Corporate Culture: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

Are you intentional about the kind of culture you create within your organization? I often find many companies are blown by the wind as they grow and expand. The culture creates itself organically and after it is embedded many leaders look around and ask, “How did we get here?” In regard to cultural creation and fit, I saw this article from Randi and had to share. If you have read WeirdGuy for long, it is obvious I am a stickler for creating an innovative and fun environment (a.k.a. culture), and encouraging would-be employees to find a culture that fits them, so this will be a helpful read. Have fun!

By Randi Bussin | Aspire!

As a career coach, I’ve occasionally had clients come back to me for redirection after several months on the job. Often the all–too–perfect role turns sour because of the corporate culture and/or internal politics.

Most ask how they can assess these factors ahead of time. Although culture is intangible, there are a few things potential candidates can do to get a read on the environment before they say ‘yes’.

Before we begin, let’s just step back for a minute and discuss what culture is and why it’s important.

What is corporate culture? At its most basic, corporate culture can be described as an organization’s personality and the shared idea of ‘how things are done around here’. Corporate culture is a broad term and guides how employees think, act, feel, and behave. It describes the unique beliefs and behavior of a company and includes the organization’s core values, mission, ethics, and rules of behavior.

Why is corporate culture important? Culture is important because it affects the hours you work, how people interact with each other (or don’t), how people dress, benefits offered to employees (flextime, telecommuting, etc), office layout, training, and professional development. As you can see, culture affects just about everything that relates to your work.

So how do you assess the true culture of a potential employer?

The first step toward determining whether you will be a good match for a company is to know yourself and know what matters most to you (your values). You have to be crystal clear about what you are seeking from each role and each company. Are you seeking intellectual stimulation, a family–friendly environment, a social outlet, or work–life balance?

The next step is to use the job interview – and your networking interviews – to determine if the employer’s work environment is aligned with your core values. Working at a company whose value system does not match your own (understaffed, unethical, non–philanthropic) can leave you feeling unfulfilled. During your networking and/or interviewing, be sure to ask demanding questions of the prospective employer.

Here are some sample questions:

What three words or phrases would you use to describe the company/department culture?
Pay attention to the adjectives that are used to see if they fit with your values.

Does the company have a stated set of cultural values?
Often, a mission statement is a good place to start to gather insights in this area.

Can you describe the environment here?
Pay attention to the words used and the aspects of the work environment the employer mentions, such as camaraderie, career–development opportunities, and work–life initiatives.

What is the company’s attitude toward educational and professional development?

Does the company place a value on lifelong learning and advancement?

What type of employee achievements are recognized by the employer?
Pay attention to what the company values, and whether any special awards are given for outstanding customer service, sales, etc.

What type of sponsorships or philanthropic activities does the company participate in?
Does the company partner with United Way, or support programs such as Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day? Do company employees volunteer for local charities?

Another great way to assess corporate culture is to pay attention to details as you walk around the office during your interviews. Reflect on things you notice, including:

  • How were you treated during the interviews? Were people on time?
  • Were there key phrases the interviewers used frequently that would give you a clue as to what the company values/does not value?
  • How prepared were the interviewers? Had they seen your resume?
  • Do people look happy and appear to be having fun?
  • Do senior management members sit with everyone else or do they have fancy lush offices?
  • Does the office layout promote collaboration between departments?
  • Are people eating lunch at their desk alone, or in groups in a cafeteria?

Finding the right culture is key to your career success. Think about your impressions of the corporate culture during your networking and interviewing, and capture your thoughts afterward. Pay attention to your intuition: if you have a bad feeling, it might be best to decline further interviews and/or an offer.

Randi Bussin founder and president of Aspire!, is a career coach and counselor with 25 years of business, entrepreneurial, and career coaching expertise.

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5 thoughts on “Corporate Culture: Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

  1. Edgar H. Schein’s book Organizational Culture and Leadership points out that there are four main elements to an organization’s culture:

    1) structural stability – by that he means that culture is shared but it is stable

    2) depth – which infers that it is unconscious part of a group and is therefore, less tangible and less visible than other parts.

    3) breadth – it covers all of the groups functioning, and lastly…

    4) patterning or integration – it provides the “gestalt” that ties together the various elements and that lies at a deeper level.

    His prime observation is that leaders both make and then are defined by the culture and if the culture becomes dysfunctional, the leader has to be the one that steps outside of his own creation to recreate new patterns and values.

    The impression I get from your post is that organizational culture is thin and easy to diagnosis – there are nothing wrong with the questions – I just don’t think that they will give an accurate view. Cultures resist easy and quick descriptions.

    I have written and continue to do so on the relationship between leadership, social networking strategies, and the use of culture. If you wish to review my ideas visit me at http://buscreate.blogspot.com

  2. Thank you for your comment. The 4 Points in Schein’s book are well taken. However, I do not think Randi perceives “culture” as thin or easy to diagnose. As she stated:

    “Although culture is intangible, there are a few things potential candidates can do to get a read on the environment before they say ‘yes’”.

    The key here is getting a “read” on the culture of an organization during the often cocooned interview process. Notice, she says again toward the end of the article:

    “Think about your impressions of the corporate culture during your networking and interviewing, and capture your thoughts afterward. Pay attention to your intuition: if you have a bad feeling, it might be best to decline further interviews and/or an offer.”

    The bottom line, from my perspective, is as a potential employee, know yourself. Know where you shine and the kind of environment that brings out the best in you. During the interview process do your best to get a feel for the culture of the hiring organization. What does your “gut” tell you? Assess the information you have and move forward with your decision.

    I will certainly take a look at your blog. Thanks again for the comment and feel free to let me know your thoughts anytime.

    -eb

  3. Hello, i think that i noticed you visited my site so i got here to “go back the favor”.I’m trying to to find things to enhance my site!I guess its good enough to use a few of your concepts!!

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