An Employee Workshop for Aspiring Experts

Unconventional Workshop 20

Behavior Within Corporate Culture

Behaving like an expert means expert behavior.

There are many facets to corporate culture. From an HR perspective, corporate culture is shaped by the perks that companies offer their employees to help facilitate a more enjoyable work environment. These include company events, free food, in-house gym equipment, jeans days and ping pong tables. There are also practice improvement initiatives centered around respect, equality, ethics and safety.

Corporate culture is influenced by customer and industry demands. If the sales cycle within an industry is several months long, the entire company might move at a slow pace. If the product offerings are extremely technical, the corporate culture may have an unwritten employee hierarchy based on technical proficiencies.

Corporate culture also has an organic component, which is the group dynamics that occurs when human beings come together for a unified purpose. Group dynamics can be different from department to department, however, there is always a company-wide dynamic that might be better described as an impression. Company leadership does influence this dynamic, based on hiring processes, promotion decisions and management practices. There are also intangible influences, such as the personality types inherent in the people who chose to work for a given company or work within a specific industry. If a company has predominantly younger workers, there will be differences in their corporate culture, as compared to a company with older workers. If a company is doing poorly, there will probably be a different dynamic than if they are doing well.

Competition plays a big role in corporate culture. From a leadership perspective, the energy that goes into competition should always have an external motivation; to beat the market competitors. To energize corporate culture, leadership will often promote superior offerings and dominance in the marketplace, over the competition.

Leadership’s view of external competition, as the company competes within the marketplace:
[√] Employees should perform like a winning sports team; combining individual performance and teamwork.
[√] Employees should try to work harder and smarter than the competitor’s employees.
[√] Employees should be loyal to the company.
[√] Employees should respect the decisions of leadership, as they attempt to win marketshare.

When it comes to company-versus-company competition, employees will have no problem rooting for the home team. The differences come into play when the topic changes to employee-versus-employee internal competition. Company leadership is well aware of the competition that exits within the ranks, but most leaders do not know the extent or understand their influence.

Leadership’s view of internal competition, as employees compete for compensation, title, respect and status within various unwritten hierarchies:
[√] Employees should fully respect, cooperate and help each other.
[√] Employees should give greater priority to company advancement over personal career advancement.
[√] Employees should follow the rules of good sportsmanship, in addition to documented company policies.
[√] Employees should respect the decisions of leadership regarding roles, responsibilities, compensation, titles and status within the company.

Now, let’s take those same leadership check boxes and add the point of view of a fiercely competitive and internally focused employee.

[√] Employees should fully respect, cooperate and help each other.
… Don’t listen to William, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

[√] Employees should give greater priority to company advancement, over personal career advancement.
… If I get passed-up for the next promotion, I’m going to start looking for another job.

[√] Employees should follow the rules of good sportsmanship, in addition to documented company policies.
… I’ll start helping the sales department when they start splitting their commissions with me.

[√] Employees should respect the decisions of management, regarding roles, responsibilities, compensation, titles and unwritten hierarchies.
… Mary only got that promotion because she’s friends with the manager.

Internal employee-versus-employee competition
Employee competition has to exist, as employees need to compete against one another, as well as outside hires, for career advancement. Certainly, friendly competition and good sportsmanship are prevailing rules of conduct, however, where there can be spoils of war, there will be war. We’ve all seen situations at work where internal competition looked more like a trailer for a reality TV show. Every dispute, rude comment, reason for tears and verbal altercation that has happened on reality TV, has happened at a place of employment. This must includes shows on dating, since roughly 15% of couples have met at work. It’s true, political correctness at the workplace will control communications to a greater degree than the wrath of television censors, but changing what people say will always be easier than changing what people think.

The psychology behind jealous comparison, peer rivalry and status envy goes far beyond the reach of this web-labyrinth, however, leadership must recognize the fact that such infantile behavior will exist within their corporate culture. Signs of this behavior will include:
• Individual rivalries.
• Individual gain superseding team advancement.
• Departmental rivalries.
• Cliques.
• A fixation on status quo within cliques.
• Consistent over-valuing of management relationships (brown-nosing).
• Unwritten hierarchies holding more influence than structured titles or positions.
• Individual feelings of inferiority or superiority.
• Over-focus on the words and actions of other employees.
• Hypersensitivity to the words and actions of other employees.
• Necessary navigation of company politics.
• Perpetual gossip.

Although, a company that adopts a Culture of Experts will not be exempt from internal competition, the focus onto individual work-process does limit infantile distractions. Workers who truly forge their own path will not see competition as their direction will not be comparable.

Unwritten hierarchies
Unwritten hierarchies exist within all corporate cultures. This is an underlying status given to employees based on their competency and value to the company, regardless of formal titles. We’ve all seen situations where a valuable employee holds greater influence and prestige within the organization than another employee with a higher ranking title. High status is granted to the individual whose skills and abilities are in high demand. Entire departments also hold status within an unwritten hierarchy. This status can change with changes in customer needs or market demand. If there is a spike in demand for widgets, the production/manufacturing related departments gain importance and priority.

Leadership heavily influences unwritten hierarchies and should accept their existence and be aware of their structure. If unwritten hierarchies become excessively disconnected from formal titles and compensation rates, there will be discontent. If high-status individuals are allowed to break the rules of good sportsmanship, there will be feelings of superiority and inferiority. Add  jealous comparison, peer rivalry and status envy to the mix and the outcome will look more like prison culture.

Is there a high school within your corporate culture?

Within every high school there are cliques. Within each clique there is status within a hierarchy:


Like high school cliques, the workplace will have groups of individuals who have commonalities and want to create an alliance. There are many reasons why groups of people form. Regardless of the reasons, protection from some things will be an inherent benefit. All groups take on a group identity, as individuals cooperate with each other. If the group identity supersedes individual identity, there can be groupthink, a fixation on status quo and the silencing of individual expression.

Do you like the UnconventionalEXPERTS Workshops? If so, share it right now:

             Hi, I’m sharing an interesting website with you, check it out: UnconventionalEXPERTS.com

Lifeboat captains
The difference between a ship and a lifeboat isn’t just size. Unlike the ship, the lifeboat does not have a particular destination. It is designed to simply stay afloat, if luck would have it, until it is discovered or it runs aground. While a ship is equipped with creature comforts, the life boat is designed for one thing; survival.

In module #1, we defined unconventional positions (group #4) as being unstructured, complex, creativity-driven, strategy-dependent and project-oriented. Throughout this web-labyrinth, we’ve championed Unconventional Experts for these types of roles, as their individual work-process will allow them to meet demands, and hopefully, move beyond them. But what if the worker who fills an unconventional position prefers structured and repetitive work within a task-oriented and company-process-driven environment? What if this worker is in way over their head?

When faced with a difficult challenge, it is human nature to move survival to a top priority. Like surviving in a lifeboat, someone who is overwhelmed at work will do whatever they can to fulfill the most basic requirements of the position. At some point in time, this person will need to make a choice. They can either stay in the lifeboat and become its captain or graduate to the ship where they can forward their career to a plotted destination.

Lifeboat captains can become good at what they do, but they are forever fixed on the requirements of their position. They survive to find status quo rather than thrive to find a destination.

The child is not an expert
As children, we are dependent. As adults, it is our path to achieve independence within our way of thinking. If an adult still leans on others, as would a child, they will look at all others through the eyes of a child. They will look around and see all heads higher than their own. They will manipulate others for their own advantage. They will seek approval as the grand reward. They will bring others down, in an attempt to see themselves as being higher. They will not accept responsibility for their failures; it will always be someone else’s fault.

Within a Culture of Experts, the child-like behavior of a pseudo-expert becomes apparent. The child-like adult is not focused on manipulation as it pertains to an individual work-process, as their focus is on the manipulation of others. They will not truly see the expert-level skills of others, as it would force them to take an honest look at themselves. The child-like adult will, however, promote their own greatness, as it has been divinely bestowed upon them. They rank themselves highly, on a score-card that is a composite of their delusions.

UnconventionalEXPERTS is a free career resource created by Martin Haslinger.
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

© 2023 Martin Haslinger