It’s a deeply ingrained part of our cultural identity that those who deserve success rise to the top. We find it reassuring that hard work, a strong moral character and just the right amount of determination will get you there.

And while the cream does indeed rise to the top, so does the scum.

This is exactly what happens when companies attempt to make a big culture change. The cream rises to the top along with the scum, and how you handle the scum ultimately determines the success or failure of your culture shift.

Take creating a culture of accountability as an example. As you work to make this culture change, you will likely start getting some results right away. The cream rises to the challenge, almost immediately taking ownership of their actions and deadlines.

These are the individuals who are willing to do what it takes to get results because they are already in alignment with your core value system. They are willing to push through the challenges to see the culture change succeed. These are the individuals who you want to celebrate and keep with you.

And then there’s the scum. These are the individuals who do not support the culture change, the traditionalists who will fight you every step of the way. Don’t get them confused with those who are slow to align with the shift. Theirs is a conscious choice NOT to align. Unfortunately, the scum rises to the top too!

What is worse is it’s often the people who you desperately want to come along with you, the people who you are willing to put the entire company through therapy just so you can keep them. Try as you might, you simply cannot bring them around to the new order.

Eventually, you will reach a critical decision point: do you want the cream or do you want the scum? You can’t have both and the longer you leave the scum there floating on the top along with the cream, the less chance your culture change will have of succeeding.

The problem with scum is it usually isn’t someone within your company who you are willing to let go. The scum may be co-founders, partners, family members, significant others or longtime friends. They may be the superstar rainmakers who outperform all the rest in every other way.

These individuals either need to be moved along or moved out. Period. They are in the way of change, the one last stopping block before the real change. If allowed to stay, they will singlehandedly cause you lose all your momentum because no one else is going to go along with you while these terrorists are constantly undermining you.

Dealing with the scum is often a linchpin decision for bringing about big culture changes. It signals to the cream that you are serious about the change and value their support in helping achieve it. It also removes the last obstacle to that change and frees those individuals to find a better fit for themselves.

Are you having trouble creating the corporate culture you want? Give me a call!

Aly Pain

Growing up, I was the smart, fun girl on the outside and a frantic, anxious mess on the inside. I spent years healing the pain of dysfunctional family relationships, including eating disorders and a suicide attempt, to break the cycle raising my own teen boys.

Today, I’ve been happily married to my husband for over 23 years, and we have 2 incredible teen boys. My passion is empowering parents to build healthy, respectful relationships with their teens without giving up or giving up, even if they've tried everything and are at their wits end.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t think the saying matches the article at all. The Scum usually refers to people who manipulate their way into a leadership position and are unethical and self-serving, not those who are coasting to retirement or who resist change.

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