Managers Can Learn to Adapt and Influence Company Culture

When you first accepted your job, you may have been enticed by the free perks and benefits: catered lunch on Fridays, open workspaces, monthly game night, etc. The so-called company culture was relaxed and friendly. However, bean bag chairs and free snacks don't truly exemplify ideal culture.

While the term "company culture" is not always easy to understand or define, most can agree it is the sum of an organization's mission, beliefs, values, structure, systems and behaviors. The culture is reflected by how the staff treats its customers, how employees treat each other and how upper management approaches the future.

You may be just one piece of the culture puzzle, but as a manager, your role can have a significant impact. It's up to you to decide whether to conform and promote the culture or inform and improve it.


Understand the Culture

The first step to understanding company culture is to learn the most common categorizations. The types can be based on many factors, but we'll explore them based on business philosophy and priorities. 


Traditional: Many large corporations are profit-centric and enforce a chain of command. The board members and executives at the top make decisions based on the bottom-line. Middle-management relays decisions to employees. While the structure is organized and standardized, some employees might feel restricted or under-appreciated in a corporate environment. 


Innovative: Technology companies and start-ups tend to prioritize innovation above everything else. Owners recruit highly-skilled talent and expect unwavering allegiance from employees. Innovative companies may have large budgets for research and development, but may cut costs in other important areas. Employees may feel overwhelmed or doubt their job security. 


Team-OrientedSmall businesses and employee-owned operations focus on a welcoming, flexible work environment. While each employee has a specific purpose, everyone pitches in and helps one another regardless of their status. Upper management is more likely to encourage and interact directly with employees. In this collaborative environment, employees may be happy, but the profit-margin is smaller.

Customer-Oriented: Many non-profits and philanthropic organizations uphold values above everything else. Employees are willing to sacrifice certain perks in order to help the greater good. These businesses usually prioritize quality over quantity and welcome innovation. The profit margin may be small, there is a strong sense of loyalty.


Adapt to the Culture

If you're not sure which category your business falls under, consider evaluating your role in the company. If you understand your purpose and how your role affects others, you'll learn how to excel within the system. Answer the following questions to determine where your company falls along the culture spectrum.



  • Were you given an employee handbook of polices and procedures when you started?
  • Does your superior give you specific instructions each day and expect you to regulate your staff?
  • Do you have to go through HR if you want to hire someone new?
  • Do you need supervisor approval in order to make adjustments to the budget?
  • Have you met the CEO of the company?

If you answered yes, then you probably work at a traditional company. Your purpose is to ensure your staff members are performing efficiently and meeting standards. Your value is measured by how much revenue you can generate or how much you can cut costs. 

You'll need to show your superior you understand the numbers. You'll also need to make an extra effort to care for your staff members. Frequently communicate with them in person and acknowledge a job well done. Try to help them feel like they are more than just a cog in the machine. Social functions and group exercises can help break up the monotony.


  • Are you in charge of guiding your team to complete unique challenging projects?
  • Is there always a sense of extreme urgency in the office?
  • Have you been asked not to disclose company secrets?
  • Has your supervisor ever told you, "Do whatever it takes to get this done. Spare no expense!"
  • Does your staff work long hours and check emails at all times of the day or night?

If you answered yes, then you probably work at an innovative company. Your purpose is to guide your team to victory. Your value is measured by your results.

You'll need to show your superior that you are passionate and ambitious. Be willing to take risks and own up to your mistakes. You'll also need to encourage work/life balance among your staff members. Ensure that everyone is doing their fair share of the work. Communicate that you appreciate competitive spirit, but still value everyone's contribution whether it's big or small. Don't let anyone feel overshadowed.


  • Do you find yourself covering for one of your employees when they're out sick?
  • Does your staff spend a great deal of time socializing with each other?
  • Do you feel that your superior appreciates your input?
  • Are you responsible for keeping up morale in the office?
  • Do you frequently interact with owners and stake-holders?

If you answered yes, then you probably work at a team-oriented company. Your purpose is to ensure that your team has all of the resources they need to complete assignments. Your value is measured by how well you get along with your employees.

You'll need to show your superior that you're committed to the company. While you may not feel inclined to attend every social event or happy hour, you will need to illustrate that you are dedicated to the group. Communicate to everyone to focus on deadlines and stay on track.


  • Does your company invest in customer-service?
  • Does your team make decisions based on customer reviews or surveys?
  • Do your team members ever question if they are truly making an impact?
  • Do you frequently involve the community in your projects?

If you answered yes, then you probably work at customer-oriented company. Your purpose is to ensure that your team focuses on giving customers what they need. Your value is measured by customer-satisfaction levels.

You'll need to show your superior that you believe in the company mission. Be willing to put in the extra effort. Make sure to consistently encourage your staff and acknowledge their hard work. Even when budgets are tight, sometimes a little treat goes a long way.

Influence the Culture

If your personal values match company culture, then you will enjoy a fruitful career. If your values contradict your company culture, then you'll need to pick your battles wisely. The key to effective influence is to use company priorities to your advantage. If you speak the cultural language, your staff and superiors will be more inclined to listen.

You Feel Restricted in a Traditional Environment

You may discover that you aren't able to voice your concerns in a rigid corporate environment. Your boss may say that he "sent it up the chain," but you never see any results. The key to making changes in a traditional culture is to make the numbers work for you. If profits are a priority, then start crunching numbers. Explain to your superior that the changes you want to make will be cost-effective. 


You Feel Under-appreciated in an Innovative Environment

If your team is always coming in second and you feel your accomplishments aren't valued, then you should start playing to your strengths. Explain to your superior how your results had a significant impact. Perhaps your boss uses a different system to measure results. It's important that you both are on the same page. You can also ask yourself, "Where can my expertise be used to the best advantage?" You may just need to work on a different type of project or need additional resources. 

You Feel Disorganized in a Team-Oriented Environment

If you are concerned that your time isn't being used efficiently, make sure to communicate this to your superior. Communication should always be priority and he or she should respect your honesty. Explain exactly how much time you spend in meetings and how much time is wasted. Explain how you are struggling to manage your responsibilities and suggest setting up a few boundaries. Encourage your team to stick to a schedule and save socializing for break time or designated intervals. It's all about compromise.

You Feel Jaded in a Customer-Oriented Environment

Sometimes you need to help yourself in order to help others. Serving the greater good is rewarding, but it doesn't matter if you run out of steam (and rent money). If you're unsure you're actually making a difference, you might just have hit a plateau. Discuss your concerns with your superior. Explain how your fiery passion just isn't there anymore. You may need to transfer to a different department or take on different projects. A new perspective might make it all worth it again.

Always remember that you provide value and your company should value your contribution. There's nothing worse than a toxic work environment and it's up to you to gauge the pros and cons of your surroundings. Your company culture should empower you to perform at your best and constantly challenge you to keep growing.


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