Advancing

How to Advance Your Career within Your Company’s Culture

company culture

When you’re looking to advance with an organization, you’ll need the fundamental skills and demonstrate competence to meet the minimum requirements and demonstrate mastery. However, it takes more than that to get noticed. We’ve all seen great employees that toiled away in near obscurity and never got the opportunity to advance.

The key to getting noticed and getting ahead more quickly is unlocking your company’s culture and aligning your performance with that culture.

What is Company Culture?

Every organization has a unique culture. It’s a set of values that govern the way business is handled. In organizations that embrace its culture, it can be a significant driver of performance and employee satisfaction.

The culture can be written and documented or it can be unstated and developed over time. However it evolves, understanding the culture and living it can be a difference-maker.

Aligning with Company Culture Helps You Rise

84% of executives report that workplace culture is an important part of business success. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, says it’s the sole reason for the online shoe retailer’s success. Hsieh says his number one priority is company culture.

“Zappos is a customer service comhelppany that just happens to sell shoes.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

To get ahead at Zappos, you’ll need to do more than just sell shoes. You’ll need to consistently demonstrate superior customer service to advance.

Southwest Airlines is another example of a strong corporate culture. In an industry that’s better known for unhappy employees and dreadful customer service, Southwest Airlines’ culture encourages employees to go the extra mile to make customers happy. They are empowered to make decisions on their own. You can be a stellar employee at Southwest Airlines but to get ahead, you’ll need to consistently demonstrate how you took the initiative to live the culture.

Recreational equipment seller REI wants its employees vested in the outdoor culture that their customers live. They award grants to employees that submit proposals for challenging outdoor adventures. Employees can win outdoor gear to live the experience. They also get noticed for buying into the company culture.

At app company Evernote, there’s a different type of culture but the results are the same.

“We try to have the kind of a culture that doesn’t value excuses…your job is to accomplish it, in spite of difficulty. And you’re rewarded for dealing with that.” – Phil Libin, Co-Founder, former CEO of Evernote

The Culture of Promotion

Beyond aligning your goals with corporate culture, you also need to pay attention to the way a company operates. Pay attention to who gets promoted and why. The people that advance in companies are typically a fit for the culture. You can learn from them.

You can also learn from the people that don’t rise in an organization as well.

When you understand what it takes to get rewarded and why some people get the promotion, it can help you prepare how and where to invest your time.

Managing Your Manager

To advance in your career, you’re going to almost certainly need the approval of your manager. Navigating the culture means understanding what drives the boss and who you can help fulfill their needs. This will take adapting your style to present yourself in the way they want.

  • Communicate the way they prefer
  • Tight alignment with expectations
  • Understand how your manager is being evaluated
  • Know what your manager wants and what they consider success

This can help you model the style and demonstrate your success.

manage your managerIt’s also important to make sure you develop a professional relationship with the manager. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your aspirations so they know you want to advance within the organization. When they offer advice, take it and let them know you’re thankful.

When you do what the manager needs to make them successful and do it consistently, you’re more likely to get the endorsement you need to advance.

Outrun the Other Campers

There are universal job skills you will need to succeed in your career. They’re not anything that’s taught in school but they play a crucial role in your ability to advance.

Mark Herschberg, the author of The Career Toolkit, tells the story about two campers confronted by a bear. The first person remarks that they are in danger because they can’t outrun the bear. The second person reframes the situation: I don’t need to outrun the bear, he says, I just need to outrun you.

“For most of us,” Herschberg says, “the skills are about outrunning the other campers.”

You don’t have to be perfect, he said. You do, however, have to outrun others in the workplace.

Succeeding in the workplace takes more than accumulating the knowledge, skills, and experience to do the job. You also need to be invested in the company’s vision and direction. This includes taking the time to understand how a company runs.

  • Understand the organizational structure, what drives revenue, and what are the risks the industry is facing.
  • Learn what your competitors are doing and how your company differentiates itself
  • Learn the industry ecosystem (suppliers, supply chains, customers)
  • Learn industry trends (changes, technology advances, regulatory challenges)

Influencers, Networks, and Office Politics

No matter how savvy an organization is, there’s always some level of office politics. As Herschberg says, you can choose to ignore it but – like gravity – it’s going to impact you. Tailoring your approach to those in power can help you in your career journey.

Even within an organization, you’ll find power players at different ends of the political spectrum.

Think about where you are on the political spectrum and where others are. Some will be focused on meritocracy and following the rules. Others will be more focused on results. Yet others may be motivated by relationships. It’s not about judging others. It’s about recognizing what drives them and how they approach problems. To succeed in your job, solve their problems and make them look good.

It’s not always just the managers that play an important role in your career advancement. Take the time to analyze the power structure in the workplace. This goes beyond the org chart and titles. Who has influence, commands respect, and champions others?  Building your network by earning the respect of the power structure can go a long way.

If it sounds like you’re being encouraged to play the office politics game, there’s some truth to that. Not only can adapting your style help you play the game, but it also building your skillset. To be successful long-term, you’ll need to learn how to engage, manage, and motivate people all along the office political spectrum.

Embracing the Company Culture Can Be More Important Than Skills or Experience

91% of managers surveyed said a candidate’s alignment with the organization’s culture is equal to or more important than either skills or experience. If you’ve got the skills and experience, embracing the company culture will help you to stand out among your peers.

Learning to unlock the culture, navigate the power structure, and what drives the culture can provide you the insights you need to advance.

When in doubt, always remember to outrun the other campers.


Learn more about using company culture to advance in our webinar, Decode Your Workplace to Advance Your Career


About the Author

Paul Dughi has been in executive management positions in the media industry for the past 25 years. At age 55, he earned his MBA in Business Administration while working full-time as President of a multi-station TV group. He is the author of two books on Marketing and Management.