Dealing With a New Company Culture: Do you Compromise, or Adjust?

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How are you going to deal with a new culture? Do you think the leadership style in another country will make a difference? I know that you can be very opinionated, but you may need to tone it down in another country.

Questions about workplace culture have always intrigued me. What is a successful model so that you are accepted into a new environment?

What if you are rejected? How can you get a sense up front to make the changes to increase your chance of success? What will you have to give up — and what will they have to give up?

These are all interesting questions, and they are all relevant.

Compromise or adjustment? Choose one

All of our lives we have participated in culture adjustments. For instance:

  • Going to school for the first time;
  • Changing schools;
  • Starting college;
  • Joining clubs or fraternities;
  • Starting a first job;
  • Changing jobs;
  • Finding a partner;
  • Marrying into a new family.

These are just a few that pop out as I think back over my life. The funny thing is that we all make adjustments and compromises in order to be successful.

In compromising, we let go of something so that we can create a balance in a relationship. In making an adjustment, we more often than not agree willingly to make the change for the greater good of the relationship.

In order to make things better, you shade the degree of one or more of your “characteristics,” but you do not change the characteristic completely.

That is the main difference between the two. An adjustment could be viewed as a voluntary act. A compromise, however, may be done under duress.

In meshing with a new culture, it is all about making adjustments. You give, I give, we both adjust, and it is a constant period of adjusting until we get a personal model that works. In organizations, conflict arises because of this simple constant.

Being aware of our foundation

Our culture is our foundation in that it grounds and frames our lives. Our beliefs are built into our worldview and always provide a comfortable reference point of understanding.

As we interact with people from different cultural backgrounds, we become aware of a different frame of reference. What we might see as a normal is only based on the way that we were raised or what we are familiar with.

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I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and my frame of reference was based on that early in my working life. My first job out of college took me to New York City, and initially, that was big culture shock as I tried to get a lay of the land.

I was blind to the elements of my own culture and how it contrasted with my new surroundings. My wife was a born-and-bred New Yorker; that was her frame of reference. As in any marriage or relationship, to be successful we all have to contribute, whether it is compromise or adjustments.

So throughout life we have always been at that intersection trying to mesh all of it into a successful “marriage.”

On the road to recovery

There will always be the threads that bind us all. Our problem is not taking the time to find it.

If we would listen more we would notice that people tend to talk about things that drive them. They will give you great insight into their thinking and their approach. You will begin to find out what and how people do things, but also, what their interests are.

Once you get a glimpse of the real person, you can begin the process of connecting. Does the onus to do so fall to you? If you are the going into a new environment, the weight may be on your shoulders. And even if it is the other way around, leadership is about being flexible and trying to figure out how to make “it” work.

The old mantra of my way or the highway will have to be mourned. Like out of date clothing and lifestyles, in this global and complex society, it is no longer about us getting our way.

So, let’s all take a deep breath and let the goal of building a successful relationship drive our organizational culture. Success will be the offspring of that effort.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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