Decoding Corporate Culture

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Decoding Corporate Culture

“Fit” is of growing importance to professionals as they seek their next opportunity. The result of a 2006 Gallup poll reinforces this. It states that job seekers will more often bypass a higher compensation for a better working environment (i.e. culture). This says loud and clear that a good cultural fit is of increasing value for professionals. So how do you assess cultural fit?

Much of the information gathered about a company’s culture comes through networking with individuals in a target company and during the interview process. Deciphering an organization’s culture through their website can give you some insights however remember, a company’s website is part of their marketing and tells you how they may want to be perceived vs how they truly are.

To begin looking at an organizations culture, you want to have a general framework to assess culture. A culture in general is defined by its people, language, environment and behaviors or traditions. Getting to the heart of these starts with knowing the right questions to ask during networking conversations and interviews. Below are some suggested questions to consider when assessing the culture of an organization.

People. When decoding a corporate culture I encourage clients to consider the demographic of the employees or leadership team.

  1. Is everyone about the same age, race, and gender, or is it intentionally diverse?
  2. What is the professional and educational background of the employees?
  3. Does everyone have a minimum level of education like an MBA or JD or does hands-on experience hold greater value?
  4. Does the company value certain credentials, like six sigma training, or series 7 licenses as a minimum requirement for consideration?
  5. Where did the top leadership come from? The culture of an organization is often set by the top leadership. Knowing the background of the top leadership such as Sales, Finance or Operations, will give you a good idea if the organization is top line or bottom line focused.

Once you have gathered some of this information, how do these factors align with you? Will you easily fit the demographic or will you need to prepare to speak about the value of your differences?

Language. Understanding the language and communication style of an organization can offer great insights into its culture.

  1. Is it a culture that reinforces face to face communication? If you are relationship oriented this maybe an important question to ask. If the workforce is remotely located consider how you will cultivate and manage those relationships.
  2. Does most communication occur in meetings or through memos? Will your calendar be filled with meetings or will you have to anticipate scrolling through dozens and dozens of emails each day?
  3. Is the communication style technology dependent? Will you receive an email from your colleague in the neighboring office? Do employees communicate through instant messaging or Blackberrys? Will you need to be comfortable navigating the latest technology in order to keep up?
  4. In terms of language, some company cultures have such a specific language it requires a manual to understand all the acronyms, lingo and jargon, is this the case at an organization you are considering? How are you going to pick up on it quickly?

Answers to these kinds of questions will lend great insights into a company’s culture and again knowing your own communication style and preference will help you determine fit and alignment.

Environment pertains to the physical environment. This often plays a bigger role than people realize. Given the number of hours we spend at work, you want to be sure it is an environment where you feel comfortable, you can focus and be creative. Our physical environments either give us energy or drain energy from us. Large corporations have recognized the value of this when creating corporate campus’ that create an environment conducive to comfort and ultimately productivity. To assess an organization’s environment, it’s best to do it from the inside. Ask for a tour either while there networking or interviewing.

  1. When you look around is the pace relaxed and calm, humming along or frantic?
  2. Are things orderly or are there piles of unfinished work everywhere?
  3. Is it bright and airy or is it a sea of endless cubes?
  4. Are employees dressed casually or in business attire?
  5. Does the physical environment lend positive or negative energy?

An organization’s physical environment is often overlooked, but in talking with various employees, it contributes heavily to job satisfaction.

Traditions or Behaviors. Assessing an organizations culture also has to do with how the organization as a group of employees collectively conducts itself. This is about integrity.

  1. Does the organization behave in a manner that is consistent with its words, promises, and mission statement? Ask for examples that demonstrate this congruence.
  2. Does an organization walk the talk?
  3. Does an organization handle sensitive situation with discetion and integrity?
  4. Is it employee focused? Are there development plans, career paths, and mentoring programs?
  5. Is teamwork encouraged or discouraged? Is success defined by level of collaborativeness or competitiveness?
  6. Are personal achievements celebrated, like anniversary dates?

These things vary in level of importance to different people. By first understanding what your values are and what is important to you as it compares with an organization’s values is often a great predictor of compatibility and fulfillment.

So as you can see there are various factors to consider when decoding corporate culture but hopefully by knowing the right questions to ask you will find that good fit.


About the Author:

Cultivating Careers was founded by Karen Kodzik, a Career Consultant who has worked with individuals in transition for over 13 years. Karen meets professionals at various points on their career path and works with them to gain a clearer sense of where they want to take their careers. Karen Kodzik holds a Masters Degree in Counseling with an emphasis in Career Development. Karen couples seasoned counseling skills with a solid business acumen. She has coached and consulted various levels of professionals across industries to successfully reaching that next point in their career.