Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 3, no. 16
Getting Inside: How to Explore Company Culture
According to a recent survey, more than half of of U.S. workers want a change of career. What do you look for to make a change for the better? Of course you need to know how your skills align with opportunities. But what else should you consider?
Company culture is a key element of understanding what will make you happy at work.
But getting an insight into company culture can be challenging. What do you need to know to reduce the chances of jumping from the “frying pan into the fire”?
Culture is difficult to see from the outside. Once you become immersed in it, it is also difficult to describe as you begin to take it for granted. But getting a sense of the organizational culture is vital to finding a work environment that is a good fit for you.
|The diagram on the left summarizes the 3 elements of culture identified by Edgar Schein, a pioneer researcher in the field. He discussed the use of these 3 areas of exploration as a way of understanding culture.
This refers to dimensions that are observable, such as structures and processes. This might include the physical environment, procedures and policies, dress code, and communication materials. If you are interested in a company what do you notice when you are doing your research? When you go for interview, what catches your attention?
As an outsider, it is important to remember that things may not mean what you think. You need to explore further to test your assumptions and to find out what your observations mean to people on the inside. Things that are initially puzzling may make sense when you learn a bit more of the inside story.
This is how people in the company explain why they do what they do, and the methods they select to do it. It is the reasoning and rationale you will hear when you ask questions about what you observe.
These are the beliefs, perceptions, and feelings that may not even be conscious, but influence what gets done and how things get done.
When you explore these assumptions, you may identify contradictions. For example, there may be a conflict between an espoused value of “innovation” and processes that negatively reward risk-taking.
If you join an organization with the expectation of support to do innovative work, you will soon feel frustrated if you are constantly pushing against a culture that fosters the opposite.
Culture is Dynamic
It is important to remember that because culture is created by groups of people, it is dynamic. You may find very different cultures in different parts of any organization, often described as subcultures.
If you are considering the next step in your career, don’t neglect company culture when you are doing research and making decisions.
Because culture is complex, the way to gain insight is through open questions and careful listening. This requires connections with people who already know the company, either current or past employees.
Social media tools provide new ways to build the relationships you need to learn about company culture so that you can make more informed decisions. In the next issue I will discuss how Facebook can be a useful tool to explore company culture.
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