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
Stories 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!
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
PS: John also writes thriller novels