Navigate your projects (and career) through corporate culture

During formal education in IT — maybe a masters of information systems — you are exposed to many issues that can affect your responsibilities and how to perform them.

The more you can remember that technology is only a tool and that the real possibilities and problems in a company are almost always people, the better you can navigate a culture.

Technology shifts, architecture designs, strengths and weaknesses of a particular server and network configurations: You learn to pay attention to all of them. But one of the largest influences on a company’s IT practice has nothing to do with technology. It has nothing to do with ROI. The stealth big stick big stick belongs to corporate culture, according to Computerworld. That single factor can limit the actions you can take or make some wildly more effective than others.

“I’ve been with Gartner 25 years and had thousands of conversations, and it’s very clear that technology is not the No. 1 challenge our clients face,” says Ken McGee, a research fellow at Gartner. “They get technology. The biggest issues are not technology but culture.”

An example, related by Wentworth Institute of Technology adjunct professor in industrial psychology Stephen Balzac, is a bioengineering firm he once worked for. People complained all the time about day-long meetings, so Balzac instituted other forms of technology employees could use. Then everyone complained about those because they were used to the meetings, now so entrenched that removing them was difficult at best. Instead of forcing through change, Balzac learned to introduce change more slowly, giving everyone a chance to compare new with old and see which actually was the more effective. Culture is the underlying systemic human dynamics in place. As people come into the company, they have to embrace the culture if they are to be productive and not spend undue time fighting the system. Culture is as different as people. Some embrace change while others reject it. One corporate culture will welcome innovation; another might fall prey to the Innovator’s Dilemma, protecting older cash-cow technologies from disruption, even when internal. Corporate culture is the child of many factors, including the following:

  • values and working methods of the company founder
  • strategies and personality of upper management
  • business model
  • personalities of the employees
  • historical experiences of the company
  • industry conditions
  • competitive landscape

[programpush poi=”MSISM”]Notice that there is no mention of technology. Working with these issues require soft skills that are often missing, even among people who are working for an MBA. The more you can remember that technology is only a tool and that the real possibilities and problems in a company are almost always people, the better you can navigate a culture. Success becomes a matter of understanding how to interact with a particular culture and influence it. Work within the culture, and you’re more likely to bring your projects to fruition, and to boost your career at the same time.

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