Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Starting a new job, Building a new foundation – part 12 and connecting to your employer’s corporate culture

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 6, 2010

In Part 11 to this series in starting a new job and succeeding as you go through your probationary period I focused on knowing and connecting to the core strategy and priorities of your employer business as you develop your own position there and as you advance your own career. At least in principle, strategy and the goals and priorities that shape it should be fully and clearly articulated and shared throughout the organization and any disconnects and inconsistencies in that simply indicate dysfunctionality and problems. That is, or at least should be open and clearly, readily known by all employees and at least in general terms.

This posting turns to the underlying assumptions and understandings that are built into an organization, large or small but that generally go unsaid and that as a cumulative whole constitute the business’ culture. Much of this can be discerned as a part of your basic research during a job search as there are aspects of this that can be fairly consistent across industries and within functional areas (e.g. for most any nonprofit or for most any hardware retail, or functionally for Accounting or Sales per se.) But even the details that may appear consistent at this level may be very different within specific businesses, and you may find that the self-conscious faces you met with in your interviewing in effect masked details you would have otherwise picked up on then. So you probably do know a fairly significant amount about the culture of the organization you have recently started working with from your job search research and from your interviews with this company, and with your now-supervisor and others, and from simply walking around the business and seeing people and how they dress and look and interact with each other. But your safest approach here would be to take little for granted and to face this as a real learning curve opportunity.

This posting is about the unstated but assumed in your new workplace, and on effectively connecting into and learning your new corporate culture as you start your new job within it.

• Strategically building a career is in many respects a process of becoming a student of business and corporate cultures as you take on a succession of positions and responsibility areas and most likely with a succession of employers and frequently in a succession of industries and/or functional areas.
• If success in a job and in a career is about developing hands-on and management skills and best practices in what you do, the unspoken but very real constraints and opportunities of the business culture you work in will determine what can work where you are now and what you would have to do to get buy-in to make it work there.

This second bullet point covers a lot of ground and it in fact touches on all of the core set of issues I would deal with in this posting as a whole.

Over the course of a developing career, you learn an extensive set of experience-validated tools and approaches for understanding the tasks you are charged with, and for managing and resolving them. Effective employees are always learning and always looking for ways to leverage the value they learned in one context into new ones for creating new levels of value there too. If the only constraints you had to deal with were meeting strategically defined business goals and priorities and doing that consistently with operational processes in place, this would be straightforward and there would be no need for this posting. But any real business is a community of people, and both within the business and outside of it in its customers, suppliers and others in its supply and value chains.

Culture enters in here where people have personalities and personal similarities and differences, and where the interpersonal can be key to what will and will not work. Culture encapsulates the historic lessons learned of what has and has not worked and it can be relevant to the current context or tied up in legacy decisions and outcomes that may not effectively apply now but that still carry weight – or for any business of long standing it is probably some combination thereof.

Silo walls and other structures and barriers within an organization (which may be only partly reflected in the formal table of organization) can define the local “what and how we do it here” differences and even within seemingly homogeneous organizations. These same features can determine who can do what and they also determine what buy-ins would be needed from whom for anyone to be able to do even crucial tasks. I have actually written about one aspect of this elsewhere in the perhaps extreme context of tasks that companies need to bring consultants in to solve, as outsiders who can be granted license to step across table of organization and other boundaries – because after they have finished completing their contracted tasks they will leave, at least until they are needed again.

Culture may be largely unspoken, but if you violate the cultural expectations and norms of the business that you work for you will hear about it. And this will at least in part be conveyed as your efforts are misconstrued, challenged and blocked. Job and career success mean learning and that definitely includes learning to work within the culture of the businesses you work with. Knowing this is a vital tool you need to have handy and in use as you start any new job in your career.

The next posting I will add to this series is going to deal with one of those issues that no one likes to talk about, but that anyone starting a new job should be prepared for. What should you do if your new job isn’t working? This can happen for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways and with a range of levels of significance, and both for this job and for your immediate career opportunities. Consider this the due diligence and risk remediation side of new job and career development.

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