people.

5. Make sure people have enough work to do.

6. Stay out of people’s way.

And that’s pretty much all you need.  If you have the foregoing aspects, you’ll have a great culture, no matter where or how you work.

And if you don’t have them, you’ll have a dreadful culture, no matter if you’re confined to an office 24×7.

The fallacy in these wet-behind-the-ears folks wittering on about “culture” is not only that they lack real business experience, but also that they posit remote working and office working as being somehow in contra-distinction.  Pure fallacy.

In reality, good culture / bad culture cuts across all working methods.  If you have a good culture in one environment, it’ll work in any environment.  If your culture depends on physical presence, it’s a red flag that you have no meaningful culture in the first place.  Your culture is little more than an admission that “we’re worried you won’t do the right thing unless we’re actually looking at you and monitoring you”.  Remember, that’s how you need to think when you’re a primary school teacher, dealing with 5-year-olds.

You don’t want to be in a company which infantilises you.  Sadly, under the rubric of “management”, that exactly what most companies do.

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