Understanding Your Own Culture

selieselfieWhen you are interviewing people for an open position at your organization, and you ask the candidate if they have any questions for you, I'll bet that more often than not you get something along the lines of "So what is the culture like here?" And when you give them an answer, how confident are you that what you are saying is accurate? Is your understanding of your culture the same as people who are in different departments, or at different levels (either higher or lower) than you in the hierarchy? Or even worse: are you spouting the company line even though you know the REAL culture isn't even close to what the inspirational posters on the wall are promising?

Everyone says that culture is important, yet very few organizations actually understand their own culture. Don't get me wrong--every organization HAS a culture, but few can clearly articulate what it is and, more importantly, why it is important to the success of the organization. Culture is complex. It looks different from different angles, it shifts and morphs as people come and go and business environments change, and it affects results in ways that don't always have a visible, cause-effect relationship.

When we do a culture assessment with clients, it has two components. The first is a quantitative assessment completed by all staff that gives you a snapshot measurement of where your culture stands along four, critical areas: distribution of power, openness, working together, and growth and innovation. By collecting data from everyone, you usually end up with a clearer picture of "what is." The second component is a success drivers assessment, which is completed through individual interviews with key staff. This qualitative assessment starts to fill in the "what could be" and "what should be" parts of the equation. It is only by connecting the qualitative and quantitative assessments that you get a clear understanding of both the WHAT and the WHY of your culture. When you understand both of those aspects, then it becomes much easier to figure out what needs to change internally to strengthen and focus your culture in the right areas.

Think back to what you say to your candidates about your culture. Is it deeply accurate? If not, then start the conversations internally to get the clarity you need. The more accurate you are in the answer to that question, the better the odds that the hiring decision will be the right one, both for you and the candidate.

Update: This was the first draft of our culture assessment, but we have since developed it into a comprehensive Platform called the Workplace Genome.

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