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Organizational Culture and Your Personal Brand

I was such a curmudgeon during my radio days and I never understood why until a few years ago. An idealistic recent college graduate, I found myself in an organizational culture dominated by people who lied, stole, stabbed folks in the back, or broke the law. I also had great colleagues, who are still friends, but I was so distracted by the culture that my personal brand became one of cynicism and bitterness by the time I hit 25. Several years later, I began working for’s Making It Count Programs division where I was surrounded by people filled with hope, love, and professionalism. There, my personal brand flourished.

Organizational Culture and Personal Brand

There is no coincidence that your personal brand is affected by organizational culture, and organizational culture drives employee performance which affects your personal brand. Harvard Business Review surveyed over 20,000 workers around the world and analyzed 50 major companies. They found that organizations that are known for their cultures, such as Southwest Airlines and Trader Joe’s, maximize what HBR calls good motives. Those motives include:

  • being motivated by the work itself (play),

  • the direct outcome of the work fitting one’s identity (purpose), and

  • the outcomes benefiting one’s identity (potential).

There are also indirect motives which reduce performance. Those indirect motives are emotional pressure, economic, and inertia; and reduced performance is caused by negative feelings toward your work environment. If you’ve noticed that you enjoy meeting your goals because you like your organization or if you find yourself treating your goals as a mere obligation because you tolerate the culture, you’re not crazy.

Because organizations have various elements that either encourage good motives or cause indirect motives, it is important to be cognizant of how we react to these conditions. We can control our personal brands by managing our attitudes regardless of the organizational culture. I have suggestions to help you preserve your personal brand.

Pay attention to the ethics. Mike W. Martin, author of Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics, wrote “attitudes shape conduct;” and leaders create the organization’s attitude. Therefore, you may be in an environment where people have motives which Martin calls craft, compensation or moral. But ask yourself what’s important to you. If you are motivated by morals among those motivated by compensation or vice versa, there is going to be a clash. Understanding this will help you work with some peace of mind and productively.

Fight toxic culture. Toxic organizational cultures are the worst; they suck the life out of every single employee. But I don’t mean fight leadership; I’m talking about managing your reaction to the environment. Fighting toxic leadership is a noble cause, by the way, but you may not be up for the risks that come along with the fight.

Maintain a positive mental attitude. Practice self-care by taking full advantage of your paid time off and maintaining healthy habits outside of work including regular exercise, eating healthy, and getting adequate amounts of sleep. If you are a person of faith, go beyond simply “attending” your church, temple, or synagogue. Also, consider doing volunteer work or giving, which is proven to improve mental health. Most importantly, embrace the thought of seeking mental health counseling from a professional. My wife floated a great thought one day that people should get annual mental health check-ups just like we get regular physicals. At some point, you will have to choose between a toxic culture and your personal brand. I hope your personal brand wins.

Feed positive culture. The opposite side of the coin is to make an investment in a positive organizational culture. Don’t be a bump on a pickle! Organizations that are intentional about creating positive cultures work hard at it. To build morale, leaders spend money on resources like professional development, employee surveys, trainers and motivational speakers, e-learning platforms like getAbstract, internal social networks like Yammer, employee perks programs, and education partnerships. By feeding more into a positive culture, your brand improves and you personally benefit.

Organizational culture isn’t limited to work, by the way. Pay attention to how your personal brand is affected by the cultures of professional, community and other types of organizations. With vision, purpose and emotional intelligence, you give yourself the power to either cut through negativity or to be uplifted by positivity. Ultimately, managing your personal brand in any environment is about taking steps to ensure that your next move will be better than your last one.


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