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How To Adapt To A New Work Culture

Every commercial business has its own company culture. These shared principles, policies, and values are there from the moment a new company is set up. And they’ll be there up to the time it’s dissolved. Without this trellis of collective values, it would be hard for employees to interact, share their knowledge, develop, and shape the company’s success.

Enter the Newbie: You

New employees can grow to embrace a company culture without even giving it much thought. But more often than not, it’s hard for newcomers to feel that they belong to a work environment that is new to them.

Then there’s the unspoken 90-day probation rule. Every newcomer feels that they need to impress if they want the job because they’re fully aware that the odds are stacked against them. After all, the first 90 days on the job account for 20% of a company’s employee turnover. And for some newcomers, probation is more of a period of punishment than adjustment, as the American Express calls it.

But why look at the first 90 days as the ‘make or break’ phase? If anything, it’s the ‘honeymoon phase.’ There’s a certain charm to being ‘the new one’ at work, and you should take advantage of it. Here are some of the cultural guidelines you should consider, preferably while everyone still sees something new in you.

5 Cultural Guidelines for New Employees

Relationships and Hierarchy

Everyone likes to do things in a certain way. Some of your colleagues may enjoy face-to-face meetings more than video conferences and long-winded emails. But for those who work from home, have a very tight schedule, or have difficulty interacting, the digital alternative could be their go-to. Use these channels to connect with people, slowly building their profiles and the links between them. Learning the names, positions, and quirks of people working for the new company will help you blend in quicker.

Observe how people interact in the organization, the relationships they have, their body language, and the way they carry out their conversations. If you have colleagues around you willing to share their insights about the people you work with and the way they connect, pick their brain to help you interpret gestures, words, and attitudes. Forbes recommends taking colleagues out for lunch. But only do so if you’re comfortable.

Communication and Influence

Cultural guidelines within the company will determine how people communicate with one another. Look around, observe, and note if they’re very formal. Do they draft their presentations carefully, or do they come up to people and talk to them spontaneously? Do they make their ideas known to senior leaders on the spot, or must every idea go through several hands before reaching decision-makers?

Make friends with the colleagues and assistants of the people you work with regularly to understand what’s expected of you. Unless it’s a new company or department, they could share real-life examples and tips from people who had your position before. They could give you pointers and help you find common ground with colleagues and leaders, even if the company’s cultural guidelines are new to you.

Decision-Making Boundaries

There could be several stages and many people involved in a decision-making process. As you spend time at the office, you’ll have a chance to see how the gavel is passed, how tasks are assigned, and who has the final say on what gets done. To stand any chance of success, you need to bring these decision-makers on board.

It’s not unusual for group members to vote on even the most basic proposals. And it’s also not unusual for opinions to be formed at the coffee station, before or after a proposal is put on the table. There are bound to be informal leaders with influence who can sway opinions in an instant.

These are people with clout who can make your job in this new company easier. So, you should do your best to foster a good working relationship with them, consulting them before and after decisions are made.

Perspective: Me VS Us

There are companies that focus on the collective, some that foster individuality, and some that have a mix of perspectives and reward systems in place. When there’s a long-term approach, the company culture tends to be group focused. But if the new company is focused on results, there’s a tendency to reward individual achievement.

Working in teams, assigning shared tasks to several departments, and encouraging out-of-office interactions are some of the ways that companies maintain that group focus. If you’re an individualist, you may feel that a group focused company isn’t a good match for you, and vice-versa. But don’t forget to factor in your personal life goals. Group culture is a good starting point if you need stability.

Agents of Change

As the Harvard Business Review puts it, coming in with the wrong attitude can quickly turn you into an outsider. Incomers need to take the time to make the transition work for everyone around them. Shaking things up, even if it’s out of a genuine wish to improve the lives of colleagues, can be seen as intrusive and uncalled for.

Think of yourself as a change agent. Building consensus slowly, first with a few reliable colleagues, and then with other change agents across departments and hierarchy levels, will make the transition to a new company culture less daunting for everyone involved.

Get in Touch with an Expert

At Barbachano International, we understand how important these human resource issues are for companies that operate globally. Feel free to contact us or visit our blog.

By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano

President and CEO of Barbachano International (BIP), the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Latin America, & Canada) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Since 1992, BIP and its affiliates have served over 50% of Fortune 500 Companies and have been recognized by Forbes as a Top 40 executive search firm. We are member-owners of NPAworldwide – the recruiting network with allied offices in over 50 countries.  Outplacement and Executive Coaching services are provided by our sister company Challenger Gray & Christmas.


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