What Is Company Culture, and Why Does It Matter?
I have written several times about keeping culture in mind when you are engaging in business with people from a different country than your own. But another culture that you need to consider is “company culture.” Company culture is often defined as the values and goals inherent in that company—how the company interacts with other companies and customers. But it’s really much more than that.
I received an interesting email a little while back from Diana, a woman in Alaska. She had really benefited from my book, Ace Your Interview, and she wanted my advice about her particular situation. In the book, I encourage people to come up with a powerful three-minute story to highlight their strengths and accomplishments, so they are ready when the interviewer says, “So, tell me about yourself!”
Like many other people, Diana is uncomfortable tooting her own horn. But what made her even more hesitant was that she would be interviewing with a small local company in Nome, and in that culture, it is considered somewhat rude to brag. I encouraged her to consider that the interview is the place where it is pretty essential to tactfully brag. But I also suggested that if she got there and felt a strong native cultural atmosphere among the employees and interviewers, to tone it down a bit, and instead focus on telling stories that clearly defined her successes and skills, allowing the interviewers to draw the obvious conclusions.
This illustrates the broader nature of company culture: it’s not just how the company interacts with customers, it’s how the company interacts with employees and how employees interact with each other. And it’s very important that you make sure you will be comfortable there.
Local culture is one aspect, as Diana was experiencing. But in addition to that, how the employees interact with each other demonstrates the kinds of people the managers like to hire, as well as how the managers treat their employees. I like to think of it this way: many companies state their values publicly, but the values that are demonstrated by the people and through company stories are what make up the company culture.
When you go for an interview, not only are the interviewers deciding if you would be a good fit for them, you should be deciding if they would be a good fit for you. Questions to ask yourself might include:
- What are the company’s stated goals and values?
- Do the interviewers seem genuinely happy with their job? (I've had interviewers tell me straight out not to take the job!)
- Do the employees you meet there seem happy? Overworked? Trusting? Tense?
- Do you get the sense they believe in the company objective? That they are working towards a valuable goal?
- Are employees given the opportunity for growth? Are the benefits reasonable?
- Would your personality and mannerisms coordinate well with other employees?
- Is this a place where your values would be appreciated and valued?
It may be difficult to assess all these traits in one visit. In my book, I recommend several approaches ahead of time, including interest interviews with current or former employees and a thorough researching of the company. But nothing beats actually being on location and picking up the vibes for yourself. Remember, you’ll be spending at least 40 hours out of each week in that environment, and probably more. In order to be successful and happy a fit with the culture is critically important.
This is Lisa B. Marshall changing organizations, changing lives, and changing the world through better communication. If you’d like to learn more about leadership, influence, and communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk.
As always, your success is my business.
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