Corporate Culture vs. Cults – what’s the difference?

We all know about cults – the Moonies, drinking the Kool Aid, Branch Davidians, and on and on.

Unfortunately, the same things that cause cults to exist and sometimes flourish, are the same things that may occur and flourish in corporate cultures today.

We all want to be a part of something greater than ourselves. We are all, at times, vulnerable to a powerful, captivating individual. We all want to belong. We all want to feel like we’re an important part of a group. Our career can be a big part of that.

However, it can go too far.

It can be a dangerous mix: a charismatic leader, an uncertain economy, feeling the need to belong, and the pressure to perform. Put all that together and it can lead to cult-like situations.

Is individual opinion encouraged or discouraged? Are employees pushed to “go along” with the group or with the leader’s values and opinions? Is “group think” the norm? Do the “yes” people in the organization go farther and get more pats on the back? Does the company profess to provide everything you need?

These are all signs that a corporate culture is, or is becoming, cult-like.

If you’re a company owner or manager, and you see some of these signs within your organization, it’s not too late. First accept the fact that you’ve allowed this to grow, then move on. Encourage differences of opinion, encourage differences in lifestyles, encourage community involvement (see our previous blog post), and encourage personal space and time. These actions will slow down and reverse cult-like culture.

If you’re an employee and you see some of these signs where you work, don’t drink the Kool Aid. If you have the option of leaving, then do so. However, if you don’t, work to build and maintain a life outside of your work — with your family, your friends and your community. Make a concerted effort to do your job as best you can within the existing framework while maintaining your personal values and opinions.

We have all seen those lists: “the best places to work.” What makes them the “best”? Chances are it is not making employees into good “followers” of corporate-speak, corporate-style, and yes, corporate-values. The best companies see the value in diversity and celebrate the differences. This type of approach makes the best companies, provides the best environment in which to work, produces the best products and services, and results in happy and healthy employees, happy and healthy customers, and happy and healthy bottom lines.

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