Is Corporate Culture Stalling Your Career?

By Stacey Rivers | Author | Blogger

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There is no disagreement for how much power corporate culture wields and it's evident in the quote, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast". If you are in any field in which change management is apart of your job responsibilities, then you know how serious this is and the tragic results that can occur for unassuming employees new to the organization who underestimate its power. Culture's ability to thwart the best laid plans is reason enough to understand it and leverage it for career success. Having to navigate the organization to get work done is a hazard of any job, but should it be a hazard when it comes to career management? This question is simple on the surface, but employees who are not aware of the resistance they may encounter while trying to "perform well" learn a very real lesson in the challenge to advance their careers.



The general advice given to employees coming into the organization is:

1) Learn Your Role

2) Perform Well

3) Build Relationships

While these are all important and lend itself to creating a successful foundation, is it enough to understand how to navigate the culture and make a real impact? What are the other intangibles not shared that are potential pitfalls?


The Culture Club

As new employees come into an organization, HR orientation and onboarding programs attempt to provide a "cheat sheet" for how to acclimate them to the environment, but employees can be left hanging for how to really be successful given the true essence of the culture. Understanding an organization's culture is no easy feat, and gaining access to the unwritten rules can give you entrance into a club that may fast track your career. Likewise, making missteps that go against the grain will surely limit your career trajectory. In the Edgar Schein model of organizational culture, he identifies the four factors comprising culture: artifacts, behaviors, values, and assumptions. This model unpacks the tangible and intangible variables we all encounter in every organization. It's important to understand this perspective because you may find that most onboarding programs are missing one or more of these very critical factors for your success. What may not be covered in onboarding programs, although "designed" to set in motion the foundation of your career, is more of the intangibles needed to navigate the pitfalls. 


As part of your interview strategy, consider how to assess the culture fit during the interview process. While this information should be easily obtained from recruiters and hiring managers, you may have to get creative in your approach. At the end of the day, the focus for you as a potential employee is to determine how to ascertain whether the culture is right for you BEFORE accepting an offer.

Here are a few suggestions for gaining insight into a company's culture:

  • Some companies openly provide details about their culture through various mediums. For other companies, you should research the ones that interest you, starting with the company website and any publications that can give you a view into the operation.
  • Use your connections to find employees who will talk about the culture and expectations for success.
  • Search sites like Glassdoor to see whether current and past employees have rated the company or commented about their experiences.
  • Create a specific list of questions for the recruiter and hiring manager to ascertain the true essence of the culture.
  • If you are advancing to a final round or have received a job offer, ask to meet with key people in the organization to determine your ability to be successful in the given role.


Spend a little time researching companies to give yourself an advantage during the interview. Find out what you can about the culture and compare it to your ideal work environment. Important details like the required couture, work space configurations, work from home policies, investment in employee training, benefit offerings and other topics will give you an indication of what you may have to manage through. Devoting time prior to the interview process to understand and evaluate a company's culture can save you valuable time later.



Stacey Rivers is the director of an executive portfolio management office at a large media company and a career advice blogger. In her day job she has responsibilities for defining, planning, and prioritizing initiatives to provide portfolio-level oversight for technology projects. After hours she blogs regularly on her site and is the author of "50 Essential Tips for Getting & Keeping The 'Right' Job". She has a Master of Science in Management with a focus on Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness, and a Bachelor of Science in Technology Management. For more career advice, ideas, and suggestions, follow her on Twitter @staceyrivers13.

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