Taking a leadership role in a new organization can be exciting. It may even strike you as an opportunity to start fresh, and to sharpen your skills in service to a new team and a new vision. But going to a different organization can also bring some trepidation; indeed, it’s very normal to head into a new position with some unanswered questions. Some of those questions may pertain to organizational culture.
Here’s the thing about organizational culture: As you consider a new role, you can and should ask questions to discover what the culture is like and to verify that it’s a good fit for you. And, likewise, the manager or recruiter you’re working with should ask you questions, trying to assess the cultural alignment from their end.
But until you’re actually in the building doing the job, you just can’t be sure what an organizational culture is really like. And in some cases, you might discover that the organizational culture is not what the company advertised to you during the hiring process.
So what I recommend is simply this: Be attentive to culture issues as you begin your new role. Have your eyes and ears open and find out for yourself what kind of organizational culture you’ve walked into. Gain some clarity regarding both its strengths and the areas where it could stand some improvement.
How, you ask? Let me offer a few considerations.
Assessing Organizational Culture at Your New Company
There are several categories you might think about as you assess organizational culture.
Purpose is arguably the central tenet of any company’s culture, and it’s important that you find out whether the organization’s purpose aligns with your own. Some things to look out for:
- Does the company have a written statement of purpose or mission?
- Does the company have a set of values that has been articulated to you? Do these values seem to be familiar/accepted by most of the employees?
- Are business goals explained in the context of that broader sense of mission?
- What kind of “success stories” are told at the company, and how do they reflect that greater sense of purpose?
One sign of a healthy organizational culture is that employees feel like they have ample opportunity… opportunity to use their talents, to contribute to the big picture, to grow, to develop, and to move their careers forward.
Some things worth noting:
- Do your new co-workers seem as though they are being challenged, or do they come across as bored?
- Is anything said about new skills development or educational opportunities?
- Are lower-level employees invited to give feedback and to participate in different kinds of projects?
- Do you see opportunities to work across disciplines, on cross-functional teams?
Something else that can help you size up organizational culture: How does the company define success? And what steps are they willing to take to pursue it?
Points for reflection:
- Is there a success-at-all-costs mentality at the company?
- Are team members encouraged to compete rather than collaborate?
- Are employees expected to work unreasonable hours?
- Is there freedom to try new things, even if it risks failure?
- Do you have a clear sense of how your work is evaluated? Of how it impacts the big picture?
- Do you feel as though goals are defined, and expectations clearly articulated?
Something else you’ll want to think about is the extent to which team members are affirmed, acknowledged, and appreciated for their hard work and for the contributions they make to the common goal.
This is usually something new employees can pick up on pretty quickly. Just pay attention to the long-serving leaders and managers. Do they actively stop to appreciate their employees? And do they encourage other employees to voice their praise or their encouragement? If so, then it’s pretty clear that you’re in an organizational culture where appreciation is valued.
Health and Wellbeing
And what about employee health and wellbeing? This is another critical area of focus as you try to assess an organizational culture.
One aspect of this is whether or not there is a workplace wellness program in place, promoting physical fitness among team members. If you sense that the wellness program is robust and participative, that’s a good sign!
However, you’ll also want to look out for signs that the organizational culture upholds mental and emotional wellbeing. Pay attention to the emphasis the company places on the following:
- Cultivating healthy relationships between team members
- Providing some flexibility on major deadlines
- Promoting a sense of work/life balance
- Showing employees how their work impacts the bottom line
These are just a few of the categories you’ll want to consider as you try to feel out the organizational culture of your new company.