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Coming Up to Speed Part 6: Corporate Culture


I am on vacation this week, enjoying some camping and disc golfing with friends. Nonetheless, I am continuing this eight-part series, Coming Up to Speed, with one of the more challenging onboarding tasks -- imparting the corporate culture.


Cultures have an ephemeral quality, making them hard to describe. Your company may have a set of values. Those values (hopefully) serve as a documented representation of your culture. ITHAKA, my last employer, has five values. They go a long way toward predicting individual and collective behavior. Yes, they are still not enough.


As an agile coach, I made it my business to discuss our values with new employees. Values provided a jumping-off point to learn about ITHAKA’s culture. Values cannot paint a complete picture of your culture, assuming you have them.


Most organizations have an open-door policy, meaning you are welcome to drop in on any leader when they are in their office (and the door is open). In one organization, your supervisor might have no issue with you going two levels over their head to chat. In another, it would be a break in protocol. Someone needs to be explicit about this with new employees, lest they find themselves in trouble.


Organizations also respond differently to individual initiatives. While one organization may applaud bold, risky moves, others expect you to vet any enterprise with others before proceeding. Unless someone tells you first, you will only know this once you get your hand slapped.


Communications and individual initiative are only two examples of the many aspects of culture. Taking ownership of culture onboarding requires cataloging the critical elements impacting employees. When new employees find themselves in trouble for lack of cultural awareness, use that as an opportunity to upgrade your notes for discussing culture. Being agile means continually improving the onboarding process.


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