William Tincup Shares His Thoughts On People And Culture

For those of you who’ve just returned from a few years on the Moon, William Tincup is an avid writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller, and teacher in the HR tech space. We are BIG fans of William and got a chance to meet him at the DisruptHR Cayman event and interviewed him a few weeks later. In this part of the transcript, we look at what it means to create a company culture and how your people fit into the equation.

Editor: What does the concept of ‘people and culture’ mean to you?

WT: What’s interesting about the rendering of culture is that you have a lot of things you use, anonymously. We talk about retention and engagement; we talk about values, ethics, morality. We talk about all these things but what is the link between engagement and culture? What’s the link between your culture and your values? What are values if not ethics and morality? These are the big issues.

Editor: How do you retain people if you don’t have a culture or do you always have a culture? Can you manipulate it?

WT: No one’s created a standard. Maybe it’s because there isn’t a standard. I tend to look at culture like the chicken and the egg analogy. I would say the chicken is the people, and the egg is the culture. One begets the other. Throw 20 people into a room, give them time, energy, a budget, and initiatives, and culture will happen. It might not be the culture you like! It might not align with anything you have going on, but culture will happen. We’re human beings; we’ll create culture.

Now it’s become a game of, can you manipulate or orchestrate the culture that you want. I think you can. I believe that you can artificially create the culture you want because it’s based on your values. It’s about understanding the values of your firm; what you really stand for. Then you incentivize.. reward, you recognize. You compensate based on your values. Because you’ve created compensation, recognition, rewards, incentives, and all of those things, it essentially says, “We just don’t say that we’re innovative.. whenever you innovate we’ll give you something.” Maybe it’s time off, maybe it’s an accolade, a CEO back slap, money in your pocket, whatever, we’re going to give you something because it’s classical conditioning. We’re going to reward you in a way that it says, “That’s fantastic, keep it up.” Conversely, the culture that comes from this rejects things that are the opposite of that. So what it does is it says, “If you’re going to sit around and not innovate, you’re not going to be around here for that long.”

The relationship between the two is that you cannot have one without the other. You can’t have culture without people, and by having people you’re going to have culture. Now when people try to manufacture a culture, it’s like an aspirational culture, like we want to be known for. When you put incentives, recognition, rewards, time, and energy in, then all this stuff will get you an aspirational culture.

William Tincup

William Tincup

Editor: Can you suggest an interesting case study? 

WT: Let’s explore the story of Amazon. A few months ago, this online giant was stigmatized as a place of bad culture. However, what most people got wrong, was they made a value judgment on Amazon’s culture. Amazon’s culture fits Amazon’s employees. If you’re a type A hard worker, super intelligent and shrewd, then Amazon is one of the best places to work! What wasn’t said was you might not be right for Amazon’s culture, you might not be a fit for it. But to say that it was wrong is fairly ethnocentric. It’s wrong to say that their culture is wrong. You can say that it’s not for you and that you would never thrive or flourish in this environment, which is fair, but you can’t say that it’s wrong. It’s kind of moronic to say that another person’s culture is wrong.

When looking at the relationship between people and culture, you have people who create that culture, while you can make that culture do different things. So it’s not like you’re left with whatever culture comes.  I think you can absolutely create an aspirational culture and move your culture to a different place. However, a lot of that is about value-alignment and incentives, which go with value alignment. So there’s a wonderful relationship between the two. It’s almost like a blade of grass or a snowflake; no two people are going to see that relationship the same way. This goes back to standards right? Maybe we’ll never be at a point where we standardize this.

Check out William Tincup’s review of DisruptHR Cayman.


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