How to change your culture

Imagine a start-up of just a few employees.

At first, every employee’s birthday is celebrated on the actual birth-day. Everyone stops working for 30-60 minutes, enjoying sweets, listening to a speech and offering a gift. This is done because the young company’s values include teamwork, respect, fun. They try to embed those values in everything they do.

As the company grows to 500, the COO decides that we can’t have 4 or 5 of these events every week. From now on, we’ll celebrate monthly. The values are still valued, yet a bit diluted.

Eventually the company becomes so large that even monthly events can’t be accommodated. Department heads are told to continue (and expense) the practice if they wish. Some do, some don’t. The culture of celebration starts to fade.

One day the company goes public and every penny is under scrutiny. P&L leaders look for places to cut costs and birthday celebrations are an easy target. If employees want to recognize their colleagues, they can do it themselves. On their own dime. The original values have little room in this larger organization.

And, just like that, we have a different culture.

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