Is it you or is it them? How to navigate a new organizational culture

Posted June 23, 2014 in Career Management, Communication, Latest News & Insights

Every organization has its own culture and every culture (just as every leader) has strengths and corresponding weaknesses that go along with those strengths.  It made me think:  what if the strengths of a company culture work well in one part of the world, but not the other?  Or at one stage of company growth, but not another?

Over the past month, I’ve encountered several high performing, successful leaders who are finding themselves at odds with the cultural expectations of their new employers.  All of these individuals were actively recruited into their organizations and each of them has had impressive track records in other places.  But each is also grappling with feedback from their new employers that runs counter to their previous experiences.

They say culture eats strategy for lunch…it will also eat a leader too.  If you find yourself at odds with your new employer over behaviours that never seem to have been a problem for you before, here are some things to consider trying:

  1. Reflect on your values:  make sure that the values that are important to you align with the values of the organization.  If there are gaps, think about what you might be able to change in your role or focus to create more alignment;
  2. Understand the corporate “speak”:  leadership is situational.  If you were told by your last organization that you were highly strategic and your current organization is telling you you’re too slow to act, perhaps there is a mismatch between how you are using your strength in your new environment.  Make sure you understand exactly what the behavioural expectations are with your new employer and get feedback on where you need to adapt.
  3. Educate your employer:  in the case where you may be the “local team” reporting into individuals from a head office in another country, do your best to educate your colleagues on the differences in operating cultures.  They may not realize that accommodations needs to be make.

If you are a leader who is tasked with aligning HQ culture in a new division or a different market, make sure you’re not culturally blind or biased by:

  1. Soliciting feedback from the local team on what is working and what isn’t about the planned approaches;
  2. Taking risks to go “off script” to implement suggestions and advise presented by local managers;
  3. Challenging your own assumptions about “what’s always worked” to ensure you don’t miss potential opportunities and cultural nuances.

A strong company culture is key to creating alignment and engagement but it also needs to be able to flex to address the realities of various business challenges and situations.  It’s up to leaders at the top to ensure their championing of the corporate brand isn’t blindly leading their organization into business disaster.  Culture drives strategy and people create culture.  The best brands and business plans will fall flat if that fact isn’t recognized.

Happy leading!


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