Culture By the Numbers


On Friday, while the thoughts of most people turned to the events of September 11, 2001, my mind zeroed in on a different anniversary. On September 11, 1965, Ron Voland and Helen Stinson exchanged their wedding vows. Fifty years later, my parents are still together and going strong.

Experts say it’s difficult to zero in on an accurate divorce rate, but depending on how you look at it, between 10 and 50 percent of married couple have called it quits since the mid-sixties. Those who divorced made it an average of 8 years before parting ways. But you don’t have to be a statistician to know my folks have beaten the odds. Fifty years together is something rare.

Work relationships are even more fragile. Gone are the days of life-long employment. Even as divorce rates have declined, the rate of employee has been on the rise. Check out these recent trends reported by Fast Company magazine.

  • 22% of turnover takes place within the first 45 days.
  • 31% of people have quit a job within six months of starting.
  • 46% of new employees leave within 18 months.
  • 25% of Fortune 500 managers leave for a new job each year.

Obviously this shift comes at a great cost. In addition to the financial burden of replacing lost employees, organizations face a number of setbacks associated with the turnover. The loss of institutional history, missed opportunities to innovate, and inconsistent service are just a few. Each time a person leaves, they create a void larger than any one person can fill. It’s no wonder that reducing turnover ranks high on the average CEO’s to-do list.

What is it though that keeps people loyal to an employer? Is it pay? Benefits? Position? Though these aspects of employment certainly play a role, additional research shows that the most important piece of the employment puzzle is culture.

I once heard someone describe culture as “the way things work around here.” Culture is the collection of behavioral, political, and social rules that dictate how people interact with each other and approach their jobs. If “brand” is the promise an organization makes to the outside world, then culture is the reality faced by those on the inside. An attractive work culture not only keeps people around, it creates a desire in them to work harder for the collective good and growth of the group – for the good of the organization.

It takes all of us to create the right kind of culture. Management bears the biggest burden, of course, but no one operates as part of a group without affecting it. Each individual plays a part in creating and maintaining the kind of culture that retains top performers and attracts more of them. And when we work together, we create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

So the question I have for you is this: What role do you play?

How are you contributing to an attractive organizational culture? In what ways are you detracting from the culture and potentially driving people away? If someone on the outside were to catch a glimpse of your behavior on any given day, what would they assume about the way things work around here?

My parents would no doubt tell that marriage is a two-way street. It takes a lot of effort to stay together for fifty years, and both partners have to commit to making things work – not just for themselves, but for the collective good of the family. If an organization is like a family (and a lot of people describe their work teams that way), how committed are you to yours?

What do you say we commit to beating the odds?

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