Rocking A Corporate Culture or Rampantly Discriminating?

One of the last slides in the presentation.


When the organizers of the 2012 HR Florida Conference & Expo had their already-paid opening keynote cancel due to Tropical Storm Isaac, they had to scramble a bit to find a substitute.

That scrambling paid off well, because they found a great opening keynote speaker in Jim Knight. Jim was with Hard Rock Cafe for over 20 years, most recently as the senior director of global training and development. His presentation was titled “Create a Rocking Corporate Culture” – or something like that. His engaging and lively discussion centered around the idea that developing a corporate culture is an important part of business success, and that there are specific, positive steps that can be taken to develop that culture.

Now I don’t have an issue with that general premise, and I certainly don’t know anything about what Hard Rock does specifically to hire people who are the “proper” cultural fit, so I am not claiming that they engage in discrimination. But I can tell you this: one of Jim Knight’s early slides showed a 30-ish white female waitress. His explanation for that slide was that when Hard Rock first opened in 1971, they wanted to hire the 30-ish, more mature-looking female so that diners could feel like they were being served by their mother. That slide was their hiring target.

Sounds a little – no, a lot – discriminatory to me. Both sexist and ageist, as a matter of fact.

But Jim went on to say that it was different today, and that Hard Rock hired all kinds of people. And while he was explaining this shift in hiring philosophy, he showed a different slide. That slide contained pictures of 3 or 4 people. All were youthful, with tattoos and piercings and what an older person (like me) would call a “punk rock” appearance.

Not one middle aged white guy wearing a buttoned-down shirt in the picture. That’s a little – no, a lot – discriminatory, too, isn’t it?

I will repeat that Hard Rock may have all kinds of boomers and traditionalists working in their stores, but Jim Knight didn’t choose to show them on his slides because they aren’t as visually appealing when you are giving a talk about rocking corporate culture. So this is not a condemnation of his presentation or former company. But I do believe that anytime an organization hires for any reason other than knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), there is an exponential leap in the potential for discrimination.

In fact, this current emphasis on hiring for cultural fit can, by itself, create a corporate culture of discrimination. If Hard Rock were to hire only the youthful and tattooed, does that not create a work culture that by itself discriminates against the aged?

Some scholars have pointed out the discriminatory pitfalls of over-emphasis on work culture. One legal scholar even argued that organizational culture or work culture was actually a tool for controlling employee behavior as opposed to empowering employees as some organizations suggest. In calling for more thorough judicial review of discrimination claims, that same scholar stated:

Recognizing the discriminatory potential of work culture and the increasing importance of conformity with work culture to job success should, at the very least, trigger modest reforms in the way courts and litigants think about traditional discrimination claims.

Since no one wants more lawyers involved in determining their employment practices, be very careful when stepping outside of traditional KSAs and hiring for “culture”.

Does your organization hire for cultural fit? What do you do to ensure that those hiring norms are not discriminatory?


Kwame and Compuware – A Perfect Match?

Everyone in the greater Detroit area is buzzing about Kwame Kilpatrick.  In case you don’t know who he is – here’s a short introduction from his (really long) Wikipedia entry :

Kwame Kilpatrick (born June 8, 1970) is the former mayor of Detroit, Michigan. When elected at the age of 31, he was the youngest mayor in the history of Detroit. Kilpatrick’s mayorship was plagued by numerous scandals and rampant accusations of corruption, with the mayor eventually resigning after being charged with ten felony counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice.  Kilpatrick was sentenced to four months in jail after pleading guilty to reduced charges, but with good time awarded to county jail inmates in Michigan, he was released on probation after serving ninety-nine days. On May 25, 2010, he was sentenced to 18 months to 5 years in prison for violating his probation.

Detroiters are buzzing  because of that last sentence.  Going to prison for a probation violation is newsworthy when the prisoner is Kwame Kilpatrick, and whether prison is too harsh a sentence for a probation violator is the topic du jour.

But no one is talking about Compuware, who is an interesting player in this whole drama.  For the uninformed, here’s what happened: Almost immediately after being released from his original jail sentence, in February 2009, Kwame Kilpatrick landed a 6-figure “account executive”  job (allegedly selling medical software) with Covisint,  a subsidiary of Compuware.  He had no experience, and was a convicted felon – convicted of lying in court. Under oath.  Just the skills needed for a sales executive job, right?

The CEO of Compuware, Peter Karmanos, Jr., was a supporter of Kwame and a financial contributor, so everyone just dismissed that job, and the fact that it was handed to Kwame on a silver platter, as business as usual. But what message is sent about the culture and corporate responsibility of Compuware?  Why wasn’t the judgment of Karmanos questioned more by the media and other observers at the time? Or is cronyism and political back-scratching just a fact of business life?  I find Compuware’s actions to be particularly shameful, given the economic downturn at the time, and the fact that Compuware employees were being  simultaneously terminated. Perhaps Kwame and Compuware are perfectly matched – both being corrupt, greedy, arrogant, and impossible to shame.

In case you hadn’t heard, Compuware/Covisint fired Kwame on Tuesday, about an hour after he was led away from court in handcuffs.  Their statement?

“It’s an unfortunate situation, and we feel bad for his family, but our hands are tied.”

I guess that Compuware’s hands weren’t tied until Kwame actually lost the ability to show up in Dallas (where he was based) once in a while. They are paying him until the end of the month, though.

So what do you think?  Is Compuware a poor corporate citizen with a bad CEO to boot?  Did they enable Kwame to misbehave by handing him an undeserved job and income?  Does everyone deserve a chance to overcome their past, including people like Kwame?  Your comments, please!

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