Organizational Culture: Assimilating vs. Belonging

 In Corporate Culture, Leadership

Organizational Culture: a personal story

When I started working at IBM in the 80s, it was a sidetrack from my real goal. I wanted to work with Cuban refugees in Miami. Hmm…was there anything similar about these two? So, the “I” in IBM stood for International. Close enough? Maybe this Spanish-major-Italian-minor-one-computer-science-course-BA-degree-holder could achieve that goal. One never knew.

The backstory

I needed a job. Not knowing a soul in Albany, New York, I went to an employment agency and they sent me to interview for a management training position at IBM. I rolled my eyes. (Not in front of the recruiter actually, but to myself)

“Establishment”, the ‘70s word for corporate America was my immediate thought. Not for me. But, I’ll go on the interview. Good practice.

That weekend, over dinner with my parents, I mentioned the job interview casually around dessert.

“Oh yeah, Dad, meant to tell you I had an interview at IBM this past week.”

“Really?” he said, calmly but with that bit of up emphasis on the first syllable.

“Yeah.” Ready to dismiss any discussion, “I don’t know. Never pictured myself working for a corporation.”

“You need to put food on the table,” his practical self replied, “take the job.”

I was speechless for a moment or two. He had not actually given me an opening to disagree.

Assimilation begins

1980s: Me with my IBM Albany "family" and Matilda Cuomo

1980s: Me with my IBM Albany “family” and Matilda Cuomo

I got the job shortly after that day and immediately entered the realm of a new culture: a family with rituals within a tribe of computer geniuses. I embarked on a journey. I went to classes, attended sales rallies and family dinners. I listened to great leaders. I learned a new hierarchy both in people and databases. And, I traveled, at first all over America and later the world. I met fascinating people and saw technology advances unfold before my very eyes. I felt like a very little fish in a very big pond.

And, I stayed for 31 years.

During that time, I was culturally assimilating. Like my Italian immigrant grandparents at the beginning of the 20th century, I was learning a new language; a new way of dressing; a new set of tools; a new sense of time; even a new way of dining and traveling – a whole new set of behaviors. And I learned that those behaviors could shift and change for the company to survive and grow. It was what kept me and others engaged. It was what retained our clients.

Fast-forward to today

Now fast-forward to today’s job market and its multi-generational workforce, aging baby-boomers at one end and an influx of recent graduates with STEM degrees and MBAs at the other. The diversity of available places to work and the portfolio of entrepreneurial organizations can be “shopped” online. New careers are emerging, others ending. Job seekers can Google their way to answers about a given company long before they consider applying. And they’re asking about culture too.

They’re asking, “Am I a fit for this company?”

  • How will they know the answer to that question?
  • What is your organization doing to attract new workers and what could you be doing?
  • Have you thought about communicating your culture to applicants and recruits?
  • Are you certain that everyone with the skills you seek would be happy to have a job with you?

Here are some things you might consider:

  • Describe what it’s like to be an employee in your organization.
  • Tell the applicant your company’s purpose.
  • Show that you have community and social responsibility
  • List your company’s beliefs
  • Create an emotional connection with applicants
  • Talk culture

Belonging as part of the whole

All of these might have made a difference to my 1980s self all those years ago. It wasn’t something I thought I could ask. But my 2015 self would definitely want to hear about culture. It would close the gap between assimilating and belonging – between becoming a cog in a wheel rather than a part of a whole.

At Allegory, we can provide answers. And we’re helping our clients create their answers as well. In fact, we believe in this so strongly, that we have created our own culture code and an exciting new tool to help you build yours. It’s called the CultureTalk Survey System.


Culture Survey

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