As someone who has been in the workforce for a minute in organizations of varying sizes, I have without a doubt seen a greater emphasis on organizational culture in the back half of my career. As millennials are becoming a driving force in the workplace, organizational culture can often be a determining factor of why someone chooses one company over another. While interviewing this summer, I always asked about culture. My question sounded something like “What can you tell me about the company culture?” Partially due to the lameness of my question, responses were all over the map. But I also realized I hadn’t fully thought through what I needed the answer to be.
So I made a list. And if you are entering the workforce, I humbly bequeath this to you. Because in my opinion, THIS is the “stuff.” Summer Fridays, free lunches, company trips, ping-pong tables, comfortable seating & cool office spaces…those are perks. Yes, awesome perks that can make the workplace more joyful and relaxed, but they’re still perks. I’m talking values- AKA your company’s SOUL. And these ingredients that can define a culture are both scaleable and universal. They can apply to a Fortune 500 corporation or a small start-up. They should span across multiple industries, divisions, apply to both office and remote employees and resonate at every level in the company.
My advice? If culture is indeed important to you (and I would argue that it should be), instead of asking my generic question above, know what you want & ask questions that will expose the company’s values. Therein lies your culture. So here’s what I came up with for my “organizational culture wish list.”
INNOVATION & FLEXIBILITY-Is the organization innovative, agile and committed to growth? Do they have their ear to the ground and able to make changes to adjust to market conditions and customer needs quickly? Do they listen to the suggestions of the brilliant people they hired at all levels? Are they open-minded and willing to consider a new path if the current one is not yielding results? Are all departments mutually accountable for the company’s growth?
HONESTY & TRANSPARENCY- Is leadership transparent about company challenges and how they are working to address, or is there an information vacuum? Does leadership say what they mean and mean what they say? Can those within the organization have honest, direct and respectful dialogue with one another? (I call it “big-girl talk.”) Will you know where you stand? Can you tell another employee if they are letting you down? Seriously. Do people talk to each other? Honest and transparent communication is a must have for building trust and your buying into the company.
COMPANY PRIDE – Are the employees genuinely proud of the company? No, really. I mean it. They don’t necessarily have to be skipping down the halls wearing company swag every day, but is there a palpable sense of pride across the company and mass adoption of its mission? Are employees complementary of the leadership? Are they appreciative of the talents, wisdom and skills of their colleagues? Do they have confidence in one another? Do employees like telling people they work there?
UNITY- “Us vs. Them” can be fairly common, unfortunately. “Us vs. them” can be cross-departmental, management vs. non-management, corporate vs. local offices, west coast vs. east coast teams. I’m not talking about a healthy competitive spirit. I’m talking about the blame, resentment and lack of shared vision & accountability that poisons a company’s culture, creating gridlock. And once divisiveness invades the culture, it only proliferates. So how does the company seek to bridge this gap? What is the connective tissue that binds together all practices, offices, and various roles within the company? How do various departments collaborate to “GET THE THING DONE?” Does the company breed a sense of humility and grace, valuing everyone’s contribution vs. my job is more important than this person’s contribution?
EMPHASIS ON SELF DEVELOPMENT/SELF-IMPROVEMENT/BEING A GOOD CITIZEN- Does the company or leadership care about your “why?” Do they care not only about your being success at work, but also your successful at life? Does company leadership embrace self-development and personal growth? Does it invest in ongoing training? Does it favor authenticity and vulnerability? Does it encourage your being a better citizen, allowing margin for volunteerism, generosity and using your gifts outside of the office for good? Does company leadership recognize that personal health and happiness make you a better employee? Is your organization generous? How do they contribute to make the world better?
So that’s my short list. But for me, it contains the cultural components that will make the biggest impact on not only your job satisfaction, but also your success. No one can force or manufacture a culture overnight. It is evergreen, organic and must be authentic. It’s an attitude that starts with the highest level of leadership, but also “grass roots” in its nature. It must be embraced, protected and nurtured by the employees. Culture drives behavior. It’s the makeup of the people you’ll be working with and as a wise man named Tom Cruise once said in the 1996 classic Jerry Maguire, “It’s a way of treating people.” Maybe you have a better idea than I did on what your Utopian culture looks like, but if not, I hope this is a start to uncovering the good stuff. Good luck out there.