Assess Corporate Culture to Find a Good Fit for You
A friend of mine found the perfect job. It was exactly the kind of position she wanted. The project she’d be heading would draw on her extensive experience while offering significant challenge. What could go wrong?
Everything, it turned out.
In short order she realized that the culture of the organization wasn’t a good fit for her. She was used to making decisions quickly and moving on; here, numerous parties had to be consulted prior to any important decision. She was used to using her judgment in letting people work from home; here, she had to show management proof of their productivity. She was used to working with people who enjoyed working together; here, people worked in silos and seemed leery of the very notion of collaboration.
From the outside, it’s difficult to assess an organization’s culture—the way people treat each other and their customers; the beliefs, values, and standards that drive the organization; the policies and procedures that govern it; the shared norms, unspoken rules, and underlying assumptions. But before taking a new job, it’s important to learn as much as you can so you won’t encounter the kind of culture clash my friend experienced.
One way is to do a culture walk; that is, walk around the organization and carefully observe. How is space allocated? What do people display in their cubicles and offices? How do people seem to be interacting? Where do people meet?
Another way is to ask questions of interviewers: How would you describe the company? How does management communicate with employees? What skills does the company value? How would you describe team efforts? How do people collaborate? How does the company help employees advance? Even if interviewers give canned answers, the sum of the responses can offer insight into what the organization is like.
It’s also ideal to meet with a few employees to get their take on the organization. Ask: How would you describe the organization? What frustrations do teams experience? What happens if a project falls behind? Are you kept well-informed about things that affect your ability to do your job? What do you like most and least about working here?
And a question that can be especially revealing: If you could change one thing in the way this company functions, what would it be? Of course, if you’re not permitted to talk to employees, that in itself is a clue.
These questions don’t have right or wrong answers. The answers, whatever they are, are data that can help you form a picture of the organization. Although there are various opinions about the signs of an optimal culture as well as the signs of a culture in trouble, what matters is whether the culture will be a good fit for you. If not, don’t get sucked in by what sounds like a great job. Look elsewhere.