How to Evaluate Company Culture

If you’re thinking about taking a new job, use these tips to decide if your potential employer’s company culture is the right fit.

London Communication Agency's Office. Photo by Chris Gascoigne.
London Communication Agency’s Office. Photo by Chris Gascoigne.

Envision your LinkedIn profile five years from now. What do you want it to say about who you are and what you have accomplished?

If you’re currently thinking about your next career opportunity, ask yourself if the grass is really greener on another playing field. What’s the right place for you — the one that will allow you to write your own story — in a job that is enjoyable, rewarding, and fulfilling, too.

To understand career success, here’s the trifecta — drivers, core values, and culture.

1. Drivers: What really motivates you?

  • Interest in the work itself
  • Opportunity for growth
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Earned recognition

Are you surprised that money isn’t on the list? Traditionally, money doesn’t motivate. It is important, especially if you aren’t making enough to make ends meet. However, in terms of motivation, the question is equity — will you be fairly compensated for the value that you bring to your company?

Before you make a career decision, take an honest look at your own motivation. You’ve invested in your current job (and employer), and your employer has invested in you. What needs to change for you to feel more successful? What can you do to make that happen?

2. Core Values: What motivates them?

Now look at the companies that you’re considering (including your current employer). What is it that attracts you? Are you interested in the company’s business? When you look at the company’s website, or talk to someone who works there, are there themes that resonate for you?

Are they more successful? How and why?

Do they create products or provide a service that will make you feel good about what you would be doing? Are they making a positive impact on our environment? Are they innovative and entrepreneurial, encouraging new ideas and supporting growth initiatives? Do they welcome diversity or encourage community involvement or social responsibility?

Think about the story that they’re telling and begin connecting the dots. Look at profiles of their employees (and former employees) on LinkedIn — what can you learn about their roles and responsibilities, their achievements, and their growth and development? How long are people staying with the company, and if they left, where did they go next? Is there potential for you to create the job of your dreams?

3. Culture: How do you (and they) measure success?

It’s hard to evaluate a company’s culture without working there. Think like an anthropologist — find opportunities to observe the attitudes and patterns of behavior that exist in their work environment.

Do you know anyone who works there? Check out your LinkedIn connections. Look for YouTube videos or blog posts, too. And of course, take advantage of industry events to get to know people who work there or work with the company as consultants, contractors, and vendors.

Is there a formal or informal hierarchy? Each of us has a different approach to organization and structure. Institutions need established frameworks and guidelines. Startups tend to have dynamic organizations, without strict rules or boundaries. Be honest with yourself — which is a better environment for you and why? Will you be able to navigate successfully?

Who is in charge, and how did they get there? Don’t look only at the C-Suite. Every company has business units and work groups. Who are the leaders and what are they responsible for accomplishing? Have they written articles or been interviewed? What do they say about collaboration, process, and results?

Does the company have an evaluation/review process for stakeholders at all levels? How do they talk about their clients or customers? Do they have a method of evaluating client or customer feedback or advocacy? What about their employees — does the company have a performance management system that is focused on KRAs and KPIs? What are the metrics for people with your job and career plan? Who would be your primary advisor on career growth?

Essentially, you should write a short story about your career in your current firm, and another version in any others that you’re considering. Look at the drivers, values, and culture, and determine whether you can find the balance between what you want and what you can realistically achieve.

Which leads us back to the question about whether the grass is truly greener. It’s up to you to create your own future: it’s your story, your career, your investment. What’s your investment strategy?

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