Understanding Workplace Culture

Bill Barnett has an important piece in HBR: “When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters.

“1. What should I learn? Understand the organization’s purpose — not just what they say they’re doing, but also how their purpose leads to decisions and what makes them proud. Learn how the organization operates. For example, consider the importance of performance, how the organization gets things done, the level of teamwork, the quality of the people, how people communicate, and any ethical issues.

Except for ethical issues, there’s no absolute standard of what’s best in organizational culture. Different purposes and different organizational features can be more or less appealing to different people. When you understand how the potential employer operates, you’ll need to consider how well that matches your goals. Your target organizational culture is an important part of your aspirations.”

It is very important to be conscious of your previous work cultures and expectations, and how you will fit in a new environment and position given your prior experience. For example, is the new job at a large or small organization? There are a number of important considerations to keep in mind when making that switch. Once you learn more about a prospective employer’s culture, you have to ask whether you are truly prepared for and comfortable with the changes the new organization will present. For some, the decision to move to a drastically different organizational structure or culture is important for career growth, but you have to be aware of what those changes actually mean in terms of your responsibilities, expectations, and status. If you are making a deliberate transition, in what ways can you prepare yourself for those changes?

HBR has another interesting article about projects as the new job interviews. This is a great idea, because it provides a one-off opportunity to test compatibility and capability much more so than a traditional interview ever could. It also provides the interviewee with a peek into what the company culture and work will really be like. Working on a project for your prospective employer could be an excellent way to test out their culture before you make a binding decision.

I suppose that consideration of culture is a luxury, not for the unemployed desperately in need of a salary. But to ensure you are making the right choice with a new job, look at the organization’s culture and purpose with a critical eye, be honest with yourself, and consider whether it will really be the right fit.

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