How social architecture of your social life can ruin your career


Akindele Afolabi

Where you have been”, then you would want to make sure you are in the right place so that you can see good things especially as it relates to the future.

Every organisation has a social architecture which is the sum of the systems, processes, beliefs, and values that determine individual behaviour, perspectives and skills in the organisation. It includes the determinants of managerial behaviour such as organisation structure, performance standards, reward systems, career management, training, beliefs and values.

All these processes jointly influence the mind-set of an organisation and when they become institutionalised, they become a predictable way of thinking and running the organisation, that is, the lens through which the managers of the organisation see the world. This suggests that the organisation has a mind of its own and this is what influences the way things get done.

The prevalent architecture in an organisation affects the development of individual employee’s career directly or indirectly, actively or passively and the extent to which employees realise what the social architecture of their organisations might be and the extent to which they are actively steering the ship of their careers in the right direction will determine what becomes of the career.

Let me illustrate it with this agrarian example. When you plant a seed of corn in a soil with the right amount of moisture, after some days it will germinate. If you however put the same seed of corn in a dry soil, you will not see any sprout. The seeds are the same but soil conditions are different. As you have the good and the bad soil, so also you can have either a favourable or an unfavourable social architecture in an organisation and a good employee (seed) in both conditions.

How do you know the social architecture of your organisation and how do you know if it’s conducive for your career development? Though not too explicit, you should be able to identify the social architecture of your organisation by asking the following questions;


  • What types of managers/employees are valued in the organisation and why? Do they value those that do their jobs diligently, go the extra mile and achieve results or those that don’t but know how to use politicking to their advantage?


  • What is considered superior performance? What must you do well to be rated as a performer? Are the standards of measure made explicit?


  • Which organisation other than your own do employees admire most and why? It may be possible that those things they admire in the other organisations are missing in your own, and it could point you to the prevailing mind-set of your organisation.


  • What is the background of top managers? Did they all grow from within or were they hired from other organisations?


  • How is recruitment done? Do people come in from the back doors or is there a proper recruitment drive flowing from a workforce plan? Are there standardised selection procedures or some managerial prerogatives prevail in decision making?


  • What is the approach to employee learning and development? Is training a reward for good behaviour or the reward of loyalty to a manager or is it for closing skills gap?


  • Are employees considered and treated as ‘human beings’ or ‘management tools’?


  • Are corporate goals aligned with talent management practices? Organisations claim people are their most important asset; do you perceive clarity in what the ‘most important asset’ is doing and what management values most?

While these questions are not exhaustive and may not have covered all factors that could denote the social architecture of an organisation, they are however appropriate to deal with the issue of focus – career development.

In one of my previous articles (In whose hand is your career?), I made effort to establish that you must never leave your career development to your employer (A favourable social architecture would at best aid you in managing your career) and I gave some ideas on what you can do to take ownership. My message here is that the work environment you find yourself plays an important role in your career development and you must be conscious of this as you take ownership of your career development initiatives.

Since our environments affect our perception of realities, you must not allow unfavourable social architecture limit what you want to do with your career. You may have found yourself in an organisation where you have been treated as a tool, don’t let that force you into helplessness such that you are no longer proud of yourself to set high career objectives.

You should not conclude that you are not good enough because your organisation has not promoted you in five years or more. I can tell you that many people who find themselves in a situation like this are almost at the point of giving up on their career. They are losing the urge to fight and conceive a better career, and their need for achievement is being drained each day they appear in the organisation.  This is what can happen where the social architecture is unfavourable, but since you now know, don’t be a victim.

The organisation may not have appreciated your skills and reduced you to a role where you do not need your brain to work, never let the social architecture kill those skills and abilities. This is particularly worrisome because psychologists argue that normal, healthy people start to behave according to the social roles assigned to them after a while because they have a strong tendency towards social conformity. This might be the time to call it quit as the dangers involved in staying are more than those for leaving. If quitting is extremely impracticable, find another place to use those skills even if you have to volunteer to avoid an unwarranted change of behaviour.

Don’t give up on yourself yet, consider yourself as the good seed planted in a dry soil. The social architecture of your organisation may have facilitated the state you are now. Do not put the blame on yourself but on the system and seek to get the strength to forge ahead from inside out. Never ever be defeated by the social architecture but understand it dynamics and use it to your advantage. You should however be blamed if you fail to take the right actions on your career.

You may not be able to influence the social architecture of your organisation but you can stop its influence on your career development by the decisions you make, decide wisely today.

Akindele Afolabi is a Professional Human Resource Leader, Career Counsellor & Capability Trainer




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