Adapt to the culture

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Last week we introduced the DARE framework as a guide for military veterans transitioning into a civilian job. As a reminder:

D: Define success
A: Adapt to the culture
R: Recognize your strengths
E: Engage with others

We also elaborated on the first aspect of the framework – defining success –especially the idea of having conversations with various stakeholders to define, communicate, and measure your (the veteran’s) success as you transition (as well as your success beyond the transition) into the civilian workplace.

This week I’d like to discuss the “A” in DARE – Adapt to the culture. Most veterans will recognize terms like intelligence preparation of the battlefield or battlespace, cultural awareness, and information environment. To one degree or another, these terms have culture as an aspect of analyzing, training, or understanding a foreign or adversarial environment. Just like you learned about cultural norms and language before you were deployed or stationed overseas, you should take the time to learn and adapt to the culture of the organization of which you are becoming an employee.

Organizational culture can be very obvious in certain areas. Standards like dress code (shirt and tie or dress; or jeans and flip flops?), work hours (0800 on the dot or do folks wander in anywhere from 6am-ish to 10-ish?), and work location (is telecommuting an acceptable option?) are some of the more obvious aspects of the workplace culture. If these things aren’t obvious in your workplace then you shoulDiverse businesspeopledn’t be shy about asking about them (this goes back to last week’s discussion about communication and defining success).

Other aspects of organizational culture may be less obvious. Take time to take note of these cultural distinctions (or, again, ask questions). Some examples are:

– Do people call their boss, Mr. or Ms.? Do they address them, sir or ma’am? Does everyone use first names?
– Are employees called employees? Staff? Team members? Associates?
– Are terms like subordinate and superior used or are they frowned upon?
– Are people generally expected to do just do as they are told? Or is debate and conversation welcome (or even expected)?
– Is there a strong culture of teamwork and collaboration? Or do individuals, teams, or groups fend for themselves?

These are just a very few examples. The point is that it will serve you well to learn and adapt to the culture of your organization. You’ll fit in faster which is generally a good thing (granted, sometimes it’s good to stick out but that’s a different conversation). The other aspect of learning and adapting to the culture is to get a sense of whether the organization is a good fit for you. If there are aspects of the culture that you are unable or unwilling to adapt to then you should consider the long-term implications of this. The implications may be a minor hiccup or nuisance; or the implications may be that this isn’t the place for you (it’s not a good fit).

In wrapping up this post I’d like to end with a brief discussion about one more aspect of culture that will affect your transition from the military to the civilian world. Namely understanding how the military culture you’re used to affects your behavior in the workplace and the perceptionsACU w flag (and perhaps some misconceptions) of others about you. A few things to consider in this regard:

– Be aware that in some organizations giving and taking orders is not part of the culture; it may viewed as harsh and unprofessional
– Quick decision-making may not be the norm; rather the organization’s leaders may prefer to take their time with decisions and may make decisions by consensus (I admit this was one of the aspects of organizational culture to which I had trouble adapting)
– Some organizations may be very hierarchical (like the military) but others may not
– Calling people “sir” or “ma’am” may be too deferential in some organizations
– Some people in your organization may have little or no exposure to the military prior to meeting you … so take into account they may have accurate and inaccurate perceptions of the military and of you

In sum, I believe it will benefit you greatly to take time to observe, learn, and adapt to your organization’s distinct culture. But … this doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t bring your own strengths and experiences to the table. After all, the culture to which you’re adapting became that way because of the people that shaped it year after year. In other words, you’re not just adapting blindly and throwing away the distinct characteristics you bring to your new organization based on previous life and professional experiences. Join me in my next post and we’ll talk more about the “R” in DARE – Recognizing your strengths.

Thanks for your time and I hope this has been useful.

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

First image courtesy of Ambro/

Second image courtesy of taliesin/

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2 thoughts on “Adapt to the culture

  1. Chris Diez

    Watch out for those acronym’s! Great job as usual and to let you know, there is a lot of thought up here on how to help veterans. The problem we are wrestling with is that much of it is focused on the JMOs who often already have opportunities, but what about the E5 with two kids? How can we help him/her on their transition and what are they looking for?
    Keep up the Fires!

    1. Rob Post author

      WILCO on the acronyms … you’re right, I missed that one!
      I agree with you … the enlisted challenge is the tougher one that, I think, deserves more of the attention – it’s a larger audience and, as you know, they often have less higher education and are the veteran population dealing with more of the physical and emotional wounds … so they have additional obstacles in a transition that’s already pretty tough. Would love to hear what you all are thinking about up there.


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