Experiencing a culture shock

By 10/08/2017Blog
Expertise-and-Intellectual-Freedom

I used to work for a global oil and gas company, which was process-driven and held up by traditional management practices. Now, I work for Blueprint: a small and relatively new charity. It’s fair to say that in transitioning from one to the other, I’ve experienced a degree of culture shock.

Organisational culture can be a difficult thing to put into words. I personally experience it as a gut-feeling – an emotional and physiological response to the working environment around me and whether I feel comfortable, safe and happy in that environment.

Whilst sticking to the culture that I had become accustomed to might have been the path of least resistance, there have been huge benefits in adapting to an unfamiliar environment. It has been an opportunity to learn about myself and the type of organisation that I might thrive in, and it has enabled me to bring an external perspective to my Blueprint colleagues.

Observing my reactions
After a few months at Blueprint, I realised that I had some feelings of discomfort and guilt. This took me by surprise, because I was really enjoying my work: so where were these feelings coming from?

After some reflection, I’ve deduced that I’m not used to having quite so much freedom to work on what genuinely interests me. I’ve rarely had the opportunity at work to invest quite so much time in my own personal development and learning. It turns out that this level of enjoyment in my work makes me feel guilty! My previous academic and corporate training has made me comfortable with a high degree of stress and has trained me to seek out tasks which other people in the organisation may value (rather than those that I personally value). As a result I have a subconscious belief that completing these ‘valuable’ tasks will make me more productive, and that if I’m not feeling under pressure or stressed, I must not be doing my job well.

Having had some space from this pressured working environment, it’s dawned on me that undertaking tasks which are designed to impress others, but increase my own stress, is completely counterproductive. If I’m hoping to be fulfilled for the rest of my working life, I need to forget about trying to be more productive and creating more value for the company, and instead better understand how I’m motivated and how I want to grow and develop. This revelation has been incredibly liberating and will continue to be – for as long as I can let go of the guilt that I still feel!

The final thing that this reflection has revealed to me, is just how much I value a culture which invites and appreciates thoughtful feedback.

At the summer away day, the Blueprint team asked me to present my first impressions of the organisation – having been in place for just less than 3 months. I put a lot of thought into what to say, making sure that I balanced what is incredible about Blueprint, with my understanding of the challenges that need to be tackled. Everyone listened with genuine gratitude and curiosity, and really cared about and appreciated what I had to say. The whole experience just demonstrated that environments where you have the safety and support of your colleagues to be so candid are really special.

Cultures such as this are an amazing foundation for evolving and growing an organisation. As I’m moving forwards in my career, the importance of creating a culture of trust, honesty and respect will be something that I keep at the forefront of my mind.

Jo Alexander, OnPurpose Associate