Your Career and Organizational Culture

Every organization has its own, unique organizational culture, and operating units in it will also have cultures specific to them depending on the values, personalities, and priorities of the leaders.

A U. S. Coast Guard Officer whose ship was in port was transferred to an identical ship in the same harbor. He walked across the dock and boarded his new ship. He found it to be squared away with sailors who did their assignments well and treated each other with respect. This was a refreshing contrast to the ship he had just left. Also, the new ship performed at a higher level. The difference? The skipper of the new ship had high standards and respect for others that permeated the ship’s crew.

Even within the same parent organization, individual operating units can have different organizational cultures.

Values and organizational culture are often the most important considerations in decisions about work and career change choices. Consider Sally’s story.

The daughter of an Army officer, she lived in Europe while growing up and visited many art museums while she was there. In college, she studied business administration and minored in art history. After graduation, she went to work for a high-end retailer that was expanding. She liked that the company had a lot of young, high-spirited people with an optimistic, energetic culture.

Sally did well and over time was promoted. After a few years, she was transferred to the London office to help manage expansion of the business in Europe. She led a team that interviewed, hired, and trained hundreds of bright young people for new stores. These were exciting times for Sally.

Three years later, Sally returned to the United States and found a much different culture in the retailer’s U.S. operations. The company had lost its mojo. Employees were more concerned about themselves than doing a good job. As a district manager, she dealt with poorly performing stores and people whom she had to fire. Meanwhile, the company began pressing her to implement policies that she thought were wrong. Sally no longer felt good about the culture there and resigned.

Sally decided that she wanted to work in the art world and began to volunteer at local art galleries in her area. She applied for an intern position at a major art museum and was one of the few accepted. Soon after she became an intern, a job in Development became available. She applied and was selected.

For the next three years, Sally added new corporate donors and managed existing ones. Meanwhile she married and had a baby. Her husband was accepted into a U.S. Army program in which he would go to medical school in Washington D.C. with full pay as an Army officer. Sally resigned from the art museum and, with her husband and child, moved to Washington D.C. Once her child enters school, Sally plans to apply for a job in development at one of the major museums in Washington D.C. or wherever she is living.

Sally’s move to a major museum put her in a different organizational culture than the retail organization. The museum had a long-term outlook, with a focus on high-quality, and a pace that enabled Sally to develop her life outside of work. Now that Sally is married and has a child, her priorities have changed. They may change again when her child is older. As Sally has a strong grasp of her values and takes care to be sure they’re reflected in her work and workplace, one can expect Sally to contribute wherever she is.

It is important to have the same values as those with whom you work and to feel good about your employer’s organizational culture. When in this situation, you will be productive and do what is right for your colleagues. They, in turn, will want to help you. A win-win for all.

Here, I have again included the recommended actions for Chapter One. If you have not yet given these recommended actions time and thought, now is a good time to do so. Develop your thoughts about your personal culture.

  1. Identify the culture of your parents and the community in which you grew up.
  2. Determine what is now your personal culture.
  3. Identify the culture of where you want to work.

The above is an excerpt from the book, Career Change Guide. You can preview this book on its website or buy it on