Fitting in

The problem with fit is that it tends to average.

And the even bigger problem for you is that it prevents you from being you.

When you try to fit – by using a jargon that everyone else is using, by going through a career trajectory that everybody can recognize, by telling a story that everyone feels comfortable with – you essentially hide your differences for the sake of harmony. It is normal to want to do that, even advisable in some instances.

But what happens once you are in, feel at ease, and attempt to express that part you hid? Here is a strong risk of a life of misery.

There are two things you can do to mitigate that.

First, you have to be selective with the groups you want to be part of. Not all groups are worth fitting in – which is, again, essentially losing a little part of you. Some groups are more open to differences than others – which means having to hide less, or nothing.

Second, you need to work on your story in a way that eases you into fitting in (the groups you selected). You own your story, you choose what to tell about, how to tell about it, and by making your story an expression of yourself, you signal to the group who you are and what they can expect from you.

Patagonia

Imagine approaching your team with the suggestion that this year, for Black Friday, you could dedicate your site’s home page to a message of social responsibility.

Imagine suggesting that the headline could stick to the version your team crafted after months of customer research, rather than make space for the latest look-at-me PR sensation.

Imagine recommending to continue with something that has been planned for months, rather than replacing it all with some shiny hack that will boost one of the vanity metrics.

They would look at you and think you are crazy.

Unless you work at Patagonia.

Promotion

There are two ways organizations promote employees.

One is by tenure. The employee has been in one role for long enough that they kind of outgrew it. The promotion is often formal and comes at the end of a process. It is about dues and achievement.

The other is by stretch. The employee is given enough space that they can grow into it. The promotion is often informal and comes at the beginning of a process. It is about responsibility and potential.

The way your organization does this has much to do with whether the general belief is that trust should be earned or that trust should be given. And it says a lot about many other aspects of the culture.

Acceptable and achievable

The stories we are told about what leaders have done and what peers have done have a strong impact on the way we will behave.

What leaders have done shape our view of what is acceptable.

What peers have done make the acceptable desirable (and achievable) for us too.

Instead of leaving your organization in the arbitrary hands of internal gossiping and politicking, use stories strategically to guide behavior.