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How to Inquire About Corporate Culture

A client shared a great article about the importance of organizational culture awareness for job seekers as well as organizations wanting to attract top talent. Rather than asking hiring companies about the uniqueness of their organizations, the author Adam Grant suggests asking and listening for stories will reveal the organizational culture and the hidden shared beliefs that drive behaviors at a work place.

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Recently, I have been playing with 5 of Gerd Hofstede’s 6 cultural dimension indicators to see whether they may be useful to assess and compare organizational culture.

  1. Low or High Power Distance
    How accessible are the leaders in the organization and how do they relate to the frontline staff? How complex is the organizational structure? How short or long are reporting and project approval paths?
  2. Individualism vs. Collectivism
    How does your organization celebrate success, for the individual, the team and the organization? Are employees essentially competing against each other or is team effort valued over lone wolf mentalities?
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance
    How quickly are decisions made? How much information is required and how complex is the approval process for new initiatives? How risk averse is the organization?
  4. Masculinity vs. Femininity
    In a cultural context, Hofstede defines masculinity as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Femininity is defined as “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” (Weak in this context may mean a less experienced team member or a person requiring or simply benefiting from special accommodations.) While the labels may sound dated and may have to be modified to reflect the current climate for work place discourses, the concept of conquering versus integration is nevertheless an important marker for corporate culture and behavior.
  5. Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation
    Are traditions valued and implemented in long-range plans? Are quarterly results the main decision drivers? Is institutional knowledge valued or does the organization put innovation front and center?

Additional dimensions came to mind when inquiring about an organization’s culture that are not captured by Hofstede’s traditional culture model, which was original developed for national cultural assessments:

Learning Propensity
What does the on-boarding process look like? What does the organization do to encourage continuous learning at the organizational level as well as at the individual level? How are mistakes handled?

Generative vs. Critical Feedback
How do employees know that they are successful? How is feedback given and received in the organization? Is up-chain feedback encouraged? Is feedback used as a constructive personnel development tool or is it usually used to reprimand staff? An easy gauge is to ask whether employees are usually looking forward to receiving feedback and performance evaluations or if they dread it.

Level of Internal Cohesiveness
How would the front line staff answer these questions? The manager? The leader of the organization? Vastly differing responses indicate internal disconnects.

Why are these important considerations for job seekers? While salary and benefits are important to meet your needs for your life outside of your workplace, the company culture will be the driving factor for long-term job satisfaction and professional growth and most importantly, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker) – every day and all the time.

 

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