Culture clash!

Every company has its own culture. It defines the way in which its people get things done. Each culture is unique, even for companies in the same industry. So its no wonder that new recruits often experience culture shock. How do we cope with different corporate cultures throughout our careers?

By Ernest Eng



Jamie has just joined an MNC after spending 10 years at an SME in a similar capacity. She is totally unprepared for the changes to her work environment. Everything seems to be moving twice as fast, even though there is a huge amount of bureaucratic red-tape to deal with. In spite of her experience, Jamie doesn’t understand how her new colleagues got things done at the big company.

Erin, who just got promoted to junior management after 3 years at her company, is truly passionate about her job. However, she finds life as a manager to be totally different, and is now learning how to cope with greater expectations while managing a large team of subordinates.

Do their predicaments sound familiar? These are examples of organisational ‘culture shock’, and many of us have experienced it at one time or another. This is especially true for those of us who have just entered a new work environment. We encounter new work habits and different working arrangements, and have difficulty fitting in with our new colleagues.

Essentially, ‘organisational culture’ (more commonly known as ‘corporate culture’) is identified as the pattern of values, norms, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that shape the way people behave and get things done in the office. These are often ‘unwritten rules’ of behaviour at the workplace. Someone who is new to the workplace would be unfamiliar with these informal rules, and would therefore experience some degree of culture shock.

Everyone experiences culture shock each time they step into a new job, whether they’re fresh recruits or a senior manager who has just been transferred into a new department. Each organisation’s culture is unique, even for organisations within the same industry.

The golden rule

Regardless of whether you’re a veritable expert in your field or a newbie who is very good at what you do, deciding to bash ahead with your own rules is not the healthy way to go. After all, to truly love a job is to love everything about it - the ‘whole package’. That certainly includes your working relationship with your colleagues. The company would probably not function well with renegades in its midst.

Corporate culture is something that develops over a long period of time. It is usually firmly embedded, so it’s therefore easier for you to adapt to your new environment, than to try and change it.

But keep in mind that each person is unique. It’s worth remembering that you’ve been hired for your skills and for the potential gain you’d bring to the company. You’re not expected to be another robot on the assembly line. You want to maximise your talents while being as compatible as possible with the rest of the company.

Be proactive

It matters that you care and are willing to take the fi rst step. By being proactive, you indicate your desire to change. And the good news is, most of the things you can do at the beginning are easy to accomplish.

For starters, bear in mind that corporate culture is not born out of a vacuum. Even though it’s not something that can be easily articulated by managers and colleagues, it’s still something that results from various formal working arrangements.

Get to know for example, why the working hours of your colleagues are longer than what you’ve been used to. In certain companies, it is common for everyone to leave the office at fi ve o’clock sharp, but in others, many employees have no qualms about staying back till late at night. Is it because they are very passionate about their work? Is it because the boss expects everyone to stay late? Or is it because some colleagues are being swamped with too much work, and that the rest of the company is staying late to demonstrate their solidarity?

By simply watching and learning, you can pick up clues on how the organisation functions. If your colleagues are leaving work on-time, you’d be perceived as an eager beaver who’s out to make them look bad by staying late. On the other hand, if your colleagues exhibit exceptional esprit de corps, hunkering down through the night to get the job done, you’d come across as someone who is not a team player, or worse, a lazy slacker, for insisting on leaving early.

It would also make sense to befriend a senior member of the company to gain a better insight on the work habits of the company. Do not be afraid to ask or clarify issues that are unfamiliar to you. Being humble and keen to learn are good traits of any new employee.

Focus first on the tangibles. Find out how best to make your stay a most beneficial one for the company. Are there ways to put your skills to better use? How did the previous person in your appointment do his or her job? How can you improve on it? These are things that are directly within your control. Things that you can
immediately change.

Then learn how to play politics if you have to. Who are the people that can champion your projects? Who do you need to talk to, in order to get the information you need? Observe how power and status is reflected by the way cubicles are arranged for example. It’s cynical, but still true in many cases, that the bigger the cubicle, the higher the status of that individual. These are all aspects of the company’s culture. Particularly for big organisations with lots of red-tape, who you know, and who you associate with, plays a big role in determining whether you get your job done well.

Hang in there

Take heart in knowing that everyone in the company has had to be ‘initiated’ at the beginning. That’s right! Everyone else has been through their own ‘culture shock’, but they’re now working comfortably with the rest of the company. Bear in mind that it’s rare for anyone to stumble upon the perfect job. The truth is, those who have spent a long time with their companies made the effort to create an enjoyable work environment for themselves.

We’ve assumed so far that your company’s culture is a healthy one that you’d want to adopt as your own. That is not always the case of course. If you fi nd that the organisation’s culture forces you to behave in an unethical way, or if you strongly feel that things can be done more effi ciently if everyone was more professional about their work, then it’s really time to exercise your initiative. Bring up your suggestions to your superior or share your opinions with your fellow workmates.

Remember – loving your job is about loving the whole package. If everything has failed, and you’re still uncomfortable with your company’s culture, then it’s highly unlikely that you’d still be happy with your job. It’s time to think about moving on by leaving the company. After all, how comfortably you do your job is ultimately up to you.

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