Dr. Judith Wright | August 24, 2016

Defining Company Culture :
Do You Fit In?

 

“Company culture” is a phrase we’re hearing a lot of these days. But what does “culture” really mean in this instance?


If we were talking about a country’s culture, we’d be talking about its customs, people, history, social infrastructure and traditions. So defining company culture sounds straightforward at first. It’s the office environment: the attitudes, personalities, and atmosphere of the office. But truly defining company culture goes beyond even that.

A big part of defining company culture is examining the story that company tells to the world. For example, what makes the company unique? What is the history of the company? Who are the company’s employees? Who are the company’s customers and how do they feel about the company?  What is the overall “attitude” of the company? Is it hip? Edgy? Serious? Professional? Is there a culture of caring or a culture of competition?

Fitting In, Aligning With, and Defining Company Culture

When we easily understand and naturally fit into our company culture, we tend to take it for granted. It just works. Fitting in feels effortless.

When we don’t fit in, chances are we feel like something HUGE is missing. Like the song says, “You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.” When you work somewhere with a company culture you love, then you move on to a company where you feel like a round peg in a square hole, the importance of a great company culture becomes clear.

A foundation we’ve helped with professional development recently brought in a successor for their Director, Stan. The plan was she would train alongside the Director for a year to “learn the ropes” and then move into his role when he retired. The Director-To-Be, Jamie, was highly qualified, experienced and educated. On paper, she seemed like a perfect fit and a natural for the job.

After about six months we received a desperate call from Stan, asking if we could mentor or train his successor. Several employees had approached him with concerns about Jamie. While these concerns were varied and seemingly unconnected, none of them pointed to a problem with her qualifications…it was something more ambiguous.

Stan said, “I just don’t understand. On paper she seems great. She’s a very nice person and she seems likeable enough, but it’s almost like our employees are adverse to her approach to things. The board is happy with her qualifications and direction. I can’t quite explain it, but she just isn’t fitting in. In fact, I have employees threatening to leave our foundation if she’s promoted as my successor. I may have to delay my retirement plan. I don’t know what I did wrong.”

We assured Stan he didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, the succession plan worked out perfectly! How lucky to be able to steer the train back on to the tracks BEFORE it really crashed and burned. This gave us plenty of time to get to the root of the problem.

When meeting with Jamie, after some discussion, it turned out the foundation had a very tight-knit and specific culture.

For example, they kept a plush squirrel on their conference room shelf as a running joke and metaphor for how their team approached new ideas. As in, in the middle of brainstorming sessions, someone would always pop up with an “Oh look a squirrel!” idea and chase off after it. Chasing after new ideas was a vital and encouraged part of their company culture.

Stan, an Energizer personality type fit in perfectly: he was always excited about new ideas, enthusiastic, and quick to lead and make decisions. He let people run with their plans and share their visions, then helped them find common ground. Employees felt a great deal of personal investment in the foundation, not only because they could see the results of the foundation’s work, but also because they could clearly see their roles and ideas play out. They felt ownership.

Jamie, on the other hand, was a classic Analyzer. She had great credentials and experience, and she could look at reports and data like a crystal ball. She had high standards for perfection and accuracy and was cautious about change. She expected employees to give her frequent updates and she wasn’t allowing for the autonomy they were afforded with Stan. She was frustrated by what she perceived as a lack of focus and planning, while the employees felt stifled and miserable. In some organizations Jamie might have flourished, but in this environment she was floundering.

What was missing? A clear definition, alignment, and understanding of the importance of the existing company culture.

Understanding Your Own Company Culture

Defining your own company culture can seem nebulous. Is it a team where everyone is “in” on the joke? Does it mean everyone gets along as friends? Is it a team built from only certain personality types?

While it would be amazing if we could all find the perfect office environment and corporate culture to align with our different personalities, it’s not so realistic. It’s much more feasible to simply grasp the company culture of your office and learn how to thrive and grow within the environment—bloom where you are planted, so to speak.

In Jamie’s case, it meant she needed to be self-aware enough and willing to do leadership work it would take to get where she needed to be. Fortunately, she right jumped in, working hard to deeply understand her personality and how she fit in with the atmosphere of the office. We used our CARE personality profile to determine her strengths and which areas she needed to pay more attention to. She became much more aware of her interactions with employees and the energy she as putting out. She worked hard to give more autonomy to individual team members and to be more open and willing to hear new “squirrel” ideas.

While Jamie wasn’t going to turn into Stan the Energizer, she was able to play into her other area of strength—her Cooperator side—to find commonalities and share her vision with her fellow team members and to realize each person in the organization had their own vision, ideas, and hopes. Rather than working with a black-and-white/right-or-wrong approach, she was able to find the grey areas where her vision overlapped with theirs.

Jamie worked hard to adapt and to become the leader the foundation needed her to be, and fortunately, Stan was still able to retire on schedule.

When you come into a new office, there’s an existing culture. Depending on the size and structure of the company, you might be able to sway and influence the culture as you grow together, or, you may have to adapt and learn to grow to align with the existing structure. It doesn’t mean changing your personality or getting lost. It means learning how to listen, adapt and grow with those around you.

Finding Your Shared Vision to Grow

One of the best ways to get a handle on the culture of your company is to understand the vision and mission of company leadership. This might be clearly articulated or it might mean you need to have a conversation with your boss. Your goal is to understand the greater, ultimate vision for the organization and how you can help your team achieve it.

Not only will understanding leadership’s vision help you to become more invested and connected to your office, but it will also help you become more valuable and endeared to your boss. After all, every leader wants great people supporting them and working with them to carry out their dreams for the company.

Once you understand the vision of leadership, talk about your own vision and how you can align your career goals to help propel you and the entire office forward. Invest your energy into the company as if it were your very own. Take ownership and leadership over your projects. Offer to go the extra mile and do what it takes to help make your successes the company’s successes.

Don’t shy away from speaking up when you have an idea or when you feel something needs to be addressed. Just because you see something differently or have a conflict with a plan doesn’t mean you’re not fitting in. The idea is to find a productive resolution to the problem together. Follow one of our favorite rules of engagement: “assume goodwill” and realize everyone wants the project or company to be successful—but you may just have different ideas of how to get it there.

You represent your company or organization so you reflect its culture. Even if you aren’t a “team player” by nature, when you’re part of an organization, you have to let go of the “my way or the highway” mentality. Focus on the big picture and the ways you can help your company reach its goals.

For more information on defining company culture and leading wherever you are, check out our Career Coaching Program in Chicago, visit our website at www.wrightliving.com, or join us for our next Foundations Training Weekend.


About the Author

Judith

Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach. She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

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