How Executive Candidates Can Assess Company Culture
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
Most of us have heard the famous quip attributed to Peter Drucker, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's become so commonly repeated that's it's almost a cliché at this point. But what does the statement really mean? It essentially means that strategy is null without a culture that can support it.
The values and behaviors that contribute to an organization's social and psychological environment also fundamentally impact the performance of that organization. An organizational strategy without the right culture to drive it will not be successful. Organizations have gotten the message and have thus placed much more emphasis on culture over the past decade.
Business leaders understand that a strong, visible culture aligned with company values can deliver a competitive advantage in the marketplace. A culture that fosters connection with the customer on an authentic level and that attracts and retains top talent is often the foundation of today's highest-performing businesses.
As executive candidates assess new career opportunities, it is critical that they also assess company culture to ensure a fit with their own personal values and goals. Culture is so important to a candidate's tenure that it continues to rank as one of the top three reasons for leaving an organization.
So how can candidates gauge culture when considering new job prospects?
Review public company information.
It’s imperative that executive candidates do their pre-interview research. This includes a thorough review of the company website. Read press releases, review any thought leadership including reports or articles, assess the brand imagery. What do the overall external communications evoke? What is the tone?
After reviewing the company website, you’ll also want to Google the company. What comes up about it in the news? Are there reviews on websites like Glassdoor? Reading feedback from past and present employees as well as from those who have interviewed with the organization can reveal much about the culture. Also look at the company’s social media accounts. How is it engaging with its customers?
Research the CEO and leadership team.
Discover what you can learn about the management team. Company bios on the organization’s website are a good place to start. How has the company chosen to position its leaders? Are their photos formal or friendly? What can you learn about the leadership team based on what they have chosen to include in their bios? Is it a diverse team representative of the company’s customer base? Check out their LinkedIn profiles. What can their job history, education and credentials reveal about them? Are there any commonalities, such as MBAs or even from which schools? Don’t stop with the management team, though. Look at the company profile on LinkedIn and review employees more broadly. What do the employees who work for the company reveal about its brand and culture? What organizations did employees come from and where do they tend to go after?
Google the company. What comes up in the news? Businesses over recent years have focused more on giving back to the community along with the increased focus on culture. Both customers and employees expect this more and more, and it is especially important to the millennial generation. How important is a company’s social responsibility to you? Do the CEO and management team align themselves with social responsibility initiatives, and if so, how do they align with your values?
Pay attention to body language and verbal cues.
Once you’ve made it to the interview stage, you can assess those with whom you are meeting either in person or virtually for clues about the culture. How are they dressed? How do they speak to you? Is their tone formal or casual? What is their personality like?
Does anything shift from department to department? Departments within companies can also have their own cultures. The sales team may have a very different culture from the marketing team. What clues about specific departments can you detect based on who you meet?
If you haven’t already discerned from the company website, find out what the company’s core values are and how that impacts the day-to-day. Ask what it takes to be a top performer in the organization. If a recruiter or search consultant is involved in the process, ask them about the culture. It is in the best interest of the recruiter to give you an honest answer as they want to ensure your fit for their client.
Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but you can avoid it eating you. With a process to review culture, executive candidates can better determine if a career opportunity is right for them and if they will be able to flourish in a role. Before you even approach new opportunities, clearly understanding what you value and what your strengths are can help you better assess culture. And if you are feeling stuck or need an outside perspective, you never have to go it alone — a good career coach can help.