We all try to figure out the culture of a new organization before joining, but I doubt many make culture a decision factor when weighing the merits of a new opportunity. Many are convinced that they can adapt to the culture, or by adding their DNA, will alter the culture for the better.
Learning a company’s culture isn’t as easy as one would have you believe. For example, first impressions of Enron is they had wonderful core values: Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence. In fact, these values were chisled in marble in their main lobby. Everyone will agree that these values were not lived by. Their culture was shown by who they had rewarded, promoted or let go.
What is culture then? How do you determine culture?
One method is by learning the symbols, norms and assumptions.
Symbols are the logos, dress code and decor. Is there a way to distinguish people by their dress? There is in the police force. Some construction trades have different coloured hardhats for various level’s of workers. Even the style of a name plate on a cubical/office wall may be an indication.
Norms are shared social interaction rules. What behaviour is tolerated, discouraged or encouraged? How do people interact with or treat each other or other departments. Are there shared values (e.g. trust) or routines (e.g. meeting minutes)?
Assumptions are undocumented rules or truths within an organization. “We always do X this way”.
Culture is also obviously geographically oriented. I’m told you’re in for an awakening if you’re use to working within the pleasantries of a Toronto business office and relocate to the abrupt nature of a New York City culture (or vise versa).
Will your symbols, norms and assumptions flow with the new organization or create friction? For example, I refrain from placing signatures on every single email to save digital and real ink. Some people saw that as being too abrupt. Now it’s called Twitter. You either have to adapt or alter your cultural norms, or identify which are helping or hindering your performance. You don’t want people saying “Doug just doesn’t seem to be fitting in.”