Sue Funkhouser explains how to take charge of assessing your own cultural fit at work.
At the end of the first day on her new job, Jane sat on a bench underneath a blooming Jacaranda tree with tears in her eyes. She had flown to the district office to spend time with the new team. When I saw her name on my caller ID, I picked up, eager to hear how it went.
Her voice was void of her usual enthusiasm and I heard a sniffle. “What’s wrong?”
She exhaled. “Well, to start, I am sitting on this public bench crying. Second, I have flown down for four nights and except for today’s team lunch, no other plans had been made. I asked people if they wanted to go out to dinner later in the week and no one was available. I just don’t understand it. You have a new remote employee in town during her first week and no one re-arranges their schedule to make her feel welcome? Someone even said, don’t take it personally.”
I offered her an analogy. “It’s like you are a golden retriever with a ball in her mouth wagging her tail and they are sitting in a winged-back chair reading a newspaper and peering over their bifocals at you.”
She sighed, “That is so it.” I felt for her. She had been so excited to join this organization. Yes, she had made assumptions based on what she would have done for a new team member who was visiting from out of town. Intellectually, she knew that it wasn’t personal because they didn’t know her, yet it didn’t feel good.
After two more trips to the district office, she stopped asking people about their plans and got used to the fact that people didn’t adjust their schedules because she was in town. The disconnect here was that Jane was a remote extrovert who saw her visits as a chance to connect, whereas her team members were introverts and valued their work/life balance more than connection.
Carolyn Tyler explains: “Humans are tribal animals; we are hard-wired to fit in with our tribe. We read the signals about what it takes to fit in, and we adapt our behavior accordingly. This is a survival strategy. If we cannot do this, we either leave the tribe or the tribe ejects us.”
To avoid the anguish of being a misfit, protect yourself by doing these three things.
1. Know Where you Thrive.
Lily pads need ponds whereas weeds can grow almost anywhere. What about you? Do you like knowing almost everybody or does that not matter? Do you perform better in structured environments or in more chaotic ones? Do work best on your own or as part of a team? Do deadlines motivate you or stress you out? Do you like to specialize in one area or do you crave variety? These answers will direct you to certain industries, sizes and types of organizations. Drill down further and think about what you need most from a manager to be your best. Appreciation? Autonomy? Access? Direction?
2. Pre-Assess for Personal Fit.
Your job is to see which company or position would be a good fit for you. With sites like GlassDoor, social media, and company websites extolling their culture, it is easier to get a preview. To what extent do you connect with their descriptions? What flags do you see in the reviews? Who from your LinkedIn circle knows someone who works there?
During the interview, ask what does it take to be successful? What is frowned upon? What do your interviewers most like about the company and what frustrates them? Listen carefully for values and tone. Then conduct your own behavioral interviewing. If connection is important, ask them to tell you about the times the team/department/company got together.
Not everyone has the privilege of finding the perfect culture fit, yet if you do, use these questions to save you pain later.
3. Watch Out for Misfit.
Jane thought she could adapt to her team yet those fit issues extended to other parts in the organization. The more disconnected she felt, the less motivated she became. But she was a determined woman and tried to make it work. She suffered longer than she might because it took her a while to get to a merciful end of what I call the “the misfit slide”.
“It’s not about me because they don’t know me.”
“It must be about me because others aren’t bothered by it.”
“It must be about them because I am not like this in other situations.”
“Oh. It’s not me. It’s not them. It’s us. We are a bad match.“
Fit is a two-way equation and both individuals and organizations are responsible. In a future blog, I will talk about what the organization experiences when there is a mismatch and what practices to put in place to assess and track.
P.S. I am happy to report that Jane has moved onto another organization, ironically, also in a remote position. Both she and the company are happy to have found each other.
Also by Sue Funkhouser
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