When we contemplate our career path within our company, one of the most important things to consider is something that is very difficult to get a read on—corporate culture. Culture is defined as the environment around which the corporate mission is achieved, and the values that define what the culture will be.
Why does it matter? Understanding the culture will help you operate with intention, and define how to get from Point A to Point B. A few years ago, I made a transition from a highly creative agency environment to a very metrics-driven technology company. The drastic culture change took me off-guard, and it took me a few months to come to realize that my new C-suite execs were most concerned about metrics and analytics—and not with the creative approach to my campaign.
Understanding your company culture and values will help you add value where there could be gaps. I worked in a company once where communication was terrible and led to misunderstandings, duplication of efforts, and divergent ways of doing things. Once I recognized this, I implemented regular briefing sessions with both the team and the executives so that we were all moving together in the same direction. We defined processes for tackling our work so that everyone understood how things were done, the necessary approval processes, and timelines.
These simple changes better managed expectations so that people were not surprised by the process or timeframe, and they respected that we needed to be thorough. For the team, we felt a culture shift from siloed responsibilities to teamwork. Employees began supporting one another in their tasks because we were clearly communicating our needs.
There are some critical questions to ask when evaluating culture. How are decisions made—and do execs seek the input and counsel of the team? Do people matter more than money? Is there a culture of promoting from within or are the opportunities limited? Is professional development encouraged through training, attending industry events, and being mentored by management for bigger responsibilities?
When it comes to culture, I often think of the saying “people won’t remember the things you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel.” Remember, company culture isn’t just internal—it impacts how outsiders see you as well.
Questions of culture are interesting when a company is based in another country. In fact, culture can be a huge stumbling block to doing business when not handled well. I’ve worked in companies that were negatively impacted because the approaches that worked in another country didn’t play well in the U.S., but the U.S. teams were not empowered to make necessary changes.
When working with or for an international company, here are the questions I would ask:
• To what degree are the U.S. operations autonomous?
• How is the headquarters office influencing or dictating policies and processes for the U.S. team?
• Is there a counterpart for my role elsewhere, and how will he/she effect my role?
• Will I be reporting into a U.S.-based manager and a foreign manager? How will I need to manage conflict between the two?
• What is the process for making the big decisions and executing the mission?
• Everyone says they are a team. Does this company actually work as a global team and execute assignments together?
When the job market is lean, it’s difficult to take the time to evaluate the culture when you simply need a job. But right now, when our industry is undergoing mergers, buyouts, and personnel shake-ups, there was never a more opportune time to identify a culture where you can thrive.
Some words of caution—don’t only listen to the reputation a company has, because we all know gossip and hearsay can be wrong. Put more weight on what you hear from people who have worked there or worked closely with multiple members of the team.
In 2019, be intentional about making sure you are in a positive culture. A great first step: make a list of the things that are most important to you. And remember—you are your own best change agent. If you don’t like the culture at your current employer, you can take the initiative to begin implementing small changes to move things in a positive direction. Intangibles like a positive attitude, pouring into your team with renewed enthusiasm, and a focus on improved communication can be the beginning of a shift to a great culture.