Since the beginning of the year, I have received a number of questions around organizational culture. The questions can be broadly divided into two categories.
- Organizational level questions such as how do we assess our organizational culture? How do we change it? How do we fix it? How do we foster the right one?
- Individual-level questions, often arising as part of a recruitment process, such as how do I find out about the organizational culture? What questions can I prepare to get a better insight into how things are done? What are some indications of a poor organizational culture during the interview?
In this short blog, I share some of my insights on how you can get a sense of the organizational culture before you join. That way you can make an informed decision and save yourself what is likely to be a lot of stress and frustration afterward.
The culture of an organization is its personality. It can range from being uplifting, positive and energizing to tense, toxic and draining. Most of us want to be part of an organization whose culture espouses the former.
If you are preparing for an upcoming job interview, first of all, congratulations. It is normal to feel a bit anxious or nervous as you, of course, want to make a good impression and bring your best self to the table. But before you let your nerves get to you, remember that a good interview should serve as a two-way assessment.
A job interview is not just about you proving that you have the competencies, experience, and personality to be a good culture fit for your prospective employer. It is also an opportunity for you to assess whether the organization is a place that you want to work at and contribute your efforts, time and expertise to.
Think about it, should you be successful, you will be spending a lot of time in that new work environment. For most people that will easily be upwards from 40+ hours a week, not including commute time. That is more time than you spend with your family, friends and on other activities important to your personal development and personal wellbeing. So, getting a feel of who you may be joining is key.
In most interviews, there will be some time, usually at the end of the interview, allocated for you to ask questions about the role, the team you will be part of and the organization as a whole. In a way, this is your opportunity to ‘try before you buy’, to dig a little deeper and understand what kind of organizational culture you may be signing up for. If you are part of an interview process where this is not the case, that could be a red flag for organizational culture already.
But what exactly should you be asking?
Here are 7 questions areas that will help you get a better insight into organizational culture during your interview.
- How do you practically encourage and promote your organizational or corporate values? – Having lofty organizational values such as excellence or innovation is relatively easy. The question is not whether staff can recite them, but rather can the interview panel give you concrete examples of how those values are institutionalized into ways of working. What are initiatives and programs that promote and foster those values throughout the organization? What happens when an individual or department acts contrary to those values?
- What is one thing you like most about working here and one thing you would most like to change? – This is a relatively straight forward question. If the organization really is a great place to work at, then the interview panel should have no problem in giving you at least a few examples. At the same time, no place is perfect and there will always be something that people would like to change or improve. It is useful for you to get a sense of that in advance and directly from people who are already working in the organization.
- How would you describe the organizational culture here? – A well-prepared interview panel should be expecting a question along those lines. After all, it is only natural that culture fit has got to be established both ways. How does the interview panel answer the question? Are they able to describe the culture with ease and relatively succinctly? Do their responses seem genuine to you or do they leave you with some doubt and apprehension? And most importantly does it sound like a culture in which you would flourish and be able to give your best?
- How does this role engage with other stakeholders in the organization and outside? What have been the main challenges for this role to engage in the past? – The applicability of these questions will, of course, depend on the type of role you are interviewing for. But in most cases, roles engage both internally and externally. It is useful to learn more about engagement expectations and any obstacles that the role has faced in the past to fully connect and collaborate with others.
- How does management encourage and act upon feedback from employees? – You will want to find out if staff in the organization feel empowered to share their inputs, how communication is encouraged, how it flows and how suggestions from employees are implemented. Ask the interview panel to give you some concrete examples of feedback that was received and acted upon.
- How are conflicts usually resolved in this organization? – In every organization tensions and conflicts will arise at some point. The thing is not to avoid them or pretend they don’t exist but rather to understand how the organization manages conflicts and potential conflicts. Do they encourage collaboration and perspective-taking? Is it just one person i.e. the manager who decides? What mechanism is in place to address grievances, find productive solutions to move forward and learn from past mistakes?
- What are some of the most common reasons people leave your organization and what are concrete things you are doing to provide a positive employee experience? – Across the world, talent is in short supply. Employers who recognize this and value their employees will have strategies in place to retain their staff and will have a sound understanding of why people exit the organization. Vague responses from the interview panel may be an indication that talent retention is not a priority for this organization.
What are other questions to ask or additional ways to learn more about an organizational culture before you join? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.