How to Screen a Company for a Good Culture Fit

3 steps you should take before getting in too deep and risking workplace heartbreak.

By Thomas J. Walter and Molly Meyer

Perhaps you’ve heard about this phenomenon via television shows or movies. Maybe you’ve read about it in books and articles. Maybe your friends or family members have boasted about 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 you even possible?

To answer these questions, there is one central concept you and your organization must adopt if you are ever to enter a mutually loving relationship: a good culture fit. This lies at the 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.

The question remains: How can you screen a company for a good culture fit? Perhaps more importantly, how can you do this before getting in too deep and risking heartbreak?

Why Do You Need to Screen for Culture?

Shouldn’t it be obvious if the two of you aren’t meant for each other? 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, uncertainty. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that including those ingredients will spoil even the most ravishing 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, hopelessly dreaming of the day when your company changes its philosophy?

A Good Culture Fit Is a Must

All of the above leads to unfulfilled potential, lack of focus, boredom, and discontent—none of which is 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 statement 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. All of these are the very components of culture.

Additionally, discretionary thinking is a large part of any relationship. Are you 100 percent 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 percent—or 4,800 thoughts—on work-related tasks. If you throw discretionary thoughts into the work-thought mix, you can easily double that number. Think about 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 these employees would love their jobs.

To prevent these 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 this field have conducted studies, creating several tools and exercises you can use.

  1. Study the company’s Website(s) and find out everything that is important to it. Does it prominently list its core values? If it lists core values on its Website, match those with your own core values. If there is a disconnect here, 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 of this dating game and move on.
  2. If core values are absent in an organization, ask yourself: Will this cause me stress and anxiety? The answer almost always is “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.
  3. If a company does have core values that match your own, are those values visible to everyone in the workforce? If they are—hanging on the wall, displayed as the background on computer screens, thumbtacked up in cubicles—then the workforce is in alignment, too. Sometimes, organizations may have great core values, but how effective can those values be in leading decisions and actions throughout the company if there is 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 do not line up with yours, there is little hope that the two of you will grow old and gray together. You might experience a brief infatuation—with the hefty paycheck, the extra paid week’s vacation, the 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.

Tom Walter is a serial entrepreneur and nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship, leadership and business culture. Molly Meyer is marketing professional and independent writer. They are the co-authors of “It’s My Company Too! How Entangled Companies Move Beyond Employee Engagement For Remarkable Results.” For more information, visit www.ItsMyCompanyToo.com.

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