An old boys’ networks can be both ego-worst and one-company best. But what does that mean in practice?

When an old boys’ network is one-company best, you have succeeded with leading culture bearers to the next level, motivated in relation to the journey ahead and continued culture fits in relation to the company’s direction. This may mean that you end up scaling faster than anticipated.

When an old boys’ network is ego-worst, this in practice means that you have not succeeded with the management task of fostering strong culture bearers as they are the ones who stand behind any successful company transition. This may mean that you end up lagging behind compared to your forecast as performance fails.

Motivating as many employees as possible to join the journey ahead is especially important in the first phases of a company’s growth. If you lose too many culture bearers at once while you are growing, you may lose your cultural DNA along with valuable knowledge.

Moreover, new joiners won’t be able to adequately adapt to the new culture if there are no current employees who carry the company DNA and are able to pass it on to the ‘next generation’, and, instead, the new joiners will consciously or unconsciously try to change the culture they’ve been hired into based on their history and experience. This can result in the company losing its identity, and the identity is a competitive anchorage point in relation to competitors and customer retention.

Conversely, the culture bearers who are not motivated on the company’s future journey – either because they dream of a different career, because they cannot picture themselves as part of the journey or because they are afraid of not being able to keep up the pace – may also trip up existing employees who want to be part of the journey and new joiners who would otherwise be able to bridge the expertise they bring to the table from one organisational phase to the next.

You should therefore not only hire culture fit persons who are adaptable but also to the same extent bilaterally estimate the degree of culture fit in your existing workforce as well as their ability to anchor and adapt to the changes which are part of the journey that the company is about to embark on or has already started.

With competent, attentive and timely management it is possible to succeed with that management task, but you will not succeed if the network of culture bearers which was once one-company best ends up as one-company worst because every workday is used as a guard against that which no longer exists.

Employees who end up as one-company worst seldom consciously wish to end up as such. They have taken part in creating an amazing company with potential for more, and they’ll naturally be proud of this. However, they can end up fostering consolidated underground silos across the organisation as if it were an entangled ball of yarn, and this may hinder the company’s budgeted progress and drain the employees’ joy and enthusiasm before the last knot has been untangled. 

In my experience, the management can also be entangled in the ball of yarn, e.g. because of history or friendly ties, and this can delay the response to unwanted behaviour and contribute to strengthening the organisational seniority hierarchy. As a result, the remaining employees may feel powerless, lose respect for the management, lack motivation, and, in the worst case, end up leaving the company.

To this date, I have yet to experience a management which has said that they acted too soon in such situations. On the contrary, I have heard different managements express that they should have acted much sooner.

Joint ownership which is cultivated to the benefit of the company, and the amount of energy which is bred organisationally when solidarity is one-company best is perceived as essential – retrospectively – compared to nurturing individuals who can end up ruining everything for everyone.