The Real OC: Five Ways to Make Organizational Culture Work for You!

Bruce Mendelsohn
Posted: 08/06/2008
With scarce resources devoted to finding, hiring and training employees who will positively contribute to your organization from day one, it’s alarming that organizational culture remains neglected in favor of the "harder" and generally more quantifiable aspects of management and leadership.

Whether you’re a potential employee or employer, in this article you'll discover five ways you can discern organizational culture. If you’re a potential employee, the concrete responses you get to these should prevent you from taking a job in which you will clash with the organizational culture. If you’re an employer, your answers to these questions may reveal organizational characteristics of which you may be unaware.

Employers: By the time you realize an employee’s professional attributes and personality clash with the prevailing culture, it’s too late. You need to consider "fit" before quit. When you don’t, it results in the employee leaving—whether voluntarily or not. Either way, you have to start the hiring process over again. Wasted time, wasted resources, bruised egos all around.

And yet, with resources so precious, it behooves employers—as well as potential employees—to consider the following five ways to determine whether or not someone is a "good fit" for the organization.

1) "Bull in a China Shop": Employers, you should know your organization’s decision-making structure/system. To complement the subjective answers gleaned during interviews, get an objective measurement of how and to what extent a candidate will fit in: Require the candidate to take a personality test as part of the application process.

At http://www.kisa.ca/personality/ you’ll find a free personality test based on the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. The test takes less than 10 minutes and the results are generated immediately on-screen. You should have the candidate print the results and keep the page in his/her file. In fact, have all your employees take the test—you may be surprised by what this simple test reveals.

Use the test results in the second interview, augmented by probing work style questions to determine whether your interviewee is a "bull." Obviously, you don’t want a bull loose in your china shop.

2) Do due diligence on your prospective hire: Just as professional sports teams intensively test and evaluate their draft choices, so must you carefully evaluate your prospective hire. Go beyond resume, references and a simple Google search. Search for your prospective hire on Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, Friendster and other social networking sites. The content posted on these sites reveals a great deal about the personality of your potential new employee.

3) The organization's decision-making process: Conflicting decision-making styles are a leading reason why employer-employee relationships turn bad. The way people make decisions generally indicates how they’ll fit into your decision-making process. You must discover how your potential employees make decisions and whether or not their style will work within your organization. Know going in the decision-making process that best suits your organization.

For potential employees to understand how your target organization makes decisions, ask the following questions:
  • How many levels does one have to go through to get decisions?
  • How are decisions made on a new initiative? Is it death by committee, "ready, fire, aim" or something in between? Before you get the answers, you should know the decision-making process that best suits your personality.
  • How does the organization green light new initiatives? Ask for specific and recent examples.
4) Organizational responsiveness: When opportunities present themselves, is the target organization quick to seize opportunities or slow to react? Is it a slow-footed or a fast-footed culture? Recognizing that most non-profit organizations and associations are the former, candidates from the for-profit sector may chafe in a slow-footed culture.

Prospective employees, note: If you thrive in a dynamic, unpredictable environment; if you make decisions based on 60 percent fact and 40 percent instinct; if the machinations of boards of directors and committees cause you to grind your teeth—save yourself a lot of professional and personal angst: Don't take a job at a non-profit or an association.

5) Notice little indicators of organizational behavior: An important part of organizational culture is organizational behavior. Recognizing organizational behavior is vital for employers and potential employees.

For potential employees, as you walk through the hallway for your next interview, note how most staff dress. At the most senior levels, note especially how your boss dresses: Is he/she fastidious, vain, slovenly, well-groomed?
  • Always ask to go to the bathroom. Is it clean?
  • Besides giving you a little break from your interviews, use the time you're unescorted to look at the common areas of the organization. Are they clean? Do they appear used? Do people congregate in the common areas? Are voices subdued or excited? Lots of movement generally indicates lots of activity and interaction.
  • Do people appear to like each other, or do they pass in the hallways without saying hello?
  • Is it a cube world or an office world? If the former, are the cubes personalized? Are there pictures of family/pets/etc.? If the latter, are doors open? Is there a lot of traffic in the hallways, break rooms, etc.
Potential employees: Ask these questions and you'll get concrete answers that will help you decide whether or not you’re a good fit for the culture. Employers, remember that the candidate you love on paper may not fit your organizational culture. The real OC is making sure you find the right fit for your organization’s unique culture.

First Published on Human Resources IQ.
Bruce Mendelsohn
Posted: 08/06/2008

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