How to Find the Right Company Culture Based on Values (Before You Accept the Job!)

The word culture has taken on a life of its own in the corporate and startup ecosystems.  Everyone talks about culture these days, but not many people seem to know what this word means. Businesses often tout their fun or progressive cultures, when what they’re really referring to are perks.  Picture this: It’s your first day on the job at an exciting new startup. You walk through the front doors and see a slide coming from the second floor into the reception area. It’s a playful touch, and it’s complemented by the nap pods, free organic lunches, and all the snacks you can eat.  With an office like this, how could this not be your best job ever?  Silicon Valley is chock full of companies that offer these types of perks. Some go so far as to provide free tablets, all-expenses paid retreats to exotic locations, and other glamorous benefits.  But these perks ring hollow if the underlying culture is toxic.  Any well-funded business can offer free food and nap rooms. That’s not an indicator of the emotional and intellectual work environment. Are the leaders at the company communicative and transparent? Will you have an engaged manager? Does the company prioritize ongoing education? How will you receive performance feedback?  

“Any well-funded business can offer free food and nap rooms, but that’s not an indicator of the emotional and intellectual work environment.”

Those questions are much more important than game rooms and gourmet catering. A company with a bare bones office can still be the healthier workplace, if it nurtures talented employees and delivers values-driven results. 

Culture and Values vs. Perks 

Plenty of companies claim to live by their core values, but when pressed, those values are ill-defined. Meanwhile, they loudly advertise their perks because perks are sexier and easier to obtain. You just have to buy them. Values and a healthy, positive culture are much more difficult to back up. Also, lobster rolls for lunch are more likely to catch someone’s attention than a heartfelt speech about the business’ ethics — at least at first.  But Millennials in particular care more about having purpose and career progression than they do about salary and perks. If you look past the glamor of working for a company that wines and dines you every day, you may find that the culture and growth opportunities are actually quite shallow.  Now, if you have offers from two companies that are equal in every way except the perks, you might let that sway your choice. Why not take advantage of the free meals and dry cleaning service? Perks aren’t a bad thing, they’re just not the only thing to consider when searching for a job.  Your primary focus should be on the business’ values and operating norms, because values make the culture. The excitement of having a virtual reality room down the hall will wear off quickly if you can’t communicate with your boss and noone is investing in your professional development or truly helping you be successful. 

Tips for Finding the Right Company Culture 

Before you can judge a company’s values, you need to define your own. What matters most to you? What type of relationship do you want to have with your manager and colleagues? What are your goals?  Once you’re clear on your priorities, you can evaluate job opportunities through that lens. As you’re touring the company’s on-site yoga room, take a step back and ask about conflict resolution and whether employees are encouraged to take initiative on new ideas. Make sure you understand who your manager will be and what their management style is. Will they be engaged and meeting with you in regularly scheduled 1:1s or will you never see them and have to chase them down for feedback or help?   

“Before you can judge a company’s values, you need to define your own. What matters most to you?”

Again, there’s nothing wrong with perks. But you want to distinguish a place that would be fun to work from an organization that puts culture and values at the forefront.   Before the interview, check the company’s website for information about its values. Ideally, the business will highlight its mission statement and illustrate the ways in which it applies it ethical code to its operations. If you don’t see that, ask in the interview for examples of how values come into play day to day.  Observe whether the interviewer references the company’s values independently or whether you are always the one raising the topic. If values are a central theme in the conversation, they’re likely integral to how the company does business.  The questions you ask during the process should reflect your own priorities. However, the following questions can help get you started as you reflect on what you want in your next role: 

– What does the onboarding process look like? Will you have a mentor to guide you? – Are there any ongoing training or career advancement opportunities at the company? – How does the organization evaluate success in this particular role? – How do the company leaders address the employees and talk about what’s going on at the company?

Company culture significantly impacts your level of happiness and fulfillment at work. Ask questions up front to ensure that a job opportunity doesn’t just look good on paper, but will advance your overall well-being and sense of professional growth.

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