June 5, 2018

A Rejoinder to HBR's Recent Blog on Starting a New Job and the Role of Culture

The Harvard Business Review published a blog post with some advice about what to do in your First 100 Days. The blog was entitled When you Start a New Job, Pay Attention to These 5 Aspects of Company Culture. 

This is a subject near and dear to me so I will just cut to the chase and indicate what i liked and what I didn't.

First, they have clearly highlighted the need to pay attention to culture. That is a good start as people often get off to a bad start by focusing on technical and financial details (head) and ignoring the cultural and political issues (heart). HBR does a service by reminding people to keep culture front and center.

The cultural continuums they draw attention to are: action orientation vs consensus orientation, hierarchical vs egalitarian, relationship orientation vs task orientation, formal (buttoned down presentations) vs. informal (work-in-progress discussions), and heroes vs. teams. Again, this certainly a hand-hold on the issue, but culture is infinitely more complex than that.

The assessment I use with leadership teams has 30 dimensions of culture. Here are a few that can wreak havoc your First 100 Days if you don't pay attention to them:

  • Conflict Resolution: Out in the Open vs. Behind Closed Doors
  • Performance Transparency: Open, Widely Visible Metrics and Status vs Managing Appearances
  • Values: An Abiding Set of Values Guiding Behavior vs. Whatever It Takes to Git 'er Done
  • Public Personas: Never Admit Mistakes and Show Weakness vs. A Value on Admitting Mistakes and Learning from It
  • Management Orientation: Focusing Up and Managing Ones Career vs Focusing On the Team with a Servant Leadership Orientation

Missteps here will, at best, slow down your efforts to get up to speed and start driving change and could even get you sidelined.

Leaving readers thinking they need to figure it out for themselves is, in my view, setting them on the path to derailment.

But those are mere quibbles. My biggest beef with the HBR post is around a quote towards the end of the post:

"You need to ask: Can I be a highly assertive, fast-paced champion of change, or do I need to invest in engagement, dialogue, and consensus building first? Nobody will answer these questions for you — you need to figure it out by watching reactions to the initial recommendations you make."

They could have just said, Good luck and godspeed, because their advice was about as useful as that.

This is exactly where First 100 Day Guidance is essential. How do you start to figure out how much room you have to push, not by casting about but with a systematic approach? How do you ensure you and your boss are seeing the same game? How do you get aligned with him/her on your priorities? How do begin to assess stakeholder interests, needs, and positions? How do you sort through the strengths and weaknesses of those on your team and how do you decide how to sequence those moves?

People before you have worked through these issues and there are best practices and sound counsel available. If you are going into a critical job and you absolutely have to get it right, you'll need advisors around you who have worked through this before.

Leaving readers thinking they need to figure it out for themselves is, in my view, putting them on a path towards exactly what they are trying to avoid...potential derailment.

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