why-culture-is-everything-1-1024x681How should job candidates understand company culture and how can that understanding inform how they interview?

Company culture isn’t an easy concept to summarize. One good definition, given by RoundPegg’s Natalie Baumgartner at the recent Talent Insights event, is that culture has two components: how your company does things and the values you share in common.

Drawing on her years of experience as RoundPegg’s co-founder and as an organizational psychologist, Baumgartner says that when businesses align their decision-making with their cultural values, they’ll solve most of their problems. Unfortunately, there’s often a difference between your aspirational culture—the culture you wish you had—and your culture as it actually is.

Who Are You?

Company cultures often reflect the reasons the company was founded as well as the character and ambitions of the people who started them. No culture is good or bad, Baumgartner says. What matters is whether your actions align with your cultural values.

To define your culture, start by defining the values you aspire to have. No matter where you are in leadership, from CEO down to line supervisor, your values should form the basis for every decision you make. Use these questions to direct your thoughts:

  • What is your company/team about? Why did it get started? What did its founders want to accomplish?
  • Even as the marketplace has changed, what has remained the same in terms of what the team needs to do?
  • What kind of people define your company culture, in terms of employees, customers, and business partners? Is there one person in your company or team who symbolizes everything you’re about?
  • How do you think your team should do things in terms of operations, finances, employees, and customers?
  • What will you not do as a company or as a team? What actions or products are the opposite of what you value?

This exercise isn’t something most people accomplish in an hour. These questions deserve some extended, reflective thinking. Grab a notebook and write down your answers until you can’t think of anything more to say, and keep working over the course of a week or more.

After you’ve written down your answers, set your notebook aside and let your thoughts marinate for a week or two. Then, go back through your notes and pick the most important statements you wrote. Group similar statements together, and identify the common theme for each statement group. Those three to five themes become your core value statements.

Are You Truly Who You Want to Be?

Now that you’ve defined your culture, look over everything you’ve done in light of those core values. Consider operational, financial, marketing, and personnel decisions that you’ve made. Where have your decisions aligned with your values, and where have you strayed from what you aspire to be? What has to be done to realign your team with those fundamental cultural values?

Once you’ve defined your culture, you can begin to hire more people who truly exemplify your values. In the second post in this series, we’ll look at hiring for cultural fit and keeping those great hires engaged over time.

In the meantime, check out Baumgartner’s Talent Insights webinar for more of her insights into organizational culture. And remember: Even when hard decisions have to be made, your team is ultimately better off living by the values you cherish most.

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