22 September 2014

Cultural Considerations in Transition



I remember leaving the active Army after ten years about a year ago. While my brain was busy with all the details of moving, settling in to the new place and making sure all the usual stuff associated with a PCS move was taken care of, there was a challenge waiting quietly to knock me on my fourth point of contact as soon as I walked in the door of my first post-military job.

Corporate Culture is defined on www.Inc.com as “the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature, and is rooted in its goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community.”

In the military this is made very clear to all of us from the day that we first report for service. Our values are on the walls, in our creeds, and stamped into the back of our dog tags – and there are very real legal and social consequences for violating them. When you make the transition into corporate America, culture is not necessarily that readily apparent or present in the workplace - but it plays an equally important role in your everyday efforts as an employee.

As I transitioned into a corporate environment, I was focused almost solely on trying to dress myself (because after 10 years in the Army I really had no clue how to dress professionally), learning my job, and making sure I was contributing in a positive manner to the talent acquisition team I was a new member of. In the midst of all the change, I did not spend any time looking at how the culture was impacting me – and I continued to make decisions based off of the military culture that I was so familiar and comfortable with. While this kept me on the path away from any kind of trouble, it did not do me any favors in learning how to interact with my new coworkers, or line up my professional efforts with the aspirations of the company. I found myself at odds with what was needed in a number of my early business decisions.

The transition from the service and into a new position can be challenging to the point of overwhelming. As you work to become a member of a new team and start your life post-military, here are some lessons I learned about culture and how to be cognizant of its importance:

1.  Culture is almost always tied directly to the business goals of an organization. Make sure that you are taking the time, preferably before you even apply for a position, to familiarize yourself with the company’s cultural tenets and aspirations for the future. By doing this, you will be able to ascertain whether or not that particular business is a good fit for you, and what you want to accomplish professionally (i.e. you prefer to work autonomously, but the company you are applying to places teamwork above everything else – most likely not a great fit.). One of the things that initially drew me to my position was the fact that valuing and understanding Veteran talent was engrained in the company’s culture – something that was very important to me.

2.  Does the culture of the company align with your personal values? This is always something to consider when applying for a new job – you never want your personal values to be at odds with the company you are going to work for. If you believe in what the business is doing and the direction they are going, you are far more likely to work harder and be more productive, which is beneficial to everyone involved.

3.  Above all, understand that the assimilation into a new culture will be difficult. You are leaving the service and in some ways, learning to interact with people all over again. You have to change the way you speak, the way you dress, and the way you interact with coworkers depending on the situation – all of which amounts to an incredible amount of stress and change in a very short period of time.

Be ready to do your homework on the culture of the company you want to work for, and take the time to sit down and make sure you understand what you don’t know about the workplace outside of the military. Ask your peers questions, and make a real effort to learn all that you can in the first 90 days by simply observing the environment around you.

Once you do start to feel yourself fit in, and live symbiotically with the culture and the people around you, the rest of the details tend to take care of themselves.


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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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