Is A Company's Culture For Real? Or Just BS? Here's How to Tell.

Between cool perks and lists of values on walls and career sites, it seems like it's easy to get a sense of a company's culture.  But when we ask job seekers, they usually use benign and visceral words like "cool" and "seems like a great place to work."  

Similarly, our clients are often asking: "can you help make us an employer of choice?" Sure. But for whom?

Whether you're a job seeker, CEO or recruiter, understanding a company's culture (or lack thereof) is key to determining if you fit, who fits and how to find the right people who fit.  Here are eight key questions to ask as your litmus test:

1) Does the company have a set of values? Who developed them, when and how?

Pay attention to when they were developed and whether employees had a chance to provide insight and feedback. It's also important to know whether they've been revised since then.

2) Are the values visible?

Beyond one list on the wall, where else can you find or see the values? Look for evidence of promotion and sharing on the company's career sites, in employee workspaces, through hashtags and campaigns, in orientation or onboarding and other visible places. The more they're shared the more likely they are to be lived.

3) Can employees give specific examples of how the values are lived? For example, if transparency is a value, how quickly and easily can they give you an example of how it manifests itself in your daily work?

See how quickly employees answer. First, do they know the values and second, do they have clear examples? If they hem and haw, or give you broad generalities, you know they're not permeating the everyday of the organizational culture.

4) Is the CEO involved in culture? How?

Ask about the role the CEO plays in the culture and for specific examples of how he or she models it.  If the culture was recently created or a project was done to launch th values, ask what role the CEO played in the project.

5) How is culture measured? Is alignment with values part of employee performance reviews?

It's one thing to have culture visible, but how is it measured? Ask for examples of how employees and leaders know the culture is strong and how they get feedback and insight on culture initiatives. Extremely key is to understand if employees are evaluated on how they live the culture and how they get work done in alignment with the culture.

6) How is culture part of the company’s strategy? How often is it evaluated? And how?

It's also important to understand the role culture plays in company strategy. Strong cultures are bellwethers for company decisions and culture is a key part in regular strategy conversations and operational actions.

7) Are employees hired based on fit with culture? If so, how is that assessed and measured in the interview process? (It can’t just be “we know the culture and can tell if they’ll fit”)

If you're a job seeker you might know this from your interviews. Otherwise, just flat out ask. Also important to know is how it factors in to the hiring decision and to what extent.

8) If the CEO/leadership team described the culture in 3-5 words and then employees were asked to do the same, would there be alignment?

This is a great exercise for organizations to do--when we do it with clients, they are always surprised by the results and the gaps that exist. Leaders often pretend they know their workforces when they really don't!

Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps  companies build cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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