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,
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
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
Community Spirit/Mutual Respect
Do employees at all levels address
each other by first names?
How are new employees assimilated into
What programs or events exist to foster
How were you greeted?
What do employee' voice mail greetings
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
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
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
What opportunities exist for training
and personal development?
How do employees learn/know what is
expected of them?
Is there latitude for creativity and
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
Rewards and Recognition
Are employees appropriately rewarded
What is the basis for rewards and recognition?
(i.e., individual vs.
team vs. organization based; performance
Are non-sales based contributions recognized?
What recognition programs are in place?
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
Are personal office/cube spaces decorated
Groups and Networks
How political is this company?
How are promotions earned?
Are there collegial groups within the
Does the company have a sense of history
Is it communicated inside and outside
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 WetFeet.com or Vault.com.
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
2. What's it really like to work here?
3. What skills and characteristics does the
4. Do you feel as though you know what is
expected of you?
5. How do people from different departments
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