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“Corporate Culture” is another popular term to express “how people act and interact” within a company. This culture is not really defined, rather it is sensed and observed, though a growing number of companies have crafted, published and posted their “employee expectations” or behavioral code (e.g. Waffle House has its “Waffle House Way” posted in its employee area). It can be positive or negative, but there is ALWAYS a corporate culture at work in any size company or enterprise.

Corporate “norms” of behavior can cover a wide spectrum – acceptable attire, language to use/not use, work habits, measures of success, what earns accolades, what is frowned upon, etc.

As a young textile mill worker during my high school and college breaks, vacations and holidays, I was usually placed in low impact/fairly easy jobs and on the first work shift in this three-shift large company. I always looked forward to the easy job and extra pay, but I wasn’t really part of the company during those brief stints. I was more apart from the company, along with my fellow student colleagues.

After many years of working in “nice” and relatively clean textile departments (i.e., cutting, sewing, night watchman versus spinning, winding, weaving where it was dirty, linty and loud), I graduated from college, and then worked for three months in that same company before going to graduate school.

My work environment was no longer clean, quiet and pleasant that year. It was the third shift (11:00 pm – 7:00 am) in the hot, steamy and wet bleachery in the middle of July and August where I found myself and one other college student assigned to run two of a total of eight “Manglers”, machines that were used to “beat” twisted ropes of hot, steaming towels into nice layers before they were taken to the cutting room. The name of the machine seemed very appropriate.

The other student; let’s call him Dolan, as that was his name, I focused on doing a good job as fast as we could (i.e. emptying out four 20’x20’x20’ porcelain tiled bins). The incentive, we were told on day one, was being able to “take the rest of the shift off” (just sit) once we successfully emptied our four bins. The two of us, crazy college students happy to be making some cash, found emptying four bins fairly easy unless our “mangler” broke down, which rarely happened to our newer machines.

Dolan and I invented our own incentive and reward system that helped us to finish our workload earlier in the shift by one who was slower buying the other a Coke and a pack of crackers.

We would enjoy sitting around after we finished our workload, much to our pleasure and that of our supervisor “Bob”, who we saw only twice a night (to start and end the shift).

THEN one night, “Shorty” (his nickname because well…he was) crossed the from his side of the aisle (which housed six older manglers and six veteran permanent workers) to “the kids”. Shorty, that night, became my instructor in residence about corporate culture, though I am 99% sure he never voiced that term.

Shorty’s “lesson” went something like this: (Shorty) “You boys having fun?” (Kids) “Yes sir”.

(Shorty) “Well, me and the boys across the aisle are glad you are in college – something none of us ever did, and that you are having a bit of fun making money and finishing your bins in 6-6.5 hours EVERY night out of the 8 hours it takes us to finish. We see you playing your games with each other and then sitting around. But do you notice nobody across the aisle speaks to you and that there is not a chair for either of you in the break room during the mealtime each night?”

(Kids) “Uh, yessir, now that you mention it”.

(Shorty) “Well, let me tell you why that is. You see all of us guys across the aisle have spent many years on this job, same shift and exact same machine. Me, I have been on this very job 44 years. Can’t say we love it, but it just happens to be our life. And it will be till we die, I guess. We run the job the way WE want to run it, and Boys, I am telling you right now, we know the job can be finished in 6 hours, BUT we are telling you that this job take 8 hours to run each night. Don’t mess with our jobs or our lives. Got it?”

(Kids) (thoroughly understanding because, you see, we “went to college”) “Uh, yessir, we understand.”

The NEXT night and EVERY night thereafter it took both Dolan and me a full eight hours to empty the bins and we lied to Supervisor Bob when he came by and asked why it took so long that night.

(Kids to Supervisor Bob) “My machine broke down.” (Dolan) “I had a ton of ‘bad towels’” (Me, “It’s amazing how bad the towels got the rest of the summer.)

Oh, and by the way, that next night and every night thereafter, Dolan and I each had “our” chair in the break room.

Corporate Culture is the name we give it, but it really is “just the way we do things around here”.

Shorty and the boys across the aisle determined how the job was to be done and how long it took, regardless of the fact that the job could ALWAYS be done in 1-2 hours less time.

Shorty knew that management would adjust the production standards to six or seven hours if we proved consistently it was possible.

Dolan and I wanted to be accepted and “approved of” by Shorty and the boys much more than we wanted a Coke and crackers and accolades from supervision. To do so meant “learning the rules” from the guys who spent a lifetime in that job.

By Anthony K. (Tony) Jackson, MBA, Entrepreneur, Founder of GFB Connect, Inc.

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