Not so shocking

High VoltageI was pleased to learn recently that my blog post on “shock reports” was one of the five most popular small-business posts published in the Wall Street Journal’s The Experts blogs.

The term shock report, you may recall, was actually a garbled but evocative translation of rapport d’étonnement. It refers to a tool used by businesses, government and academia to tap the insights of new recruits or students by asking what most astonished them after joining the company or institution. The goal is to capture the collective wisdom of first impressions before the organization’s culture begins to shape the way new recruits see things.

Readers of this blog know by now that a critical role for any founder is to maintain the magic of the Founder’s Mentality during that period in the company’s growth when professionalization becomes necessary. That means taking personal responsibility for recruiting and training new senior talent. This help ensure that the company’s culture is preserved during this stage, and that the company maintains the proper balance between professional systems and “heroes.” The role of the founder, in other words, is to make sure the new professionals will fit into the culture and work to preserve it.

But here’s the twist that we discovered in one case: If you’re recruiting correctly, the professionals who join your company are already attracted to its culture. They are the black sheep of the blue chips, not the bureaucrats. So their shock reports might not reflect much surprise about the areas where your company lacks professionalism. After all, they know that’s why they’re being hired. Instead of being surprised by your culture, they may tell you they’re most astonished to discover areas where that culture is actually eroding.

If so, you know two things right away: 1) It’s time to fix the issue they’ve flagged and 2) you’ve just made a really good hire.

Personally, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the post about shock reports was so popular among Wall Street Journal readers. But given that they are such a nifty and essential business tool, I can’t say I’m shocked.

This entry was posted in Insurgency by James Allen. Bookmark the permalink.

About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office and recognized as a leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. He is co-head of Bain’s Global Strategy practice and a member of Bain & Company's European Consumer Products practice. He is co-author, with Chris Zook, of Repeatability (HBR Press, March 2012) and Profit from the Core (HBR Press, 2001 and 2010).

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