Acculturation . . . Assimilation or Annihilation?

Borg Queen

We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.  ~ The Borg Queen from Star Trek

 One of the more fascinating and dangerous encounters by Captain Picard and the crew of the Starship Enterprise was with an alien collective called The Borg. The Borg functioned as an all-knowing and all-powerful collective. The Borg force other species into their collective and connect them to the ‘hive mind’; the act is called assimilation and entails violence, abductions, and injections of microscopic machines called ‘nanoprobes’. The Borg’s ultimate goal through assimilation is ‘achieving perfection’.

The Star Trek episodes dealing with The Borg are intriguing and I always walk away with a deeper appreciation of modern business and how corporate cultures are developed. The assimilation analogies are sharply similar. The major difference being you can’t resign or quit from the Borg, and you don’t get fired, you get annihilated!

Very little is written in the vast popular or academic literature of corporate culture about two of the strongest determinants of culture: peer pressure and the human social need to fit in. In my experience, these are extremely powerful, and yet frequently overlooked and under appreciated forces in the development of a company culture.

The Human Need to Fit In:

Here’s the basis for how people easily become acculturated. A psychologist, Dr. Leann Birch, placed a young preschooler who hated peas (me too!) at a lunch table with three other preschoolers, all of whom loved peas. After just four days the pea-hater became a willing pea-eater, without any teacher or parental urging. And the new habit stuck.

Human beings are hard-wired to fit in!

Studies have shown that employees who work for the same corporation, no matter what their jobs, are 30% more likely to exhibit similar behaviours – defined as the way a person learns, deduces, envisions, engages, and executes – than people who do the same job but who work in different companies.

That is true even if the people from different companies work in the same industry or region. Consider, for example, an American engineer employed by Honda. The fact that she works for Honda tells you more about her behavioural work habits than the fact that she is an engineer or that she labours in the auto industry or that she is American. What’s more, her ways of working will probably more closely resemble those of a Japanese purchasing manager at Honda than those of an American engineer at Ford.

In his insightful writings on organisational dynamics and behaviour, former psychiatrist turned management advisor and business author Dr. Leandro Herrero is one of the few who point to the strength of peer pressure and the human need to fit in as critical components of corporate culture and the business change process. By understanding how these two forces operate inside organisations, Herrero has come up with a radical and highly effective approach to large-scale organisation transformation and culture change.  His recent books Homo Imitans and Viral Change™ are rapidly becoming classics among business leaders faced with the need for organisation change.

Peer Pressure is Subtle and Rarely Coercive

CultureCartoonStories told by senior employees or supervisors to new employees about how to fit in and survive inside the company are far more powerful than the written policies in any handbook, and are certainly more powerful than printed culture statements.

Stories stick because they help people fit in, which is one of the most critical requirements for a new employee. It takes a strong and self-assured individual to choose not to fit in with the group. Most employees who don’t or won’t fit in are literally ‘spat out by the culture’ and often leave after a few weeks.

Fortunately, Captain Picard was able to escape before he was fully assimilated!  Most employees are not so lucky!

Picard

Posted by:

John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

email: john@johnrchildress.com

PS: John also writes thriller novels

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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