Cul­tural dif­fer­ences

Po­ten­tial workplace may sound good on paper, but dig deeper be­fore sign­ing up

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

YES, you’ve seen them; those job ads that say, “Your search is over!” Did you read any fur­ther? If you did, you might find state­ments such as, “the city of Toronto strives to be a model of pub­lic ser­vice ex­cel­lence. We are look­ing for people who share our val­ues, our stew­ard­ship and our com­mit­ment.” Or, in the pri­vate sec­tor, you might see state­ments es­pous­ing their cor­po­rate val­ues, such as trust, in­tegrity, re­spect, thought lead­er­ship, in­no­va­tion, in­spi­ra­tion and/or adapt­abil­ity.

The pur­pose of these de­scrip­tions is to at­tract po­ten­tial can­di­dates to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is an at­tempt to de­scribe what the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­lieves to be its val­ues, shared at­ti­tudes, cus­toms and be­hav­iour as well as the ex­pec­ta­tions and the phi­los­o­phy that di­rects people how to act within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. In other words, these state­ments are de­scrib­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture.

Cor­po­rate cul­ture is es­sen­tially a set of in­tan­gi­ble, un­spo­ken rules cre­ated by the lead­ers within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. You can see it, sense it and feel it when you en­ter an or­ga­ni­za­tion. Cul­ture is also very unique to ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion, but no mat­ter what, it in­for­mally dic­tates how an or­ga­ni­za­tion goes about its busi­ness and how it treats em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers. Cul­ture helps em­ploy­ees un­der­stand how to fit in, how to in­ter­act with oth­ers, how to get things done and how to ma­noeu­vre through or­ga­ni­za­tional pol­i­tics. Cul­ture also im­pacts how de­ci­sions are made, how new ideas are brought about and how com­mit­ted em­ploy­ees are to­ward the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

How­ever, you can ap­ply all the cre­ative, nice-sound­ing value de­scrip­tors in your ad­ver­tis­ing ma­te­ri­als and you can have all the right poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place, but it is still the be­hav­iour of the lead­er­ship that shapes the or­ga­ni­za­tion cul­ture, im­pacts the pub­lic im­age and im­pacts the em­ploy­ees they lead.

Frankly, I can only imag­ine the tur­moil Toronto em­ploy­ees must be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. On one hand, its hu­man­re­source depart­ment is striv­ing to re­cruit highly qual­i­fied can­di­dates by de­scrib­ing it­self as a model of pub­lic ser­vice. On the other hand, its cur­rent self-serv­ing mayor is de­stroy­ing ev­ery word with his ridicu­lous, dan­ger­ous, un­couth be­hav­iour and ar­ro­gant at­ti­tude. With this sce­nario at play, my bet is em­ployee turnover in the mayor’s of­fice is ex­tremely high and I would go fur­ther to sug­gest no one would want to even risk work­ing there. Thank­fully, with the City of Toronto be­ing so large, per­haps the mayor’s be­hav­iour does not per­me­ate as deep into the or­ga­ni­za­tion as it would in other, smaller com­pa­nies.

How­ever, we know for a fact when lead­er­ship vi­o­lates their own cor­po­rate code of ethics, there is in­deed an im­pact. For in­stance, when you learn eth­i­cal mis­con­duct or fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity in the workplace is well-known yet noth­ing is done about it, what does it say about the cul­ture of the or­ga­ni­za­tion? When there are poli­cies in place but no process to anony­mously re­port un­eth­i­cal con­duct, what does it say about the or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture? And fi­nally, when con­tracts are un­ten­dered with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and ven­dors are not of­fered fair ac­cess to ten­der in­for­ma­tion, what does it say about the cul­ture of the or­ga­ni­za­tion?

Un­for­tu­nately for can­di­dates, it’s dif­fi­cult to re­ally un­der­stand the or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture of a po­ten­tial em­ployer un­til you are ac­tu­ally work­ing there. How­ever, at the very least, you can do re­search, lis­ten and read the lat­est news and make care­ful in­quiries. Some of the el­e­ments of your re­search should in­clude the fol­low­ing:

De­fine your own val­ues — First of all, you need to de­fine your own val­ues and be­liefs so you can mea­sure them against your po­ten­tial new em­ployer. What is im­por­tant to you in your next workplace? What be­hav­iours do you ap­pre­ci­ate and value ver­sus what would be detri­men­tal and im­pact your job sat­is­fac­tion?

Re­view the pub­lic im­age — These days, ev­ery­one has a web­site. Re­view the site and ob­serve how the dif­fer­ent el­e­ments are in­te­grated to cre­ate their cor­po­rate im­age. Do the words match the pho­tos in the site? For in­stance, if the site talks about the im­por­tance of their people, yet fails to show pho­tos of their em­ploy­ees at work, then there is a slight dis­con­nect that might sug­gest a dif­fer­ent im­age.

Re­view an­nual re­ports — Most large or­ga­ni­za­tions pub­lish an­nual re­ports as well as var­i­ous au­dits. Find them and read them, prefer­ably two to three years worth. Look for ar­eas of con­cern and how they were be­ing ad­dressed. Look for con­sis­tency and the in­te­gra­tion of val­ues with their re­sults. Cre­ate an im­age for yourself as to how the or­ga­ni­za­tion feels; lis­ten to your in­tu­ition.

Re­search the or­ga­ni­za­tion — Thank­fully, with the In­ter­net there is plenty of in­for­ma­tion to be gleaned about your po­ten­tial em­ployer. Check out le­gal and hu­man-rights web­sites to de­ter­mine po­ten­tial prob­lems. Should you read about un­eth­i­cal or fraud­u­lent prac­tices, try to de­ter­mine what steps were taken to over­come the sit­u­a­tion. Were new lead­ers brought in to re­struc­ture the or­ga­ni­za­tion and put it back on the right path? This sig­nals a change in cul­ture and a ded­i­ca­tion to the val­ues they es­pouse.

Make dis­crete in­quiries — Iden­tify a cur­rent and/or for­mer em­ployee and in­quire about what at­tracted them to the em­ployer, why they left and/or what they like about their cur­rent em­ploy­ment. Ask them to de­scribe the lead­er­ship, the cul­ture and how things work. Ask them how the or­ga­ni­za­tion con­trib­utes to job sat­is­fac­tion and as­sess whether these match your own mo­ti­va­tors.

Ask ques­tions of the in­ter­view­ers — Have your in­ter­view­ers de­scribe their per­cep­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion cul­ture and how em­ploy­ees are val­ued. In­quire about sup­port for ed­u­ca­tional and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties. In­quire about per­sonal growth and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, vol­un­teerism ac­tiv­i­ties and their vi­sion of the fu­ture. De­ter­mine what their re­sponses mean to you… does it feel like a good fit?

Or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture is cre­ated by lead­ers, and so it is crit­i­cally im­por­tant each can­di­date as­sess their fit with their po­ten­tial new em­ployer. That’s be­cause or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture is so strong it can make or break an or­ga­ni­za­tion and make or break an in­di­vid­ual. Cul­ture al­ways wins! And I can guar­an­tee when lead­ers are en­gaged in un­eth­i­cal con­duct and there is lit­tle or no con­sis­tency be­tween what lead­ers say and what lead­ers do, the re­sult­ing or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture will be one of dis­trust and fear. Un­for­tu­nately, this in turn will lead to low em­ployee morale, poor pro­duc­tiv­ity, poor cus­tomer ser­vice and high turnover.

So, in spite of the fact a po­ten­tial job may ap­pear to be a su­perb op­por­tu­nity, if the sig­nals sug­gest the or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture is not the best, my ad­vice is to stay away. Don’t let or­ga­ni­za­tion cul­ture be a ca­reer breaker.

Bar­bara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP. M.Ed is pres­i­dent of Legacy Bowes Group and Ca­reer Part­ners in­ter­na­tional – Man­i­toba. She can be reached at barb@


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