How To Screen A Company For A Good Culture Fit

Perhaps you’ve heard about the phenomenon via television shows or movies. Maybe you’ve read about it in books and articles. Maybe your friends or family members have boasted experiencing it, but you’re still not convinced it’s real. How does it feel to truly love the place you work, and does your workplace truly love you? Is a loving relationship between the two even possible?

To answer the questions, there is one terrifically central concept that you and your organization must adapt if you are ever to enter a mutually-loving relationship: A good culture fit. This lies at the very center of your happiness together, regardless of job titles, job descriptions, desk space, office views, and all the other “hearts and flowers” that come with being in a relationship with your organization.

So the question remains: How can you screen a company for a good culture fit? Or, perhaps more importantly, how can you do this before getting in too deep and risking dissatisfaction?

The Need To Screen

You may ask yourself, shouldn’t it be obvious if the two of you aren’t meant for each other? After all. no immoral, unethical organization hides that easily under a drape of warm, fuzzy advertisements and happy people.

Maybe it’s not quite that extreme, but there are organizations that are hanging in limbo.  They haven’t quite figured out what’s most important to them, or they haven’t shared it with everyone in the organization. There’s doubt and uncertainty. Anyone that’s ever been in a relationship knows that including those ingredients will spoil even the heartiest of appetites.

Then there are those organizations that have made up their minds. They know what they want, and they know what is important to them. But despite all of the good aspects of the job, you can’t seem to launch yourself fully with the company’s vision. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you won’t be truly happy, rather than waiting around, dreaming of the day when your company changes its philosophy?

All of the above scenarios lead to unfulfilled potential, lack of focus, boredom and discontent, none of which, of course, are loving relationship material. According to the Gallup organization — which pioneered the Gallup 12 Poll to measure employee engagement — employee engagement stems from the manner in which an organization conducts its business. This focuses on how a company conducts business on a day-to-day level between co-workers, superiors, leadership teams, departments, vendors, clients, potential clients, partners, and so on. These are the core components of culture.

Additionally, discretionary thinking is a large part of any relationship. Are you 100% focused on your organization? Are you thinking about it when you’re not at work?

Discretionary thinking is what you do when you actively pursue a thought — spending it on exactly what you want to think about — at your discretion. What happens when you actively want to think about your organization, or your organization’s goals and your goals?

Of the total thoughts an individual has in one day — 60,000, according to the Institute for Human Health and Human Potential — the average person spends 8%, or 4,800 thoughts, on work-related tasks. If you throw discretionary thoughts into the work-thought mix, you can easily double that number. Consider the collected effect of an entire workforce doubling their work thoughts each and every day. How much more successful will that organization be?  It sounds like a place that cultivates a great culture. In fact, it sounds like those employees would love their jobs.

To prevent the realizations that you spent your “good years” playing house with an organization with which you can’t picture yourself growing old, you should start from the very beginning — before even going on a first date — by giving the company a sound culture-fit screening.

The Screening Process

Screening for culture fit isn’t as daunting as it may sound. In fact, several experts in the field have conducted studies, creating several tools and exercises you can use.

First, study the company’s web site(s) and find out everything that’s important to it. Does it prominently list its core values?  How do they match up with your own?  If there’s a disconnect, well, there’s no getting around these fundamental pieces of both the organization’s and your personal foundation. If your values differ, then it’s probably for the best that you bow out and move on.

If core values are absent in an organization, ask yourself if that will cause you stress and anxiety. The answer is almost always yes. If the organization doesn’t know what drives its decision-making, how can it help lead you or cultivate leadership skills in employees? How can the two of you grow together?  Lack of direction and values leads to an increase in stress level and unhappiness – major break-up material.

Finally, if a company does have core values that match your own, are those values visible to everyone in the workforce?  If they’re hanging on the wall, displayed as the background on computer screens, thumb-tacked up in cubicles, etc., then the workforce is in alignment, too.  Sometimes, organizations may have great core values, but how effective can they be in leading decisions and actions throughout the company if there’s no incentive to act upon them? The answer is, unfortunately, not very.

Screening for culture fit should be the foundation of any job hunt or decision to stay with a certain organization. If both the company’s culture and core values don’t align with yours, there is little hope that the two of you will grow old and gray together. You might experience a brief infatuation with a hefty paycheck, extra paid week’s vacation, or corner office with a view, but those are just distractions from the truth. The truth is that without a good culture fit, it’s extremely difficult to love your company.

Picture of Tom Walter & Molly Meyer
Tom Walter & Molly Meyer
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