The ability to read an organization’s culture can be a valuable skill. For instance, if you’re looking for a job, you’ll want to choose an employer whose culture is compatible with your values and in which you’ll feel comfortable. If you can accurately assess a potential employer’s culture before you make your job decision, you may be able to save yourself a lot of anxiety and reduce the likelihood of making a poor choice. Similarly, you’ll undoubtedly have business transactions with numerous organizations during your professional career, such as selling a product or service, negotiating a contract, arranging a joint work project, or merely seeking out who controls certain decisions in an organization. The ability to assess another organization’s culture can be a definite plus in successfully performing these pursuits.
You can be more effective at reading an organization’s culture if you use the following behaviors. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to look at this skill from the perspective of a job applicant. We’ll assume that you’re interviewing for a job, although these skills can be generalized to many situations. Here’s a list of things you can do to help learn about an organization’s culture.
- Observe the physical surroundings
Pay attention to signs, posters, pictures, photos, style of dress, and length of hair, degree of openness between offices, and office furnishings and arrangements.
- Make note of those with whom you met
Was it the person who would be your immediate supervisor? Or did you meet with potential colleagues, managers from other departments, or senior executives? Based on what they revealed, to what degree do people interact with others who may not be in their particular work area or at their particular organizational level?
- How would you characterize the style of people you met?
Are they formal? Casual? Serious? Laid-back? Open? Not willing to provide information?
- Look at the organization’s human resource manual
Are formal rules and regulations printed there? If so, how detailed are these policies?
- Ask questions of the people with whom you meet
The most valid and reliable information tends to come from asking the same questions of many people (to see how closely their responses align) and by talking with individuals whose jobs link them to the outside environment. Questions that will give you insights into organizational processes and practices might include: What is the background of the founders? What is the background of current senior managers? What are their functional specialties? Were they promoted from within or hired from outside? How does the organization integrate new employees? Is there a formal orientation program? Are there formal employee training programs? How does your boss define his or her job success? How would you define fairness in terms of reward allocations? Can you identify some people here who are on the “fast track”? What do you think has put them on the fast track? Can you describe a decision that someone made that was well received? Can you describe a decision that didn’t work out well? What were the consequences for the decision maker? Could you describe a crisis or critical event that has occurred recently in the organization? How did top management respond? What was learned from the experience?