Seven Lessons to Fit into Your Corporate Culture

“That’s not the way we do things here, this place is different!” Those of you who have worked in a medium-to-large sized company may have heard this sentence. What does this mean? This simply means that each corporation has a unique corporate culture, which can be different from the other places you may have worked.

In today’s work environment, it is hard to survive, sustain and grow in an organization if you don’t understand its corporate culture and adjust your working style accordingly. The following seven lessons are intended to help you fit into the corporate culture of your organization.

Lesson One: What is a Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is often defined as how things are done in a certain corporation. The word Corporation is from “corpus” meaning “body” in Latin. Thus a corporation or a company is like a living, breathing organism. It has a personality, just like we have. Corporate culture reflects that personality. It defines the behaviors, beliefs, and values of the organization.

A few examples of a corporation’s norms include who to copy on an email, when can you bypass your boss, how would you engage with your boss’s boss, what tone would you adopt in written and verbal communication, when is it okay to say no to your boss, when to be direct and when to be political, and what rules would you follow while attending social functions such as annual dinners etc.

Lesson Two: Why is It Important to Know Your Corporate Culture

The first lesson provides numerous examples pertaining to different aspects of a company’s corporate culture.  They seem quite extensive and probably overbearing. However, without knowing these norms, you might be working against the corporate culture of your organization. And if you are working against your corporate culture, you are unlikely to get the necessary support from colleagues and management.

Take an example. You have attended an important meeting on behalf of your department. The next day your boss gets a call from someone you had met the previous day. Your boss was unaware of the meeting and its minutes, so he was not able to respond to the discussion.

In above example, if your corporate culture demands immediate communication, and your boss expects an update from you the moment you finish the meeting, inform him via call, email, or even a text message. Failing to do so would mean you are working against the corporate culture. Working against the corporate culture can create problems for you and your colleagues. That is why it is important to have a clear understanding of what is required.

Lesson Three: The Layers of Corporate Culture

There are three levels or layers of corporate culture:

The first level is the “surface level”— things can that be observed at the surface, even by an outside observer. This may include the organizational hierarchy, physical layout of the office, dress code, company’s policies and procedures, and how employees interact with each other and visitors.

The “middle layer” consists of the information available to all employees. Company’s mission statements, slogans and values fall into this category.

The third level is the deepest and is the most important of all. These are the “unspoken rules”; these rules are acknowledged but rarely spelled out consciously. This level may also contain contradictory elements and taboos. Mastering how to navigate through the third level would be the most important step towards adjusting into the corporate culture.

Lesson Four: Be A Good Observer

As an employee or a manager, not only are you required to understand the corporate culture of your organization, but also successfully navigate through its different layers especially the third level. It is not something you would learn on day one. You will learn it through experience and by making mistakes. Being a good observer and active listener would be helpful in this regard.

Lesson Five: Look for A Mentor

If you want to settle faster in your corporate environment, find a peer or senior who can be your mentor— someone who has been a part of the company longer than you and have been through what you are currently going through. He or she will reduce your slip-ups and provide guidance and motivation when you need them.

Lesson Six: Types of Corporate Culture

Apart from the layers or levels that you have studied in the third lesson, it is useful to know which type of corporate culture you are dealing with. Researchers have identified four types of corporate cultures as explained below:

  • Rapid Feedback, Low Risk Culture: In this type of culture, you know how you are doing rather quickly; doing something wrong doesn’t have dire consequences. A few examples of this culture include restaurants and software houses.
  • Rapid Feedback, High Risk Culture: Just like the first one, you get rapid feedback but the risks are high. Examples include police and sports.
  • Slow Feedback, Low Risk Culture: You don’t get any feedback for a long time and the consequences are normally mild. Examples include insurance companies, banks etc.
  • Slow Feedback, High Risk Culture: You don’t get any feedback for a long time, but the consequences can be serious. Examples include aircraft manufacturing companies, internet ventures etc.

Depending upon the type of culture, you need to define your role within the organization. How to define your role? Let’s see in the last lesson.

Lesson Seven: Define Your Role in the Organization

Now that you are aware of the intricacies of the corporate culture, it’s time to define your own role in it. As a starting point, get the mission statement of your company and derive from it your own mission statement.  Get a clear understanding of the department’s purpose, objectives, philosophy, standards etc.

How does the company plan to serve its customers, the community, and the society on the whole. How does the company fit into the grand scheme of the things and how do you see yourself fitting into that? A well-crafted mission statement will help you clarify your own goals and establish your objectives.

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