"One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.”
- Jeff Bezos (Founder & CEO, Amazon)
My parents spent their entire career of over 35 years working for the government. My uncle, on the other hand, worked for a private organisation for more than 3 decades. They used to crib about work not going well but continued to work for the same organisation throughout.
I, on the other hand, have worked for 3 different organisations in my 16 years of work experience. Some of my mates have jumped as many if not more. When I sit back and think why I did this, I realised that I have missed checking on organisation culture every time before joining.
Though there are quite a few reasons why people jump jobs, one of the primary reasons is organisational culture. Yet, there aren’t many things we do to assess the culture of the organisation before we join them.
So how do you then find out if an employer has the right culture that will fit you? If you are looking to make a career out of a job, then you need to put in more effort before you can pick your employer of choice.
It starts with you. You need to have a clear picture of what you need and want. This could change depending on what stage of life you are in.
If money is your only driving factor; just go for it and grab the first one you find? But if you are looking for more, read on.
One of the critical things that you need to do if you are caught in a toxic culture is to start looking out immediately. It could take you at least 2 – 3 months to land a job depending on the market and your experience. If you want to be picky, you will need more time
Get started before it’s too late. Don’t get desperate to land a job. Desperation could only lead to a poor decision.
Here is what you need to do:
The astrologers are bribed (Employer review sites).
Some websites can help you with employee feedback about the organisation. However, I have my own doubts about the credibility of the information available. In some markets, I have heard stories of movie ticket coupons given to employees for providing positive feedback to increase the organisations’ rating.
So use it as a guideline rather than for decision making.
Walk the talk (The employer and talent brand)
These days there is so much emphasis on brand building that organisations have started investing heavily on marketing their employer and talent brand. You need to look for those success stories that resonate with you.
There are two challenges here. One, not all good employers have a significant online presence. Two, the ones drumming might not walk the talk.
So, again, use this as a guide rather than for decision making.
The insider information (Recruiter connects)
Your recruiter could be your best friend if you are lucky enough to get a good one. Try and gather as much information as possible from them.
Ask about employee development programs.
What is the emphasis on learning? Are there any learning platforms that they use? Do they set development goals?
You can ask about the values of the organisation. You can go one step ahead and ask them about situations where these values were demonstrated.
How is the culture within the team you would get into? Flexibility and autonomy. How is the manager seen by the team and the leadership above?
What is the organisation’s turnover rate? What steps are being taken to address them?
The real story (Job descriptions)
Good employers spend time writing great job descriptions, they realise the importance of it. A well-written job description shows the planning that has gone behind the position. It provides excellent clarity for the new hire and lays the foundation for success.
Does the job description talk about the purpose of the role? Does it call out the behaviours or competencies that are required to be successful in the position? or does it just call out only the years of experience and a long list of skills?
Having behaviours as part of the job description is one but being interviewed is another. Behaviour is a significant driver of culture. If you are being assessed for the right behaviours or culture fit/add, then it’s a good sign.
A great conversation (The interview)
The conversation with the hiring manager and/or the hiring team is your gold mine. This is your opportunity to gather as much information as possible. You need to be prepared for this moment.
Great leaders are great relationship builders. They always carry a smile and convey a story. Assess how the conversation flows, is it a monologue? are they forthcoming and giving you more information about the team?
Post your meeting, do a retrospect. Did you like the conversation?
Check their social presence? Search other functional or skill-specific forums like a Github or a Behance or see if they have written any articles in LinkedIn. These will speak volumes about the person you are going to report to. Finding a thought leader in your space is like finding a needle in a haystack.
If Managers are the reason why people leave, why not ask them a few questions during the interview?
So, here are a few things that you need to learn about
Purpose (why does the role exist?)
For all its importance, there isn’t enough focus on the “Purpose” of a role. You will not find any employee engagement survey without at least one question on “Purpose”. Yet, many job descriptions seldom have a purpose written.
A purpose statement is usually a 3 – 4 line statement that connects the role to the larger purpose or the vision and strategy of the organisation, telling us why the position exists. This applies to every single role within the organisation.
Your prospective hiring manager not being able to articulate this well, is a clear indication of the disconnect the manager has with the organisation.
Learn more about the product you are getting into; how important is the product for the organisation? Is it a cash cow or a star? This question can, in fact, helps you assess a bit more about the culture. The culture in an organisation whose product and/or service is fighting for margins will be very different from the one that gives excellent returns.
The question you could ask is
Tell me how is the product/service doing now? How does it compare to the other products/services within the organisation and from your competitor?
What is the market penetration and where you do you see the product/service in the next 3 – 4 years.
Team structure and scope of the role
A flat hierarchy could mean promotions are far and few. If the scope is broad, then it could mean a more entrepreneurial role. When an organisation is more entrepreneurial, you will find a more open-minded culture, one that accepts failures and has an emphasis on learning.
You should be able to assess the scope from the job description if not, then here is your opportunity
How big is the team and how many are in the same role?
How many stakeholders do I have to manage internally?
Tell me more about the organisation structure.
Culture cascades from the leadership team. However, getting to know about the top leadership team could be difficult. A leadership team that is focused on creating the right behaviours and hiring candidates with the right behaviours tend to perform better in the long run.
Assess the leadership qualities of the manager, too; there is absolutely nothing wrong in being safe than sorry.
I wouldn’t prefer asking about values but would focus on Corporate Sustainability. An organisation that focuses on Sustainability takes all its stakeholders into account, which includes its employees. If you are new to this topic, take a look at UN Sustainable Development Goals for a start. Corporate Sustainability is not CSR.
Here are a couple of questions.
How did the senior leadership team approach the COVID situation? What steps did they take to ensure and how? Why did they do what they did (like a layoff or pay cut)
What leadership style do you follow, and why?
Are there any steps/measures taken to align the organisation towards UN SGD?
Organisations do exit interviews to do culture checks. You could do the same. Leverage your LinkedIn network to find alumni and gather information about the culture. This could be a good source of information as you could gather a bit more thorny information like politics and power centres.
A workspace can speak a thousand words about the culture of an organisation. Seeing a lot of cabins indicate a more hierarchical culture. A cramped space could mean an organisation fighting for margins. An organisation that focuses on collaboration will have more open spaces.
This is a question you need to ask yourself. Would I feel comfortable working in that space for a long time?
Though these could help you understand the culture to an extent, there are other factors that a lot harder to decipher. We can only hope that such things are minimal and not toxic.
hank you so much for your time and patience listening. Talk to you soon with a different topic.
Until then, Ciao!