Do You Understand Your Company's Personality?

Corporate culture may matter even more to your project's success than ROI does. Here's how to work with it rather than against it.

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IT employees haven't always been skilled at integrating with the culture of their organizations, experts agree. For one thing, at many companies, there's a different culture in each business unit, location or functional department, and IT may well have a culture of its own. "IT professionals and business professionals look at things differently, which from time to time will result in a clash," McGee says.

Joe McLaughlin

"Good salespeople can be amazing at how they handle people and get stuff done," says Joe McLaughlin, who worked in sales before becoming vice president of IT at AAA Western and Central New York. "IT people are not that way."

In part, that's because of the skills that brought them to technology in the first place. "IT deals with things that have no feelings," Balzac says. "Because of that, it sometimes pulls people who are more comfortable with things than they are with people." Working in IT can magnify this effect. "You're spending all your time with electrons and not emotions," Balzac says. "Switching to dealing with people can require effort."

Another problem is that learning about a company's culture takes time. Many IT people, already overloaded, may feel they have few spare hours for the "soft" activity of exploring a company's personality. But that's a mistake, experts say. "Invest that time, certainly in the beginning, to get immersed in how the organization works," Kelble advises. "Find the people who get things done, and find out how they do it. If the company has a picnic, don't show up, grab your burger, and head back to your desk. Become part of it, and learn everything you can about how everyone else does their job."

There's a personality in an organization. If you try to goagainst it, you do so at your peril. Joe McLaughlin, vice president of IT, AAA Western and Central New York

McLaughlin says, for both yourself and your staff, one great way to absorb the company's culture is to observe others doing their jobs. At AAA, he and the other top executives make a point of spending time in the call center and with the fleet. "You have to become a colleague with your peers. Go hang out in the retail store if yours is a retail operation," he says. "As an IT person, you always can make the excuse that, 'I'm here to see how the technology is working for you.' All of a sudden, you learn things you never would have otherwise -- just because you're there."

Those things are worth learning. "Culture is a difficult thing to grasp," McLaughlin says. "There are cultures, and cultures within cultures. Call it whatever you want, but there's a personality in an organization. If you try to go against it, you do so at your peril."

Zetlin is a technology writer and co-author of The Geek Gap: Why Business And Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other And Why They Need Each Other to Survive. Contact her at

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This story, "Do You Understand Your Company's Personality?" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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