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Assessing Your Corporate Culture

By Mark Murphy

Few things in recruiting are more painful than seeing an outstanding new hire quit because they just didn’t click with your company’s culture. What makes it so painful is that it’s one of the more avoidable problems. If you’re willing to both appraise your organization’s culture and ask candidates about their previous employer’s culture, you’ll quickly predict whether a candidate will love or hate your culture.

4 Types of Organizational Cultures

Research indicates that there are four primary cultures.

  1. Social cultures focus on employee well-being and nurtures a collaborative environment, often blending professional and personal boundaries to foster strong team bonds.

  2. Dependable cultures prize predictability and meticulously follow protocols, encouraging a collaborative yet regimented work environment with well-defined roles.

  3. Enterprising cultures create a merit-based environment that encourages constant innovation and values achievements and creativity, fostering a workplace where the best ideas win, irrespective of employee rank

  4. Hierarchical cultures maintain a structured and formal organizational system, emphasizing clear roles and promoting competition for power.

Once you have an idea of the culture that best describes your company, your next step is to ask every candidate, “Tell me about your biggest frustrations with the company culture at your previous job.” If you want the question to feel a bit more casual, you could ask something like, “What frustrated you most about the culture at your previous job?”

Your final task is to listen to the candidate’s response and determine if the type of culture that frustrated them previously sounds like the culture at your company. To help you with that assessment, here are some of the frustrations that people often have with each of the four organizational cultures.

Facing Frustrations

In Social cultures, employees might get frustrated with the blurred lines between personal and professional boundaries. While the relaxed and collaborative environment fosters friendship and unity, it sometimes undermines the sense of professionalism, making it tough for some employees to maintain boundaries without seeming unsociable.

Also, the lack of rigid structures can sometimes lead to confusion around responsibilities and decision-making processes, as roles are not clearly defined as in some other cultures. This could give rise to conflicts and misunderstandings as employees balance between friendship and professionalism. And for those who thrive in highly structured settings, the lack of hierarchy could stall decision-making processes and breed inefficiency.

In a Dependable culture, employees can feel stifled by the regimented and predictable nature of the workplace. The strong adherence to protocols can curb creativity and limit opportunities for spontaneous or innovative problem-solving. While the clearly defined roles bring clarity and avoid role conflicts, they might create silos, restricting cross-functional collaboration and fostering resistance to change.

Employees who are eager for growth and development might be frustrated by the slow approach to organizational change. The emphasis on security and process might sometimes overlook individual needs and aspirations, creating a workplace where people could feel like just another cog in the machine.

An Enterprising culture might foster an environment where the constant pressure to innovate and outperform becomes stressful and frustrating. The competitive nature of this culture can sometimes lead to a high-stress environment, with employees feeling the need to constantly prove themselves, which in turn could lead to burnout.

The fast pace of change can occasionally create instability, with employees finding it difficult to adapt to the ever-evolving expectations and goals. Although politics are minimized, the competitive and meritocratic approach could foster an environment where failure isn’t tolerated, possibly engendering risk aversion.

In a Hierarchical culture, the competition for power and the strong focus on adherence to tradition can sometimes foster an environment where employees are more focused on climbing the corporate ladder than on collaborative efforts to achieve organizational goals.

The rigid paths to progression might deter talented individuals who want quicker, merit-based opportunities for advancement. And employees might find themselves frustrated with leaders who are more focused on maintaining order and control than nurturing talent and fostering innovation.

With a bit of probing and careful listening, you can quickly determine if the frustrations that candidates experienced in their previous jobs sound like the frustrations they’ll experience at your company. There are hurdles to overcome at every company, but ideally, you’ll avoid inundating new hires with the exact frustrations that caused them to leave their previous job.

Imagine that your company has a staunchly Dependable culture; people just love the regimented processes. If a candidate burned out in their previous role because the place stifled their creativity with death by committee, that doesn’t sound like a great match.

By contrast, if a candidate left their previous company because there were too many team-building happy hours and everyone was expected to socialize outside of work, your processes, protocols, and clearly defined roles could be a perfect fit.

No one culture is universally perfect for every candidate. So, your job is to better predict whether your company’s culture is a great fit for the candidate sitting in front of you.


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