A rising trend has been surfacing since the early 2000s. You can’t browse the website for many modern companies with seeing it. And if you’re applying for a job, you’re definitely going to have it shoved in your face. I’m talking about the pervasive company culture statement.
The intention of a culture statement is to give you a taste of what the company is all about. Typically this is through the lens of how they treat their customers and their employees. But there remains a few questions to answer about a company’s culture.
- What experiences in the company brought this culture to fruition?
- How do employees contribute to this culture?
- Is the culture statement enforced or upheld in some way?
The following might help you get answers to those questions.
When A Company’s Culture Statement Should Be A Hard Pass
1) Inclusivity doesn’t seem genuine
I once heard a comment made about the dark side of diversity in the work place:
Please don’t advertise your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, then in the same breath disqualify candidates who lack a degree but do have ample work experience. You don’t value diversity. You value sameness in colored packaging.
This is dangerous to a company. Sameness will kill it.
Not to mention my stance on what place a degree serves in this industry.
I once worked at a very small company where I reported directly to the CEO. At some point, he had me take a series of different personality tests. My test results ended up being similar to his own. He was ecstatic at that fact. But I was not as thrilled. I knew that it didn’t benefit us to have overlapping talents and personalities.
Plus, to be compared to the boss is something I NEVER want.
2) It whispers of unrealistic expectations
I actually ended up quitting that aforementioned job a couple months later. I had been keeping a personal blog – on my own time – and the boss didn’t like it. (And no, I did not comment on his company in this blog at all.) His view was that I needed to be “all in” with his company and not do anything outside of it. That restriction was extended to my evenings and weekends.
I’ll tell you right now – it’s a bad sign when your employer discourages you from exploring your interests. If you catch wind of this in your job hunt, RUN.
3) When a culture statement appears hollow
It’s 2020 and many businesses are openly vocal about their culture statement by now. It’s almost a rite of passage. A key indicator for a quality place to work.
What does that mean?
It means any laggards are going feel pressure to jump on the bandwagon. Their attitude sounds something like “If our competition is doing it, we better too.”
But if it’s not a true focus, these companies will resort to slapping something up on the wall. And when they do that, no one – including leaders – abides by it. And it’s because it’s not effectively trained or enforced.
What’s more, a culture statement constructed under these circumstances won’t be very captivating. You can spot such a statement by its failure to tell you anything of substance about the company.
In an interview once, very early in my career, I asked the hiring manager to tell me more about their culture. He stumbled over his words a little bit. And all he mustered were comments about employee expectations, loyalty, truancy, etc.
– Those things are a given, dude.
Expectations are well and fair. But when your comments make your culture sound disciplinarian in nature, there’s a problem. All of those things are reasons why, at best, I would want to earn a paycheck. They are not things that get me to take a seat within your organization.
Tell me why you’re a great company to work for! Tell me about your company mission. Your goals. New projects that the company is excited about!
This also explained why I had seen their job listings pop up time and time again. I thought it was because of growth. But it was clear that it was because they couldn’t keep their staff.
CAUTION – When “fit” is associated with a culture statement
A post in my LinkedIn network by Michael Hirsch caught my eye recently. He put it best:
It’s time to euthanize the phrase “Culture Fit.” Culture Fit is a euphemism for “just like us” and when looking at team members or potential team members through that lens, you’re actually HURTING your company’s culture.
The definition of “fit” as a verb includes: be of the right shape or size and to put something into place.
The exact opposite of the foundations of a successful culture.
Be the right shape or size? That implies a pre-conditioned assumption of what a person’s profile should look like, which limits the pool of people available to your company’s success. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?
Culture should be built on words like diversity, empowerment, accountability, transparency, and collaboration. Not “fit.”
My personal take? A culture statement can often devolve into corporate virtue signaling at its finest. Why?
It’s just words. And I’d prefer to see how a company ACTS over what they SAY.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen plenty of times where a culture statement was invoked to justify poor treatment.
At a company that purported “checking your ego at the door,” I saw many team members, all with the company’s best interests at heart, voice their concern or offered suggestions on an initiative. Instead of being met with an honest discussion, they’d be painted as a detractor and told to “check your your ego.”
The reality was that the boss didn’t want to hear suggestions that weren’t 100% aligned with their view. The boss was the one with the ego and constructive criticism bruised it.
It goes downhill really quick. The hard truth is that there are managers out there who will exploit company culture if they can.
What’s Good About A Culture Statement
1) Attracting talent
The job market has never been more diverse than it is now. With all the options solid candidates have available, a growing organization needs to pull out all the stops.
Culture is one of the things that companies have resorted to for filling open positions. They wear their proud culture on their sleeve like a badge of honor. From glad tidings of game rooms to catered lunches to open door policies, it’s imperative to get the word out. After all – if the team likes the boss, they’ll try to get their talented friends hired too.
If you see people lining up for the chance to get hired, that’s a good sign.
Many a culture statement might allude to how the company views promotion from within.
These are all references to the employee side of a company’s values.
If you join, take those sentiments to heart, and really run with them, you could go far. It helps you “speak the language of the company” and find alignment with company goals.
3) A barometer for performance
A solid culture statement helps employees know exactly where they stand. They don’t have to question if the boss is happy with them or not. They don’t need to wonder where the “goal post” is in terms of their performance.
I thrived in a workplace where the values lent well to my metrics. It was because I had all the direction I needed to perform and hit goals. A good company culture statement can do this for you too.
This was a big one for me in my working career. I’m an INTP personality, which means I view the world primarily through a litany of variables. And if I don’t have enough information about the variables, I can’t sort out a conclusion. But I learned what a clear path a good company culture statement can offer. It actually changed the trajectory of my career from that point forward.
Just keep an eye out for one that resonates with you.
What it all boils down to
The bottom line is that a company culture statement can serve much good and mean a lot for you as a potential hire. But if it’s not used properly, it will be counter-intuitive. The company that authored it will experience a backlash, and morale will go down.
Before hitching your train to any company horse, make sure you’ve taken all the above into consideration. With enough thought and planning into your job hunt, you will soon find the right place for you.
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