Combating the Culture-Vulture

Overview

“This is how things get done here”. How often have we come across this phrase at the office? This one simple statement opens up a can of worms for many organizations regardless of size and structure. In the contemporary work setting more and more companies are focusing on something called finding the “cultural fit” when recruiting or evaluating a candidate’s performance. This terminology covers a gambit of themes ranging from hiring decisions to firing decisions. To help me establish my point better, I would like to quote from Schein (p.17 2004) who defines organizational culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems ” Keyton, J. (2011).

In theory, this definition conveys that organizations, nowadays, prefer having someone on board who is like them. Over a significant period of time, defining organizational culture has become essential for organizations in not just sourcing talent but also for its very existence!

Elements

Every organization is established on certain principles and values that it wishes to find in its workforce. If they don’t find it during their search the companies will try to instill the same principles by driving the narrative throughout the organization. Apple; a large organization with a diverse workforce is a wonderful example of this. The company focused on Steve Jobs interest in calligraphy in the early part of his career. This shaped his company and pushed their limits to be more aesthetically pleasing. From product designs and features to product innovations, Apple products are always ahead of the learning curve.

In order to drive this narrative, it is vital that companies realize their own ethos which is central to the very existence of the organization. This in turn can be channelized through various methods to reach the end users, the employees. An employee will more likely be encouraged to try and perform the same function using a new method in organizations that focus on innovation and encourage free flow of ideas throughout the organization.

When Nokia was at its zenith, the company focused on making phones that were push-button, robust and had a great battery life. However, by the turn of 2010, the company couldn’t match up to the smart phones manufactured by Apple and Samsung and Nokia fell apart. This saga brought to light the conservative and reserved culture that existed at Nokia, where senior leadership refused to question the status quo. On the flip side companies like Google are built on not just questioning the status quo but even changing the existing dynamics. The Google Innovation Lab and other research centers are delegated with the responsibility to try, fail, learn, and innovate path-breaking products and its results are inimitable such as google glass, project loon-X, and the self-driving car.

The factor that sets the tone for the narrative in the organization are its people. People define, execute, transform, and establish how things get done at any organization. As a new employee in any organization, I’m curious to understand the work environment in the office. It’s not just about having friendly co-workers or having casual Friday’s. It’s much more whether or not I’m allowed to work independently, what are my decision making powers and most importantly how easily can I get my grievances resolved without ruffling too many feathers. These are various factors one needs to consider when assessing the culture. In my experience there aren’t any textbooks available that can teach potential and even current employees about grasping the work culture. I believe that only experience will allow you to understand it. Although portals like Glassdoor and Linkedin do a splendid job in giving candidates a clearer picture, but it is only so much that these portals can do.

Cultural Alignment

More often than not even factors external to the organization play a vital role in defining the organizational culture. A company faced with competition may re-define its policies and change the entire method of the climate. Managing the change is where most employees and the organization face a steep task because many employees resist change. Even if the change may be beneficial to the organization as a whole in the long run, managers and leaders aren’t able to align company objectives with the individual goals of the employees. Whatever may be the principles of an organization, it is imperative that the company propagates adaptability and flexibility as major components of the organizational culture.

So as companies wade through industry trends, market demands and customer preferences, it is essential for employees and potential candidates to ‘culturally-fit’ in the work setting. Doing so, enhances job satisfaction, increases growth potential and paves the way for a long-standing association with the organization. Also by rewarding, monetarily and otherwise, a workforce that accepts and embraces the company’s vision, organizations have a greater control in retaining their best talent. The only method that this can be attained is by recognizing the objectives of both the stakeholders and jointly planning to establish an inclusive, ethical, and stimulating environment in the organization.

References:
Keyton, J. (2011). Communication & Organizational Culture: a key to understand work experience (2nd ed.). California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Networking in Action with Own The Boardroom

Your network is the greatest resource you have.

Think about the last decision you made – did you use the opinions, reviews, or recommendations of others to make that decision? That’s the power of a network. Your network is an extension of you; they’ll vouch for you, they’ll refer you, they’ll help you.

Your network is the most efficient path to your goals. No one reaches success on their own.

Despite all the benefits of networking, most people seem to hate it. If you search the term in Google, you’ll find articles upon articles with titles like “networking for people who hate networking”.

Networking feels uncomfortable and scary; let’s change how we perceive it.  By the end of this you’ll feel confident and comfortable with networking. Are you ready?

No time to read? Click here to listen to the podcast version, or watch the presentation:

What exactly is networking?

As Devora Zack defines it in her book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking; “Building and maintaining connections with others for shared positive outcomes”.  No wonder you hate the idea of networking. Does that sound fun to you?

In plain speak, networking is meeting people and staying in touch.

You already have a network. Your friends, family, professors, coaches, anyone that you have a relationship with – that’s your network.

Photos via Northeastern University Networking in Action event

Photos via Northeastern University Networking in Action Event

Why bother networking?

It may sound basic but it’s true: Opportunities are all about who you know. Think about it:

Whether you’re buying something off Amazon, deciding whether to swipe left or right in a dating app, whether you’re trying a new restaurant – it’s all thanks to a mutual connection or recommendation.

That doesn’t change with business decisions. No matter how close to the top you are in a hierarchy, you’re always going to consider recommendations from people you trust.

According to an ABC News report from 2012, 80% of people find a new job through networking. It’s possible that number has increased to 85%, as identified by Lou Adler’s 2016 report.

Clearly, it’s going to be more efficient to network your way into a job than continue sending your resume into the black hole of online job applications.

How do I network?

We know networking is meeting people and staying in touch.  That can literally happen everywhere! For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on strategy during networking events.

When you’re at a networking event, everyone is there to meet other people. Yes, networking events feel formal and business-y; keep in mind that everyone is there expecting to talk to strangers and you’ll feel more comfortable introducing yourself.

Christopher Barrat’s TEDx talk, Successful Networking – The Ultimate Guide, explains four steps to building a successful business relationship

You have to move through these phases in order – no skipping ahead! When building your network, you focus on the first two; Know, Like.

You’re not pitching yourself. You’re not handing out resumes. You’re getting to know people as people, and the most effective way to do that is to barely talk at all. Listen to others, ask relevant follow up questions, give them your full attention.

Barrat sums it up as “Be interested. Not interesting”.

How do I know who to talk to?

Barrat’s TEDx talk also addresses tips on how to decide which conversation to join. Essentially, look for groups where there’s an open space for you to stand. Barrat refers to these as “open two’s” and “open threes”.

In the networking image below I identify open and closed groups. Look at the closed two – they’re facing each other directly, off to the side, they’re chatting. Compare that to the open two on the far right – they’re clearly engaged with each other but their body language is turned slightly outward which makes an opening for you to walk into.

But how do I do it?

Strategy is nice but you have to do it. Hopefully you feel a little better about the concept of networking at this point, but if you don’t – don’t worry. Networking is something that gets easier the more you do it.

So let’s talk tactics that will help you take those first steps:

It all starts with you walking up to a stranger, and introducing yourself. It sounds uncomfortable, but remember that everyone at networking events is expecting to meet strangers, so it’s socially acceptable in this context. I personally find that exiting conversations without feeling rude is the most difficult part.  In the full presentation, we discuss tried-and-true phrases (three each!) to use for entering a conversation and exiting a conversation. Scroll down to access the presentation for free and receive these concrete tips.

Remember, networking is meeting people and staying in touch. At a networking event you’re focusing on the first part – meeting people – and the goal is to give others the opportunity to know and like you. Likewise, you want to know and like them.

How do you feel now? Are you ready to network?

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This post is a summary of Own The Boardroom’s presentation that kicked-off Northeastern University’s Networking in Action. The event was organized by Michelle Dubow a Career Advisor at Northeastern University. This post was written by Erica Zahka CEO/Founder of Own The Boardroom.

Want to experience the full talk?  Access it here for free.

In this presentation you’ll learn:

  • How to think about networking so it’s not scary
  • The basics of networking; what it is, where it happens, do’s and don’t’s
  • Strategy for assessing which group(s) to approach first
  • Tried-and-true statements for introducing yourself and exiting conversations

OTB offers everything you need to make a powerful first impression: subscribe to learn how to present your best-self in any business situation and keep an eye on our suit options to rent business professional attire when you need it (women’s attire coming soon!).

 

PR Executives…. Superheros Without A Cape

The Agency Life

In the summer of 2013, I embarked upon a path that eventually led me to Northeastern University. I had just graduated with an M.B.A. in Marketing from Mumbai University and I was eager to commence my professional career. Having found my greatest ally in words and everything related to content, I joined Edelman a PR agency located in India, Mumbai as an Account Executive. Thus began my journey into the uncharted territory of a PR agency.

As the world’s largest PR agency, Edelman, offered me probably the steepest learning curve. I was reporting to not one but four supervisors heading different practice areas in the agency. The term ‘matrix structure’ which was until now just a textbook phenomenon had turned into a rather scary reality. In my year long stint with Edelman, my experiences ranged from rewarding to reprimanding. It was here that I witnessed first-hand the cut-throat competition, unrealistic client expectations, deadlines, journalist tantrums, and team conflicts. However, by the time I moved on to my next stint, I knew for sure that the day of a PR executive was no less than that of any super hero who was worthy of being the face of any ensemble cast. From saving distressed clients from the blushes to finding new allies in colleagues and fellow media persons, we did it all in a day’s time and were ready to take on new challenges the next day.

Super powers: disciplined, systematized and innovative

I joined Adfactors PR, India’s largest communications and PR consultancy after my year-long association with Edelman. It was here that I really understood the role and influence that a PR person can exude over clients and media alike.

Most working days of a PR executive starts with something known as a ‘to-do list’. This is generally e-mailed to you by the supervisor and you’re expected to tick-off all the enlisted tasks. But it only gets more intriguing from here on out because by the end of the day you’ve done something entirely different from what had been planned for you in the morning. No two days are similar in this industry and the term, ‘dynamic environment’ is only an understatement to describe the situation.

In order to keep on top of these ever-changing assignments, it is imperative for PR professional to be disciplined. Many-a-time, one is advised to develop the skill of multi-tasking, which is true but only to a certain extent. I say this with such conviction simply because without discipline in multi-tasking, you’re only going to wreck the multiple tasks at hand. One such instance that comes to mind is when a PR executive has more than one deliverable with the same deadline. Now, he can either focus on each task separately and deliver them on time or fall short of keeping all the commitments.

Another key aspect that I learned at Adfactors PR was that bringing structure to my work even basic mannerisms of reaching the office on time, decluttering the work area, and taking refreshment breaks at regular intervals, play a vital role in smoothly tackling even the most challenging work situations. When the work is organized it fosters in gaining composure in the midst of chaotic work schedules. Systematized work leads to innovation and creativity. Most PR professionals get to hear the phrase ‘think out-of-the-box’ from clients and supervisors. I believe that you can come up with creative campaign ideas and coherent communication strategies when they’re able to convincingly cope up with an array of tasks.

Reaping benefits and rewards

Although there are numerous challenges for a PR executive, so are the rewards. The euphoria of observing the success of a campaign or the elation of monitoring the growth of a brand can be best described only by being part of such PR teams. It is no less than breathing new life into something that was until now just a name or a symbol. But by implementing strategies and putting your super powers to optimum use, these names and symbols swiftly metamorphose into gigantic brands, envied and aspired by markets across geographies. Having garnered three years of PR agency experience in India, I came to Northeastern University last fall to learn, share and hone on my communication abilities with the brightest minds in the industry.

As I interact with my professors and peers in class, I recognize how PR is so much more than just gaining media footprints for client organizations. In fact, the function of communications departments within organizations only helps in strengthening relationships with an array of stakeholders. In conclusion, if it is in an agency or in an in-house communications department the PR executive needs to practice his super powers judiciously because as we all know by now, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility.

About our blogger: Sanjeet Chowdhury is a graduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a MS in Project Management. He has been a PR professional in Mumbai, India and was working with Edelman and Adfactors PR. With a strong background in content writing, media management and communications strategy development, he has been an integral part of communications teams for start-ups and conglomerates. Sanjeet is accomplished in martial arts and holds a Black belt in Karate. In his leisure time, Sanjeet enjoys swimming, tennis, writing, and traveling. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram (@sanjeet2198).