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Corporate culture and personality modification – Is it practical?

Aug 30, 2011 4:19:25 PM - www.ft.lk

I have had many occasions to muse at how culture and personality fit play such a large role in successfully integrating highly competent professional into a new work environment (or otherwise).

Corporate culture, once unrecognised, has become a very important factor in a person’s decision to stay and grow with an organisation or to move on as quickly as possible. What is corporate culture and how does it play such an important part in staff retention? What approach should a new entrant practice to ensure a smooth fit into an unfamiliar work environment? And, moreover, should they make that effort?
Invisible but powerful component
Corporate culture has a vital and measurable impact on the organisation’s ability to deliver on its strategy. Culture plays a part in tackling issues such as risk management, customer relationship management, business process outsourcing, change management, wellness, growth, or leadership.
Culture also includes external influences like working environment and even the architecture and interior design of the organisation. It includes office politics, dress codes, social events, equal opportunity, diversity and benefits. This invisible but powerful component plays a vital part in a successful operation and to long-term effectiveness of the company.
Most employers would undoubtedly agree that matching individuals to organisations is a crucial part of success for any company. The match between people and the companies for which they work is determined by the kind of organisational culture that exists and the values that people hold.
The degree to which an organisation’s values match the values of an individual who works for the company determines whether a person is a good match for a particular organisation. A new entrant is introduced to the culture of the company during the recruitment stage itself.
Hand in hand with values
Culture goes hand in hand with values, which are the foundation of any company. Every organisation has its own unique culture or value set and the success of the organisation would depend on how well the company’s values have aligned with that of its employees, which finally affects its overall performance and staff retention.
In as much as corporates have values, individuals too possess values that determine their decisions, whether simple or complex. Thus culture and values both from the perspective of the employer and the employee have an invisible but powerful impact on corporate and individual performance.
There still exist companies who view their corporate culture only as a recruitment tool. They may attribute an insignificant part to corporate culture in employee motivation. Culture engages employees at a fundamental level and translates that engagement into high performance. An effective culture also aligns with the business strategy to ensure the organisation meets its long-term goals.
Individual values
Just like there are different types of cultures, there are different types of personalities. Every individual has a core set of personal values. Values can range from the commonplace, such as the belief in hard work and punctuality, to the more psychological, such as self-reliance, concern for others, and harmony of purpose.  
Although personal values are intangible, they are every bit as real as any physical object and these values determine our decisions and guide our lives. Interest, commitment, determination, passion, drive, enthusiasm are some of the ways in which we characterise our values and those direct our psychological energies for accomplishment.  
How would a person from one culture integrate his values into a different organisation? There may not be close alignment between what the organisation says it values are as compared to what the new employee actually sees (for example, conformity, individualism).  The employee may have every professional requisite to match the position and the question of corporate culture and individual values may at first be dismissed in seeking change. Notwithstanding how much value we may place on it, these two components – corporate and individual values – do play a large part in ensuring a successful transition.  
I believe that the position holder has a responsible part to play in successfully integrating into the new culture, more or less, by changing oneself to suit the culture. Employees would need to redefine their choice to retain their ethics and values in line with their belief that the corporate needs to change and that they are critical part in helping the right things happen.  
They would need to develop an internal reinforcement system to keep themselves psychologically strong. Some ways would be to project confidence, creativity and awareness, to see the larger field, to have a sense of mission and courage to weigh hard choices, to be able to say no without triggering a string of unwholesome reactions and to make an effort to build relationships with other professionals which brings about a sense of wellbeing and perspective.
Acclimatisation
With experience of over three decades in executive placements, I believe that new entrants to any organisation should not allow themselves to be overpowered by new cultures and unfamiliar leadership styles.
Rather, they should allow themselves time for acclimatisation.  They should assess the new culture and develop their skills and approaches to fit this culture. This means they should be flexible, dynamic and entrepreneurial, although at first it may appear that the new culture does not reflect their personal values.
New entrants should realise that different people in the same organisation can have different perceptions of the culture of the organisation.
They would need to broaden their horizons first rather than blanketing their horizons. They would need to sift what they see and hear factually, not what they feel and think.
They would have to assess who seems to be accepted and who doesn’t and what it is about those who are accepted as compared to those who aren’t. They would have to observe what kinds of behaviours get rewarded? For example, getting along? Getting things done? Other behaviours? A close look would have to be paid at what the management pays the most attention to. For example, problems? Successes? Crises? Other behaviours? They would have to be aware of how are decisions made. For example, by one person? Discussion and consensus? Or are decisions made at all….?
Changing the culture to suit one’s values
Changing the culture to suit one’s values… is it a long shot? Having had interaction with professionals in diverse fields over 30 years, I believe this option is possible. Depending on the level of responsibility of the new entrant, changes are possible in subtle but effective ways.
Some means of change would be by consistently emphasising what is important, through proper communication channels, discouraging behaviours that do not reflect what is important by providing constructive feedback and practicing model behaviour which is desired in the workplace. This is perhaps the most powerful way to influence behaviours in the workplace.
For example, if teamwork seems to be a problem, if you want to see more teamwork among your employees, then involve yourself in teams more often. Making a culture shift in the organisation is not just the responsibility of the Human Resource Department and the Board of Management.
The top management of every company is proactively involved in the process. And why not? After all, the corporate culture has a major impact on employee morale and productivity Thus, a new entrant in a managerial position would be well able to bring about a culture shift towards a strong and transparent leadership, subtly driving the organisational culture towards the desired atmosphere whilst giving its employees a line of sight between their job and the vision/aims of the organisation.
Cost of compromise
Whilst employees may assume that “playing along with the game” would get them what they want, there may be a time when they realise the full cost of compromise, to themselves and to their organisation.Work disenchantment identifies with several other costs to the organisation, such as de-motivation, poor work quality and execution as well as employee stress.  
This clearly indicates that there is a need to change course and build a better solution from the point of the employee and the employer.Moving employment would therefore be the obvious choice, enabling the employee to reclaim their freedom and pursue a career opportunity that would add true value to themselves as well as their employers. In such scenario, I would encourage employees to have the courage to make a meaningful personal choice.
(The writer is a head hunting guru, MD/Principal Consultant, Executive Search Ltd./Appointments of International Management Specialists – AIMS.)

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