Researching Corporate Culture

By Patricia Soldati

Sadly, many "top" companies today would flunk a spiritual audit. Hidden behind the endless talk of organizational values are profit-driven, high-pressure labor camps trading paychecks -- and diminishing perks - for your soul. All of which means that uncovering a company's corporate culture is a critical task for today's job searcher - as important as the job itself.

If you are seeking a job change, it is critical to do your research and find out whether that company's cultural values match your priorities and values. "Spiritually rich" companies are those that recognize their employees have needs and desires beyond the workday - children, aging parents, personal interests, church, and self.

Spiritually rich companies will demonstrate the following patterns:
• Trust, active participation, mutual respect, and a feeling of belonging.
• Open, honest communication flowing up, down and across an
• Congruity -- stated values are healthy and consistently practiced.
• Leadership emerges and is welcomed at all levels

The cumulative result of these four patterns is a high •group intelligence• which produces organizations that are flexible, responsive, and able to react to change quickly. These companies respect you as an individual and are productive, profitable entities.

4 Steps to Uncovering Cultural Truth

You may never truly understand a corporate culture until you have worked at the company for a while, but you can still learn a lot by researching ahead of time. Be pro-active. If there is an organization that you are considering applying to work for, take them through this 4-step process.

1. Identify your own cultural values

Use the list of questions below to create your own prioritized •cultural checklist•. Some of these may not be important to you - what is important is that you identify your priorities.

Community Spirit/Mutual Respect
• Do employees at all levels address each other by first names?
• How are new employees assimilated into the company?
• What programs or events exist to foster team spirit?
• How were you greeted?
• What do employee' voice mail greetings sound like?

Work-Life Balance
• Is there a flex-time program?
• Is tele-commuting an option?
• Is there daycare?
• Is there a corporate wellness program?

Open, Two-way Communication
• What mechanisms does the company have in place to get feedback
  from its employees?
• Is salary information accessible to all employees?
• How are decisions made - and how are those decisions communicated?
• Who sits where at meetings?

• Is it relaxed or formal?
• Is there a casual dress code? Does it operate at all levels of
  the organization?
• Are you free to drop into your bosses office? His boss?
• Are all employees on a first-name basis?

• To what degree does the company emphasize results?
• What opportunities exist for training and personal development?
• How do employees learn/know what is expected of them?
• Is there latitude for creativity and innovation?

Inclusion vs. Exclusion
• Are people of various backgrounds and personal preferences welcomed?
• How successful has the organization been at fostering diversity?
• What is the percentage of (women or minorities, etc.) in
  management positions?

Rewards and Recognition
• Are employees appropriately rewarded and recognized?
• What is the basis for rewards and recognition? (i.e., individual vs.
  team vs. organization based; performance vs. tenure)?
• Are non-sales based contributions recognized?
• What recognition programs are in place?

Physical Environment
• Does the physical environment provide comfort and inspire productivity?
• Is the space attractive, clean and well-kept, with equipment in
  good working order?
• Are there differences due to status or function?
• Are personal office/cube spaces decorated ?

Groups and Networks
• How political is this company?
• How are promotions earned?
• Are there collegial groups within the company?

• Does the company have a sense of history…of legacy?
• Is it communicated inside and outside the company?
• What are the stories and myths that people talks about?
• Are these shared internally and externally?
• In what ways does the organization fulfill its social obligations
  to the community?

2. Research the company's culture

Now that you have identified what cultural values are important to you, it's time to research how they measure up against the company's culture. Obvious sources to begin your research are the company's annual report and website, but take these with a grain of salt. These are institutional views used to "woo" shareholders, clients and potential employees. For greater objectivity, talk to company employees, or try or

3. If you interview...arrive early, and observe, observe, observe.

Spend time observing how current employees interact with each other, how they are dressed, and their level of courtesy and professionalism. During your interview, ask selected questions from the list of cultural values you have identified as important to you, to obtain a better feel for the corporate culture.

4. Talk to Employees

If you have the opportunity to meet with employees, ask one or more of these questions:

1. What 5 words would you use to describe your company?
2. What's it really like to work here?
3. What skills and characteristics does the company value?
4. Do you feel as though you know what is expected of you?
5. How do people from different departments interact?
6. What behaviors get rewarded in this company?
7. How effectively does the company communicate to its employees?

Your decision to work for a company is a major one. Look beyond the job description and the paycheck -- and ensure it's a match worth your time and commitment.

Patricia Soldati is former President & COO of a Fortune 500 national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1999. As a career specialist, she helps corporate professionals find work they love -- both within the corporate arena, and by leaving it behind. She is a Certified Coach and Thought Leader for a major workplace-related website. To learn how she can support your search for an exceptional working life, visit

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