Finding A Compatible Work Environment

contributed by Dr. Stephen E Bangert, PhD

Early in my career when working for a Fortune 500 company, I was assigned a project of developing an in-house career development program. As part of the information gathering stage I conducted a number of interviews with executives at various levels of the organization, asking a series of questions to gain their professional insights and their personal stories of how careers develop. I was interested in knowing why people succeeded, and why some failed.

I recall one senior level manager taking extra time to share his insights and then summarizing with the saying: “People are hired for their skills and fired for their personalities.”

Over the years, as I have worked with thousands of managers, professionals and executives, I am reminded of the truth of that statement. It doesn’t mean that a person has a lousy personality. It just means that over time things change and perhaps become incompatible.

For example, Tom had a successful eight year career with a manufacturing company. He started as a sales rep, took on greater responsibilities as an area manager, then director of sales, and when I met him was the vice president of sales and marketing. In the latter position he found himself reporting to the owner who he recognized to be a “micro manager”; but frustration grew as his decisions were constantly being undermined or reversed. What had changed? Tom had proven himself in each role, was rewarded and expressed new confidence as an executive. He was ready to shoulder greater decision making but the owner’s style presented a conflict. After eight months as vice president, Tom realized his boss was not going to change and began his job search.

Susan’s story is also familiar. She had an outstanding career first in accounting and then in finance, and held the role of CFO for four years. When the CEO retired, his replacement announced a new corporate strategy and had the Boards approval to “bring in his own team.”

When I met Mike, he was excited about his new job. Two months later when we spoke he lacked any enthusiasm and spoke of resigning. He loved the challenge of his work but the work environment and peer expectations clashed with his values. Most of his peers were single males who seemed to limit there conversation to sports and frequented the bars after work. While Mike enjoyed sports and an occasional drink there were pronounced differences in his life style. Soon Mike found himself out of the loop and the butt of practical jokes. He was ready to leave such a sophomoric environment.

Each of these stories tell of an incompatibility but by no fault by my clients. Situations unfolded, environments changed that directly impacted them.

Change is inevitable. In some cases you will have the choice of adapting by changing your attitude, adjusting your priorities, or forming new networks. In other cases the choices my be few with little option other than searching for a new job.When searching for a new job, beyond considering the position and responsibilities, give serious thought to factors of: people, physical environment and corporate culture.

People: Consider the many people that you will interact with in your new job; your boss, your peers, your reports, your vendors, your customers and your shareholders. Each person has their own style of interacting with others. The intensity of the relationship differs as does the frequency of interacting. And some relationship are more important to foster and maintain than others.

When considering the people with whom you need to work closely, what are the personality traits that you favor in others, or that you find promotes a close working relationship? What level of competency do you expect? What degree of sharing information do you expect?

Physical environment: Consider the type of environment that you favor, or that you find supports your working needs. What type of spacial needs do you have? Do you favor a relatively spacious, well appointed office, or are you equally content in dimly lit, tight quarters? What importance do you place on lighting, on air quality, on temperature control, on noise reduction? What type of mechanical, electronic and logistical support do you need?

Corporate culture: Consider the impact of the corporate culture on your job and on your general state of satisfaction. What are the traditions? Are there “sacred cows”? What is the structure of the organization? What are the formal and informal lines of communication? What are the unspoken rules of order? What expectations are placed on you? What type of incongruities are excused with “we always do it this way” or “the boss likes it this way”?

In short, when evaluating a job offer, you need to go beyond the title, responsibilities and compensation. Job satisfaction is greatly influenced by the people you work with, the physical environment you find yourself, and the corporate culture. Find a job where you can thrive, where you are challenged, where the people are genuine, and where the environment is supportive But be assured all of these factors will change over time, and as they change you have the choice of adapting yourself, of changing the environment, or leaving for greener pastures.

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