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Work Culture Expectations vs. Reality

Far too many companies of varying sizes today are hampered by the fact that employees’ cultural reality does not meet their expectations. As a result, managers, Human Resources teams, parents, spouses, significant others and friends all are hearing this:

This isn’t anything like I thought it would be!


At first glance, it’s easy to think this is an isolated issue faced only by new employees joining a company. That’s far from true, however. Expectation gaps, in one way or another, impact every person in the company … from the CEO in the corner office to the reception people in the lobby.

  1. Some — employees at all levels and sprinkled across the organization — are negatively affected by it. True, many of these are newer, younger employees, perhaps in their first or second position and totally unprepared for their new experience. College prepared them to be college students, but it didn’t really prepare them for the workforce.

  2. Others, such as department managers, executive management, and the Human Resources team, actually have a requirement to address it. On the surface, this sounds good, except for those times when overly eager department managers are creating their own department-sized cultures that may or may not align with the larger company. (And that’s a discussion topic for another time!)

  3. All. The “big we.” The entire organization has an opportunity to remedy it, because a group effort is what is needed.


In our experience, we have observed that expectation gaps develop in companies for a number of reasons. Most often, we see a faulty approach: the company is not able (or refuses) to address culture in a comprehensive manner. The assignment is given to an individual, or a small group; neither can get the job done.

Unfortunately, culture-building programs frequently are implemented from the top down, rather than being created jointly across various groups. Yes, absolutely, the senior team should lead culture … but it surely shouldn’t do it alone. The fact is: Management needs help, usually from some culture champions (from multiple areas of the company).

Managers also often feel under prepared, overwhelmed and challenged as to where to begin. They just don’t know where to start. So what do they do instead? Unfortunately, they make another common mistake: they focus their efforts on defining what the culture should be and not on figuring out how to get there.


Corporate culture is not some soft, “when-I-can-get-around-to-it” issue. It is a critical strategic objective that must be part of every company’s overall strategic plan.

  1. A cohesive, high-performance workplace occurs when people are aligned, and inspired by their role and the difference their work causes for the end user and customer.

  2. There are real benefits to being associated with an aligned and engaged workforce that creates tangible business results, and earns the respect and admiration of the people you support and influence.

  3. Organizations that invest in shaping a constructive culture outperform companies that do not (by 202%, according to the Gallup Poll).

So, let’s move forward. It’s not a simple matter, but it certainly is do-able:

  1. People need to have an inspiring sense of possibility, along with a good dose of reality, regarding what it is going to take from them personally to be a contributing member of a cultural transformation program.

  2. You need to align your organization’s human systems (including roles and responsibilities, employee selection, new hire onboarding, performance management, employee development, etc.) with your overall vision, core values and organizational philosophy.

  3. Most of all, it’s about trust because culture and trust and go hand in hand. The foundation of anything and everything is trust. People in an organization need to trust each other, be empowered to stretch and fail forward, and feel secure enough to engage in constructive conflict.

The roadmap to success includes four key components.

  1. Vision. First things first: you need to reaffirm your company’s vision with your CEO. Get on the same page, have the same expectations of your results, and discuss how you are going to get there. Next, you need to address the rest if the executive team, specifically getting the individual members into alignment to address all those roadblocks and gaps that are barriers to momentum. Calls on those leaders to treat people the way they want to be treated.

  2. Values. Get your house in order by organizing your company’s core values and operating principles. Yes, you may think that you already did all that a few years back. Advice: go through the exercise. I guarantee you can improve upon what you have. As part of this, spend time creating systems, structure and training that align people, work activities and overall business systems.

  3. Implement. OK. You’ve updated your core values. Now you need to embed them in every process that involves your workforce so that employees at all levels operate with the company’s best interests in mind. You know the company is working for a bigger cause, but you really need everyone to share that view. You’ll know when you get it right. You (actually, everyone) will feel it.

  4. Empower. Finally, you need to let go a little (or more than a little) bit. Empower your team to excel by enabling employees to overcome past errors with integrity, take responsibility for their impact on the organization and its people, and invent an inspiring future.


You can do it. With Cultural Alignment, your team gets to explore the possibility of working in and leading an organization where people are high-achieving; self-actualized; affiliative, and humanistic. Contact us today to learn more!


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