How cultural misalignment can kill your career

2 years ago   -   Posted by Rafal Muchowicz in Development

If you walk into financial services company in trainers, jeans and a t-shirt you'd probably feel like you didn't belong, unless it’s a “casual Friday” or you are doing it to support your favorite charity.  Likewise, if you walked into the headquarters of surf ware manufacturer in a suit and tie, you'd be very out of place.


Whether you like it or not, your company has a culture based on its core values and your alignment to this culture is a key factor determining your career. Some companies have a very hands-off approach to corporate culture and others are very involved and offer all the perks like a free snack, social events, mixers, weekend retreats, family barbecues, etc. Some people love those things, some people don’t.

The worst thing that can happen is for you to be someone who resents them and is stuck in a company that essentially requires them to get ahead.


To benefit from your company culture, you need to understand it first.

It is difficult for people to assess and understand their own culture. When people are at work on a daily basis, many of the manifestations of culture become almost invisible. It will require you to step back and view your workplace environment with new eyes of an outsider.


Look at:

How do people interact with each other?

How are conflicts resolved (and are there conflicts)?

How do senior leaders interact with middle managers and employees?

How do middle managers interact with reporting employees?


Observe emotions. Do people seem engaged, interactive, excited, happy, friendly or withdrawn? Do they smile and interact with you as you walk by their desks?


Look at the objects and artifacts that sit on desks and hang on walls.

How is the space allocated? Where are the offices located?

How much space is given to whom? Where are people located?

What is posted on boards or displayed on walls?


Talk to people to get answers [best when you are new to the team]:

Who is a hero around here? Why?

What is your favorite characteristic that is present in your company?

What kinds of people fail in your organization?

How they coach teach, educate or mentor?

What they reward and give status to?

How they promote, hire or fire?


Have a look at company's website to see if they talk at about their culture. “ what it's like to be a part of their team”, "values", “benefits”, "about us" are examples of sections that can give you answers you are after.


Check the company out on Glassdoor yet be careful. A lot of those reviews are written by people who no longer work in the company and they can be only a representation of their frustrations and not a true picture of the company. If there is a pattern in all of those then probably the comment is true to some degree.  Look for comments about hours, benefits and promotions.


Check out the site's social network profiles, specifically their pages on LinkedIn. It'd be valuable to see what they share to their customers and the public,


Ask what it takes to get promoted. If it takes more than just being good at what you do and being interested in career advancement to succeed in the job. If you hear that promotions are contingent on "something opening up," you have an idea that people only move up when someone else moves up or moves out. If you hear about "pulling extra weight when needed" or "special training," be ready for leadership seminars, special training classes, and after-hours work.


None of those things are bad, but it's always good to know what the expectations are.


Organizational pace and structural fit. Where a company is in its organization’s lifecycle is another determinant of a company’s actual culture. Fast-growing companies coupled with a highly charged and competitive environment represent a totally different culture than those found in larger, slower-paced, more mature organizations.

While larger companies have multiple layers of decision-making and small ones very few, how these decisions are made are often worlds apart.


There is this saying “When in Rome do as the Romans do” which basically says if you want to succeed you need to adjust to the culture of the team and the company. Non-conformist won’t go far. The results of your assessment of your organizational culture will tell you what to do more of, less of, stop or start.

Remember, the answers to all of these questions shouldn't really be qualified in terms of "good" or "bad."

Yet only full alignments to the culture will all you to succeed. If you feel the company is not for you, work environment doesn’t support your values, lifestyle, doesn’t meet your expectations and in turn makes you miserable maybe you should think about moving out to move up again and finding an environment that will allow you to flourish again.



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