Book Review: Culture Connection

Culture is important. That’s the conclusion of many resources on organizational culture. But does any leader actually argue that culture is not important? The real problem is “how” to develop an effective culture. Marty Parker attempts to tackle this “how” question in his book, Culture Connection: How Developing a Winning Culture Will Give Your Organization a Competitive Advantage. This book is written about ten Canadian companies, who recently won the “10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures” award. To gather his research, Parker interviewed senior leaders from each of these companies, and then compiled his findings into this book.

Parker’s organization found that 85% of companies indicated that cultural fit is more important than necessary skills when hiring a new employee. I am sure every leader could back this statistic up with their own story of hiring an under-skilled person who blossomed into a star, because s/he was the ‘right’ fit. I am also sure every leader could tell another story of a highly skilled person who failed miserably because s/he did not fit the culture. Parker explains why this fit is important and how many companies attempt to find that fit. For example, Four Seasons Hotels puts candidates through five separate interviews. Other companies are integrating their HR and Marketing departments because they see their culture as being synonymous with their brand (I have noticed this emerging trend in my own research as well).

What I appreciated the most about this book is that Parker resisted the urge to stuff culture into a Maxwell-ian “Three Keys to Fixing Your Culture” type summary. Generating a culture is an art, not a science. Parker seems to understand that, but also provides practical advice to leaders. He gives tangible (and quotable) evidence of what real companies are doing. He does not write from an impractical Ivory Tower. Rather, he writes about what these companies are doing, and provides readers with a loose framework on how to strengthen/bolster their own culture. For example, consider this quote from Ferio Pugliese (Vice President of People and Culture at Westjet):

Although skills, knowledge, and abilities are very important to do the job, they’re not the success factors that are going to drive your value proposition and your culture…It’s the value fit. I can have the smartest guy in the world, he can be the best pilot, the best flight attendant, but if he doesn’t fit the value proposition of wanting to help…then that doesn’t match our brand.

Parker’s book is full of anecdotal gems like that.

While the companies Parker studies are mostly Canadian, almost all of them operate globally. His findings will apply to many organizations. He makes an important contribution to work on organizational culture through this book. It was a great read, and I would highly recommend it to any leader looking for a framework to understanding his/her own culture, and to any HR leader tasked with being the culture leader in the organization.

Note: I purchased this book myself and have no affiliation with the author.

Parker, M. (2012). Culture connection: How developing a winning culture will give your organization a competitive advantage. New York: McGraw Hill.

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