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Posted: June 24, 2014

Best of CoBiz: Don’t be a coporate culture misfit

If you're the new exec on the block -- have a plan

Lisa Jackson

Just landed a great new job? Feeling excitement, nervousness and anticipation?

Take this to heart: A sobering 40-60 percent of new executives fail in the first 18 months on the new job - often due to lack of corporate culture alignment. Too many new executives try to lead with power before they build a true following. Your suggestions for change will be more welcome when you've aligned yourself effectively with the existing culture.

A crucial success factor for doing this is to take charge of a proactive on-boarding plan. Don't expect it to come from your new employer. Career success is mostly self-managed in today's lean companies - you're lucky to get more than an HR packet and map to your new office. So how do you step smoothly into the new corporate culture, at the same time you assess it's weaknesses? The balance between "fitting in" and "being a change agent" is delicate. Imagine you went to your new spouse's family reunion for the first time - you're looking for how to fit in while being authentic, right? This is the same thing.

Brian is an up-and-coming executive in mobile advertising, who just joined a company where the culture and job are both new territory. Here are strategies from his ramp-up plan:

#1 - Log early wins. Set a visible and specific goal for your first 90 days, preferably based on a "pain point" from your boss and team. In the first 90 days, nail it. In this process, identify key people who have "influence," get to know them and win their assistance in achieving this goal. Brian's goal was to win one substantial mobile ad contract.

#2 Perform a 30-Day Culture Ramp-Up - Tell people you want to learn the culture and how you fit in - people love to talk about it. Conduct 15 minute interviews with as many people as possible - more transparency and collaboration is the name of the game. Don't limit yourself to people in your department - everyone likes to be consulted for their input. Start with: "My goal for this role is to __________ (win mobile contract) ... and I'd like to ask you a few questions."

• "What top suggestion do you have to generate success toward this goal, visibly and soon?"
• "What ideas do you have about how we can best work together?"
• "What do you want me to know about the culture here?"
• "Who around here has great perspectives or ideas I should know about?"

Listen more than you talk, and you will learn exactly what needs to change ... and win support for it. Don't take on systemic organization dynamics unless you are the CEO - and even then, don't get on a seek-and-destroy mission. Find a small change within your team's scope and enlist them to make it different. Tape a sticky note to your computer or phone with the top 3 "culture truths" you learned. To facilitate change, be mindful of these, and the "rapport and demand" continuum - which is like a silk thread. Pull too fast and you break it. Pull too slow and it gets tangled, gummy, and useless.

#3 - Freshen your style. A fresh start is a great chance to upgrade or reinvent aspects of your leadership. Perform a written inventory of your leadership style - what's worked well, where you've fallen short. Decide consciously what to carry forward from your style, what you will add, and what you will shed or lose. A few notes from Brian's list:
What I want to add/carry forward:

• I was a trusted resource and expert, and approachable - the go-to person when people wanted something done right.
• I'm good at clarifying what's expected of me versus what's expected of others.
• "Servant leadership" versus admini-trivia. "What will it take for US to get this done?"

What to lose/change:

• Sometimes I became too comfortable and familiar with people.
• Be a buttoned up professional ... maintain that in all relationships.
• Lose the eagerness - I am here to make big things happen, not to give every person what they want.

Brian's assessment after two weeks on the job?

"This is definitely a culture change from my old job, but nothing I can't adapt to ... given I have a clear plan!"

Getting ramped up should not be left to chance: To succeed early, visibly show you care about the nuances and power of the new culture, and can fit your success plans in with it - not the other way around.
 

Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert on assessing, defining, and improving culture's impact on business performance, especially during mergers and strategy shifts. Look for her new book "Fit to Compete: 9 Truths for Transforming Corporate Culture" this fall or visit her on the web at http://www.jacksonandschmidt.com.

 

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Great advice, Lisa! I tell my clients (Director to CXO level), when they're onboarding, to keep their mouths mostly shut for the first 90 days and listen, not trying to make any changes, but just getting a feel for what makes the company and its people tick. I also have them come and see me when onboarding on a regular basis so I can teach them to play politics well...an essential skill in today's business environment. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2010 09 27
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