Learning a Company’s Culture

What is culture?

SC&C Company cultureA company’s culture comes into existence when the company does, being comprised of the values of the founder (or founders). People embellish it by ascribing symbols, assumptions, and beliefs to it, but it all comes down to the original reason for creating the company in the first place.

Employees do not create the culture of the company. Founders hire people that they think will complement their dreams and ambitions, which in turn reaffirms the culture of the company. The bigger the company gets the less likely an individual employee is going to affect the culture.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad culture, it’s either a strong or weak culture. And a good culture for somebody else may not be a good culture for you.” – Brian Chesky

Like any culture it may evolve over time, but generally speaking, the fundamentals don’t change. Remember, Henry Ford founded a car-building company to provide consistent quality with easily replaceable parts, cheaply enough that most people could eventually afford one. And what is the culture of Ford Motor Company® today? It still provides a durable vehicle with easily changeable parts that most people should eventually be able to afford.

A more creative company like Google®, with its offices full of open workspaces, art on the walls, slides between levels, company social functions, free food, office hammocks and so on, remains largely unchanged from its original values. They provide a creative environment where creative people can do their best work.

Where do you fit?

It’s important to assess the culture of a company before you make plans to join it. Some of that research might be as simple as looking at their offices through images on their website. It’s pretty clear that the company culture of Google is laissez-faire when it comes to typical office formality.

You will have to dig a little deeper elsewhere by reading the company blog, which even if they don’t say directly, often intimates expectations for employees. Additionally, there are websites that you can visit where employees give candid opinions about their company, much the same way that people review popular restaurants.

SC&C Holiday ScheduleThere you can learn about employer expectations, such as holiday schedules, overtime, frequency (and adequacy) of reviews. You can assess the requirements for promotions, and even how well HR deals with employee requests, including additional education, on-going training, and so on.

The first step toward determining whether you will be a good match for a prospective employer is by figuring out what you want from a company’s culture. Do you want a family-friendly company? A social as well as professional outlet? An emphasis on work-life balance —Brandon Spruth, Xolia.com

Find Internal Contacts

Don’t forget about visiting LinkedIn to find employees that work in your target company. Pay particular attention to people in your own field, or that hold a position that you are interested in. By cultivating a relationship you can learn a great deal about the company. Make a friend and it can even become part of your job application; internal recommendations carry a great deal of weight.

Read up on the C-suite executives, particularly the CEO, to see if the direction they are steering the company gives you confidence. Are they heading down a progressive path that is going to keep the company in business? Remember how slowly Kodak converted from photographs to digital imaging and the consequences of that.

Do Employees Feel Valued?

All the mission statements in the world are meaningless if the employees don’t embrace them. Assess employees’ opinions where possible. Does the company have low turnover rates and lots of employees who have been with the company for years?

Is there evidence that the employees think they’re making a difference in the world—that they’re contributing to the community—that their efforts are meaningful? Are they participatory? Do they take ownership of problems and work on solutions?

Conduct a Preliminary Interview

A preliminary interview can tell you a great deal about the company, too. Are the people upbeat and happy to be there? Are the interviewers enthusiastic and glad to meet you? Throughout the office what you are looking for are genuine smiles, and people with a bounce in their step; what you don’t want to see is desks stacked with old-looking papers, and employees with glassy-eyed stares.

SC&C Getting to know a company's cultureAnd if you see an old-fashioned employee bulletin board (they still exist in surprising numbers) take some time to look it over. It can be extraordinarily revealing. If there is a photograph of a couple of dogs and a note that says “I have to be in London from the 4th until the 7th. Who wants to watch Vince and Julius for me?” then you know you’ve found a great place where employees are involved with each other.

Assess your needs. Do you require a thoroughly structured environment with complete predictability in order to be at your best? Is a little bit of chaos good for you? Would you be willing to accept marketing innovations from unlikely sources, such as an insightful janitor? If you understand where you are mentally, and what you deem to be “acceptable,” you will have a much better idea of where you fit. There has never been a more appropriate showcase for the old adage “Know thyself.”