a few misconceptions about company culture and your career growth
Like many of you in retail leadership roles, I regularly meet with people interested in open positions, new store openings, or just to network. I would estimate that I have interviewed and hired thousands of candidates into a variety roles from entry level to senior leadership.
If I narrowed it down to the two most common questions I am asked, they would be:
- “what is the culture like to work here?”
- " what are the opportunities for growth?
These are quite normal, simple questions that we have been programed to ask because you think you should. Everyone wants to be in an environment where you enjoy it, and most people want to grow their career. These are also the two questions for which there are no answers, because the only thing that controls both the company culture and your career growths opportunities is you. It’s completely in your control and here is why:
Company culture is the personality of a company and is sometimes hard to define- It is fluid, changes with every new employee that joins the organization, evolves with time and adjusts to the people that work there. It is widely known that people quit bosses not jobs- part of the problem is the idea that company culture is determined at the top and works its way down: 59 percent of employees think the CEO and other top leaders are responsible for changing the culture. That leaves 41 percent that feel differently and frankly, I want to get that number to 100 percent.
How can you do this? First, own your role. Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Am I part of the problem?" Be honest because in most cases, there are at least a few things you can personally change: your attitude, the effort you put into making positive contributions to the culture, and how you communicate with others. Secondly, use your influence to make things better- The true leaders at a company aren't always the boss. Natural leaders set an example that people want to follow, so if that's you, be a good one! If you understand the vision, use your influence to help others better support it. It is contagious. Influence your sphere--and hopefully it will trickle out from you to your team, your department and ultimately throughout the company.
Regarding your opportunities for growth, they are also often based on personality, but given the fact that traditional career paths are extinct in most industries, managers have few guideposts for advancing a member of their team. As a result, aspiring executives are left in the dark about what they need to do to get ahead. Worse, most people operate under four misconception regarding career advancement:
• The belief that producing results in your current job is sufficient. In fact, a track record of strong results is what I would call the “price of admission”- the minimum required for you to be considered for promotion
• Confidence that you’ll get the feedback you need from your boss in your annual performance review- This assumption is flawed for several reasons: First, most annual reviews focus on performance in your current job, and the work you did last year, not what you need to do to advance. With the absence of this kind of feedback, managers often wait passively in hopes of being tapped for a promotion. By taking the initiative in your own career development and actively working to display your skills in your current job, you will find that you are much better equipped to advance when the next promotional opportunity arises.
• The sense that promotions are all about who you know — when in most organizations, it’s about who knows YOU and whether you could breed confidence on the part of senior-level decision makers that you can succeed.
• A naïve belief that all it takes is adding a little polish, a new suit, a new style. Although senior executives often struggle to define it, executive presence is critical and is another “price of admission” in retail leadership. Are you able to project the sense of confidence required to make difficult decisions and take control of unexpected situations? Can you maintain your poise and composure under stress? And do you convey a sense of unused “bandwidth,” the ability to take on even greater levels of responsibility — or do you project a harried, overwhelmed demeanor that leads others to conclude that you are “maxed out” at your current level?
It is our job as leaders in any organization to encourage an exchange of ideas at all levels that shape the future of a company culture and the desired career growth of our teams. We should empower them to identify what is missing, and support the implementation of new solutions. When we encourage our teams to work as one unit, pushing the cart uphill in one direction, they will naturally take ownership and contribute to the environment in which they work. These are the moments where natural career growth blossoms and culture is born.