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When You Don’t Fit the Company Culture

Growing up we bought our meat from the store, and got our cheese from the government (at least for a while, anyway). The only time I had ever gone “hunting” was a trip with my grandfather when I was thirteen, which amounted to passing issues of Sports Illustrated back and forth and him asserting that Danny Ainge was a far better basketball player than Michael Jordan, and us sharing cans of cold pork n’ beans.

Cold pork n’ beans and irrational conversation did not inspire me to hunt.

So I definitely felt out of place when I joined the Arizona Game & Fish Department, where part of my responsibilities included overseeing the development of rules and policies that governed hunting and fishing.

A Mercy Death?
During my tenure I sat in management team meetings that included serious conversations about where to place a tag on a turkey after a successful hunt (where I learned the red saggy thing on a turkey’s neck is actually called a wattle) and casual conversations about the proper way to shuck a squirrel when preparing it for cooking.
After three years of fumbling my way through conversations, and being completely lost on more than one occasion, the Department decided that I and a few other “key personnel” needed to become more familiar with the ethic and practices of hunting, and sent us to a three day camp in Northern Arizona. The camp would culminate in a guided quail hunt, and a feast of quail prepare by the camp cook.

The morning of the hunt me and an employee I supervised (who was also the only other male sent to this camp) were sent out with a ranger (aka, a Real Man), a dog, and a shotgun. I served as a spotter, and Carlos, my employee, was the shooter. We saw a quail come over the ridge in front of us, and Carlos turned and fired.

Once we found our bird we took it back to camp to clean it, and discovered a funny thing: the quail didn’t have a single pellet in it. Either another Real Man was hiding in the bushes and tossed out a pre-killed quail to make Carlos and I feel like Real Men, or the bird was so surprised to see two guys so visibly awkward and out of place firing at it that it died of a heart attack.

It remains a mystery to this day, but needless to say, the Great Quail Hunt of 2007 didn’t do a lot to make me feel more like a part of the organization’s culture.

What I Missed
I ended up leaving the Department for what was undoubtedly a better opportunity. I never regretted it. What I do regret is being so self-conscious about not fitting in that I didn’t always appreciate the good things about the organization. Contrary to many government agencies that I have come into contact with since that time, Department employees cared deeply about what they did. Many of them wanted to work in wildlife management since they were kids, enjoying cans of cold pork n’ beans of their own.
The Department was also very progressive about investing in employee professional development. They invested in mine, and helped me get the two certificates I have through Cornell’s distance learning program. I appreciated it at the time, but I also didn’t have a lot of career experience, and just assumed that was something every organization did. I’ve learned in the years since then that that is not always the case.
Just because you don’t fit in doesn’t mean the organization has a bad culture. It does mean that you will probably need to find a culture where you do feel like you belong. But until that happens, don’t get so hung up on why you don’t fit in that you miss the good things about where you are at, including some things that you may bring with you to your next home.

I have done that with the way the Department approached its planning process—but I have yet to take an employee out and induce a quail into having a heart attack for our benefit.

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Dustin McKissen is Director of Marketing and Operations for Metacred, the nation’s first credentialing management firm, and a proud member of LinkedIn’s Publishers and Bloggers Group. You can find him on Twitter @DMcKissen.

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