Culture? I Got Your Culture Right Here

Here’s a question for you; as an artist, entertainer or freelancer, what does corporate culture have to do with you? You’re not a CEO with hundreds of people working under you, so why would you have to think about it? We all have to think about it.  If we don’t, no one will work with us.  Or at the least, if you’re hyper talented, but impossible, people will work with you begrudgingly.

I’ve been involved in a lot of different cultures throughout my working career.  At my first production staff job I was told early on “Our credo is: assume everyone is dumber than you.”  Brilliant!  Grammatically incoherent, promotes arrogance while belittling you all at the same time.  Teamwork wasn’t our thing. It was every idiot for themselves.

My first job at a talent agency was different. I was told by the guy who hired me: “The object of the game here is to devour the top. I won’t be satisfied until you make me obsolete and I’m on the sidewalk looking for a job.”  I don’t think he realized that it would only be three months before he actually was on the sidewalk looking for a job.  I can’t take credit for it.  There was a sudden palace coup that dispatched of him quickly and finally.  Brutal.  It taught me to keep my head down, work hard and never let my bookings or revenue slip.

Looks like the right gear for storming an agent's office.

See, rather quickly it became obvious to me that big talent agency culture was simple: you can have dead bodies piling up in the corner of your office and as long as your bookings are strong, all management will do is send out for air freshener. However, let your bookings slip and they’ll call out for a SWAT team.

So, what is corporate culture?  In essence, it’s the spirit in which groups of people work together.  But, it’s up to each member of the group to individually contribute.  For example:  Good culture would be a movie set where the various departments communicate well towards the common goal.  Great culture would be that the team and individual attitude is ‘serving’ the other departments and the common goal.

Culture tends to be established from the top down, as in the two examples I gave you previously from my own experience.  My favorite movie example of this is in “Tropic Thunder” when Tom Cruise‘s studio head Les Grossman commands the Key Grip to punch the director in the face via Satellite link.  In the real world of movie making there are also examples of establishing culture good and bad.

Jack Nicholson is known for starting up an on set poker game with the cast and crew at the beginning of each movie he does. Invariably, when making movies there’s a lot of waiting around while different departments get ready for a scene. Jack doesn’t hide in his trailer, he spends the time with who’s ever available, building commraderie and passing the time having some fun with those around him.  He’s the boss and he knows it, so he sets a fun relaxed tone with the built in message that waiting is OK.

There’s another actor in Hollywood that arrives for each work day by helicopter. When the crew hears that chopper overhead, they have 20 minutes to be ready to roll camera.  If they’re not, the actor gets back in ther chopper and flies away. Now, there may be good reasons for the actor having to work this way, to each his own. But, the net effect is that the rest of the crew becomes paranoid, anxious and has flashbacks when seeing traffic copters or the opening titles of M*A*S*H.

The individual in the group dynamic is important!  Though it starts from the top down, any team member has the power to make the culture positive or to undermine it.  To make that point, imagine a big lighting setup.  While you are shooting away, someone randomly keeps pulling out plugs. As soon as you get it plugged back in and are rolling again, another one gets pulled on the other side. That is the power of the individual!

So think about it.  What is your individual contribution to the corporate culture of your crew, team or group?  Is it positive or negative? Is it about serving the group or your personal aspirations?

This is a fluid subject. I’m not the poster boy for creating good corporate culture. I think we teach what we most need to learn.  But, I’ve become aware that not only does culture count, if you want to keep your sanity and you want to love going to work everyday it’s essential.

So, how do you change a culture, in an office? On a set? If you’re the boss or department head take a good look at the tone you are setting.  Is it collaborative? Can people ask questions and feel heard in their concerns without feeling their jobs are threatened? Remember, the space shuttle Challenger accident?  The official investigation revealed that the engineers brought up concerns repeatedly. Their concerns were so aggressively rebuffed that they stopped bringing them up out of fear of losing their jobs.

After you’ve done some introspection, write down your personal philosophy of a good working environment and make sure those around you are aware of your feelings.  Then walk your talk and implement your point of view.

If you’re not the boss, it’s all about one thing: ATTITUDE! What attitude are you bringing to the team?  Is it positive? Negative? Self preserving? Secretive? Collaborative? Again introspection is in order. Ask yourself some hard questions. There’s always something to work on.

In the end, attitude always wins out, positive OR negative. But, only you can choose.  The beauty is that you can change the culture around you top down or bottom up. The choice is yours.

4 responses to “Culture? I Got Your Culture Right Here

  1. Hahaha great article, gotta love Les Grosman at the end.

    And what the heck is the swat team doing on those things? Firing can’t be too fun on one of those.

  2. Soooooo, Hajake: Sounds like being flippant is OUT??? Seriously though, a great article! xo Boo

  3. Great blog, we have more effect than we know, life is hard enough without choosing to torture each other, it’s not brain surgery just corporate culture!
    Thanks , great work.

  4. Pingback: New “Agent on the Loose” – ‘Culture? I Got Your Culture Right Here’ | Worldwide Production Agency

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