Dominant Culture

Career Development, reflection, values, career services

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In an ever-evolving, multifaceted industry like design, technical terms such as product design, actionable design, strategy, and many more are constantly being reappropriated to accommodate new industry standards, technologies, and trends. Not to mention, the new creative trend of creating happy job titles like “Happiness director,” but what is the career path of a Happiness director? Did they come from design strategy or customer experience? Are they a Customer Service manager or are they a community manager? All of these reappropriations and branding of titles just means that your job search just got that much more challenging.

Instead of just reading a job description and going straight into an interview with a clear-cut idea of what’s in store, creative professionals must do their due diligence to really understand whatever role each company is trying to fill. 9 times out of 10, the reality of what a position requires goes far beyond just the job description. Creatives have to educate themselves on a company’s standards, culture, and implicit challenges in order to position themselves properly for a role, but this can be an issue when applying for multiple companies and a variety of roles – or, even more challenging, applying for the “same” role at multiple companies, framed and structured differently – according to dominant company culture.

Many different things factor into how a role is structured and none quite as all-encompassing as company culture. This informs the way coworkers communicate and interact, the way projects are distributed, and even the way people structure their schedules for work-life balance. Much like an actual country, companies have their own unique, dynamic culture that keeps things moving and get work done. These practices likely differ slightly from department to department, and while subcultures develop, there is still a dominant culture that continually impacts the group as a whole. This dominant culture affects the “language” a company speaks, like the way terms are used or the ways roles are defined; the “traditions” they uphold, such as unspoken habits and strategies like who the company tends to refer to for decision-making purposes; and their “customs and beliefs”, such as skill sets, past experience, or training backgrounds they tend to prioritize over others because they believe they will serve the company’s bottom line better.

Some seem to think that this culture will only really come into effect once they’ve won the role and are officially “in,” but this is far from true. In fact, it comes into play almost immediately, once you begin interacting with a company. The dominant culture of a company dictates the way roles are presented and distorts the lens through which your past experience will be perceived.

One of our clients saw the immediate effects of the dominant culture not too long ago. *Joel is a Design Lead at a company that is best described as “engineering lead”. This company’s success and revenue was predicated on the innovation that engineering lead, and the key people at the top are engineering backgrounded. This means that company actions are colored by the idea that engineering is king. They use engineering language and terminology, adhere to engineering practices, and tend to prioritize the opinions of their Engineering Team over other departments. Joel realized this early on and did what he could to catch up and keep his Design Team as engineering-savvy as they could be. For a long time, this was enough. He learned the language and assimilated to engineering culture as best as a classically trained Industrial Designer could, and did his best to maintain a friendly relationship with the Engineering Department. The design team was doing well under Joel’s leadership and he was content with their progress. In fact, when the time came to hire another Design Lead, the company enlisted Joel’s help with the selection process. He saw this not only as an expression of the company’s trust in his abilities but as an indication of a possible shift in culture...however, as the hiring process went on, it was quite the opposite.

As one of the few management-level employees with a strong Design background, Joel felt he could contribute valuable insight into what the company needed. He had strong opinions about what the Design Lead role required and believed that the department would benefit greatly by bringing another designer on board. The rest of the hiring team pushed back, reverting to their engineering lead tendencies. It eventually came down to two candidates with similar professional experiences and skill sets; the only major difference in the two was that one was an Industrial Designer and the other, a Design Engineer. Joel had repeatedly expressed his opinions, backed up by firsthand experience and concrete evidence, but despite his recommendations, the company went with the Design Engineer.

Just a few short months after placing the role, Joel was proven right in his recommendations. The Design Engineer wasn’t performing the way they thought he would and the Design Department was suffering for it. This incident led Joel to question the company’s priorities, and whether or not his contributions were actually going to affect any real change. After all the time he had dedicated to this company, why wouldn’t they take him seriously?

Unfortunately, we see this kind of thing happen all the time.

Sitting in the nexus between employers and talent, between business and design, we witness the discord and miscommunication between both parties. Corporations need creatives to guide them, but we find that most creative professionals don’t know how to own that conversation. Most often, we find that they don’t know how to distinguish themselves from the masses. As a result of using traditional methods of branding, they don’t know which opportunities are best for them. How can you approach an opportunity if you don’t even know if it's right for you? How can you spend time seeking opportunity if you don't know where you’re going?

We founded Thrive By Design because we saw too many talented, passionate creative professionals lose their way trying to find their way in this ever-evolving and competitive industry. Unfortunately for some, they even fall out of it completely. As recruiters, we’re not monetized and structured to help the masses, so I felt compelled to launch a new company where we could support creative professionals. We believe in helping talent explore and identify the necessary skills so that they can strategically align with their ideal path so that they can thrive in their career.

In order to be successful in this industry, you need to use your creative gifts and ensure you’re impacting the world professionally. A healthy compensation is one of a few strong indications you’ve identified the perfect suite of superpowers, you’ve mastered how to represent yourself, you’ve figured out how to support the professional world and make a true impact, and you know how to respect your value.

Ironically, employers and clients need and want help but they often don’t know what kind of design, strategic or innovative help they need. The blur of talent today all say “I’m a creative and I solve problems” and so these companies don’t know how to determine that you are right for them.


In other words, they don’t know how to see you.

At the end of the day, we want to see people move up in the industry and succeed. The world is changing so rapidly and all businesses are struggling with these fluctuating economies and they need you to help them. If you keep finding yourself in a position where you don’t know where you stand, then it’s time to learn more about the dominant culture taking over the industry so that you can better prepare for any opportunity. Rather than entering a foreign territory with little to no knowledge, Thrive By Design can save you time and help you understand this pattern so that you can achieve your ideal position. If you’re ready to make a change in your career path, schedule a strategy call today.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.

Tagged: Career Development, reflection, values, career services

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