Six Steps to Overcome Culture Shock and Succeed in a New Organization
Culture shock. It happens too often when an executive begins working at a new employer. Approximately 40-50% of new leaders fail in their roles in the first 18 months according to available research. There are many reasons for failure, but oftentimes the breakdown is due to reluctance or inability to moderate style, tendencies or behavior to fit a new organizational culture.
To survive and thrive in the new environment, it is up to you to adapt.
Unique organizational cultures exist everywhere, and each enterprise has norms and unwritten rules that must be recognized and considered for leaders to successfully navigate their new environment.
As an executive coach and former HR leader, I have witnessed that failures of executives joining new organizations are rarely due to technical ability, brain power or business acumen. New leaders fail because they can’t implement change in their new corporate culture, work effectively with their peers or gain the trust of their organization. These realities hinder their ability to accomplish what they were hired to do.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” – Peter Drucker
Many leaders assume that repeating what they did in former settings will achieve similar results since they were hired for a position based on their experience and past success.
“What got you here, won’t get you there,” – Marshall Goldsmith
The above quote reminds us that we must learn and take on new skills and methods of operating as we grow our careers. This may have even greater significance when beginning with a new employer and a different culture.
It’s not just the what, it’s the how that changes when you transition to a new work environment. This is often the biggest surprise for leaders who struggle in a new setting.
How you succeed at one organization may not work in the next for many reasons. The culture and working norms will likely be different and it takes a while to learn the playbook. Your new employer may be relationship-based as opposed to hierarchical, or perhaps you are now in a matrix reporting situation versus a traditional management structure, to name two differences. Chances are you may no longer have a key sponsor at your new employer as you formerly did. Whatever the reasons, you find that the new culture you are in is very different compared to your past. At this point, doubt often creeps in and you may start wondering if you made the right move.
Leaders who thrive in their new setting find they can best use their skills and experience and remain authentic by adapting within the context of the new culture. They are willing to learn new methods or systems, modify style and behavior, or adjust their approaches.
This is buying in, not selling out. It’s committing yourself to being successful at your new organization.
Some leaders struggle to modify how they operate to succeed in their new reality. Those who refuse to adjust to their new environment often become frustrated and may stagnate, leave or wash out. It doesn’t have to be this way. Below are six steps to take when you find yourself in culture shock:
- Reflect. The choice to take this new opportunity was yours. Why did you want this position? What will it mean to you to have success here? How have you had to change in the past to succeed in a new endeavor? What values were important to you in accepting this role?
- Observe. Don’t judge. Be curious. Things may be very different from what you’ve experienced in the past. That doesn’t make them bad or good, just different. Who are successful role models here? What are they known for? How do they operate? How will you apply what you learn by observing?
- Ask questions. How do things get done around here? You aren’t looking for permission to operate, you are seeking to understand as you’ve likely seen different ways of accomplishing similar things. Understanding leads to better decisions.
- Choose a Path. You alone choose how you will proceed. The culture is different here. Will you commit to working in it or will you continue to operate as if nothing is different? Will you choose to leave? Which choice will provide the greatest personal and professional growth?
- Commit. Once you make a choice, things become much clearer. You’ll compel yourself to be open to learn and grow.
- Seek assistance. This is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of maturity and leadership. You were hired with the expectation to succeed. You would have no qualms asking for a technical expert to consult on a specific engineering matter that was necessary, so why hesitate with other types of capability? Executive coaches have skill and experience in helping leaders succeed in a new organization.
Taking the six steps above will give you the motivation and confidence to move forward and lead authentically. When your team and other stakeholders observe you striving to learn their culture and bring about positive change in a way that is respectful and works, positive things happen.
How can executive coaching help you or your leaders move forward in a new setting?
Lance Hazzard, CPCC, ACC, is a certified Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach helping people and organizations successfully achieve what’s next. He is Executive Coach and President at Oppnå® Executive & Achievement Coaching. Find out more about Lance and Oppnå® Coaching at oppnacoaching.com