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Whirling Chief

When do we know an organizational culture is not a good “fit” for us?

I felt compelled to start here as a topic because corporate culture was the reason I left my last gig. Funny, huh?! Many of us have likely heard that saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” by Peter Drucker, one of our world’s most successful management consultant gurus. It makes me laugh every time I hear it because it is so darn true!

So, how do we really know whether a corporate culture is a good fit or not? Well…it helps to first define what we mean by “corporate culture.” What we refer to as corporate culture is actually patterns of accepted behavior, the beliefs imbedded in the system, and the values that are promoted and reinforced within an organizational environment. Make sense? So, then what? Nothing. Sometimes we are lucky enough to fit right into a given environment, and other times not. There is nothing wrong with either of those situations – except not realizing the situation for what it is.

“If you are not working with people who touch your heart, stop. It is not worth it.”

For example, about halfway through my career I was working under the supervision of some great leaders; I didn’t recognize how “great” they were at empowering and supporting us until I moved into a new assignment. I wouldn’t say I took my leaders for granted but, rather, I assumed providing a learning environment was a given. I was wrong.

More recently, when I was hired into an environment where the company values were not aligned with my leadership values, I doubted my instincts. I thought, maybe I can wait it out a little. Then I could collaborate, and demonstrate to the communities around me what we were capable of accomplishing together; if I push people for trust, they may adjust their expectations and behaviors. Once again, I was wrong. When people have different motivations to drive them, they default to what they know best and what they believe to be true.

Therefore, this post is for every odd man (or woman) out who may need help to recognize a possible fit issue. After researching across multiple resources, and combining that academic knowledge with years and years of experience, I’d like to share with you a few clear signs to look for in assessing a cultural fit issue:

Courage & gut talking. Let me tell you about my experience: I woke up that morning feeling so grateful I followed my gut to leave my prestigious position. And yet I was incredibly scared to move into the unknown, with only a little understanding of where and how I could contribute to the new world as a seasoned professional. Looking back now after a year and half, it was the very best move for me. I can, at long last, sleep peacefully after years and years of being half awake through the night wondering, am I in the right place?

When you start a new job, if you feel in time something is not quiet right and you can’t figure out what it is, I’d recommend you do not doubt yourself. It is very likely you are right. Listen to your inner self. It knows us better than we think.

Offensive /destructive comments. If your co-workers or your boss are saying things that make you feel down when you rest your head on your pillow at night, pay attention to it. Pay attention also to what your loved ones tell you. Just like our gut, their outside perspective can often tell if something is not going well.

A colleague told me her story recently: She was hired for a director-level job, and from the very start people were making very subtle, and yet disrespectful, comments to her here and there. She didn’t even realize there was an issue, until her husband accompanied her to a company party a few months later. He witnessed first-hand his wife being put down, and expressed his concerns to make her aware. She eventually left the group to find a better fit inside the company.

As uncomfortable as it is to face conflict head on, you may have to confront your situation. Explain to people what’s tolerable (and not) and how they make you feel as a result of their behavior. At the end of the day, isn’t life all about enjoyment and fulfillment? Try to remember and, more importantly, honor that.

Values mismatch. If you have tried to evolve your thoughts, change your behaviors, and/or adjust your routine to better fit a culture, yet still feel a strong sense of disconnect, isolation, or frustration, you may consider reaching out to someone. As I said earlier, a trustworthy friend or loved one may provide a good mirror for you.

Often, there are more senior people in the workplace, with more context and experience, who can help you connect the dots at the same time. Asking for help shows vulnerability and good will, as it calls for a solution; even if a solution doesn’t exist, trust that it is win-win after all. (By the way, there is a great TED talk on vulnerability by Brene Brown. Check it out here.)

Last but not least, if you ever find yourself working with people who do not touch your heart every day, my humble recommendation is to simply stop. One can always find an alternative way to earn. Life is far too precious to waste your time. Remember: We can’t control the environment around us; however, we can decide what sort of leader we want to be, and what kind of people with whom we wish to be surrounded. Make a choice and stay with it in peace.


  • 17 June 2016

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