Finding a Culture for Success

{Click here to read the original article on Careerrocketeer.}

If you’ve ever found yourself in a company that doesn’t value your skills, then you’ll appreciate the discussion on finding the right corporate culture for the skills and talents you bring to an organization. In this post, we’ll take a quick look at how you can overcome a very common barrier for moving your career to the next level.

A big issue for many working professionals is in finding a good fit for success within a company. Fit is usually broken up into two factors: job and organization. Job fit is fairly easy for the company and the individual to figure out; that is, you have the skills for the job or either the company feels they can teach you what you need to know. Organization or culture fit is much more difficult. It is essentially the alignment of beliefs and values of you and the company. Yes, the company has their own set of values. Why? Because companies are usually run by people and these people have values.

When companies interview candidates for hire, one would hope that they are asking questions that will assess both fits. Unfortunately, many companies don’t know what their values are. It’s fairly safe to say that many people that get involved in the interview process don’t fully understand their own company’s culture. Assessing whether you will fit or not is too difficult for most interviewers and usually doesn’t happen. The problem is that the interviewer will assess you with their own values. If there is a gross mismatch, they won’t recommend you. Even if there is a match, the interviewer’s values may not be the same as those in higher levels of the organization. This is important if you want to move up in an organization.

Defining your values. It is useful for you to have a good understanding of why you work. Sure, we all work for the money. But do you work for increasing technical challenge, higher levels of authority, or high visibility? One thing most highly educated professionals value is graduate degrees. I know you are saying to yourself, of course they do. They’ve spent a lot of time and effort into obtaining the degrees so they want to get a good return on it. The advanced degree is a tool for supporting the desire to do higher level tasks.

Other values that professionals seek are affiliation, autonomy, intellectual challenge, managing people, power, influence, prestige, recognition, security, variety and so on. If you want to achieve higher levels of success within someone else’s organization, you have to know your values and how you will use them. For example, I have a highly technical background. No matter what position you put me in, I will use analytical methods to resolve issues and perform my work. Now, consider putting me in a management position. Will my analytical skills be necessary? Maybe, but I will use them anyhow because it’s who I am. I can’t turn that off.

To know what type of environment that you would thrive in, you must first understand what you value. If your values are not present in your environment, you won’t be happy. You’ll become restless and will make a change. Sometimes this change is a conscious move to another company or it can be a subtle transformation to self-defeating behavior that drives a wedge between you and the company, forcing them to remove you.

Aligning your values. As mentioned earlier, ascertaining the values of a company from an interview is a big challenge. So maybe it isn’t the best place to look. You should consider your career goals to define the location for a values assessment. Let’s say you just completed your MBA and are looking to leave your current company to find a middle management position in another company. How do you determine if management will value your MBA? The best way is to evaluate their backgrounds. If management doesn’t have graduate degrees but possess many years of work experience, they most likely won’t see much value in your advanced degree.

At all levels of management, values are different, but most managers strive to be similar to the managers at the highest levels of the organization. Henry Mintzberg defined the Ten Managerial Roles in 1973, outlining the typical behavior for CEOs. Later on, Pavett and Lau (1983) performed similar studies of lower and middle level managers and found that they emulated the higher level managers. One might think that managers desiring to be part of the executive groups will mimic their behavior so that they resonate with them and will increase their chances of being accepted into the group.

One of my clients struggled with achieving even the smallest levels of success in his organization because of a misalignment of values. My client held three advanced degrees, mostly because he wanted to differentiate himself from his competition. Unfortunately, with such high levels of education, he differentiated himself from his management. He appeared more as a threat to them. Management is about competitive advantage, to some extent. Those that sit at or near the top won’t value things that they don’t have. No one would intentionally rule themselves out of the competition. Therefore, to align your strengths and skills with an organization, you need to align them with the values of higher level management. If they value what you have, you will be more successful. If they don’t value it, you’ll have a difficult time becoming extremely successful. After all, people don’t like to change, especially if they value security.

Reaching your career goals in someone else’s organization is a difficult task. We often find ourselves in groups that don’t appreciate our unique skills and abilities. Of course, we don’t know what kind of culture we are in until we are neck deep in it. At that point, it can be painful and waste a lot of time trying to get out of the company and into a new one. You are better off taking the time to align your values with those that will be promoting you to higher levels. You can do that by aligning your values with their values.

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