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Everything you wanted to know about corporate culture but were afraid to ask

Why Elvis would not get a job at Microsoft!
By: Alex McMillan
All companies have a culture whether they know it, designed it, or it just evolved. So when you join a new organisation, be aware you’re effectively joining a cult.
Like any cult there will be formal and informal group behaviour rules. These rules will govern a value system, how to behave in certain circumstances and even a dress code.
If you don’t know the rules you’re unlikely to survive, let alone prosper. My 18 years in career consultancy has shown me that time and time again career success goes to those who fit best into the cult.
Corporate culture is the value system of the majority. The value system is what is important to them in terms of every aspect of human behaviour. It covers identity, beliefs, opinions, attitude, social class, age, dress, personality, everything. Which of these things is most important is part of the definition of the corporate culture. Cultures evolve over time and are effected by industry sector, size, place of origin, personality and vision of founders. As small companies grow the culture becomes more rigidly defined.
So how do you know which culture is right for you?
The right culture is one which reflects your personal value system. One in which your can identify and easily rapport with current members. To do this you need to know yourself. What are your values, beliefs, ambitions, and motivations?
As a professional recruiter I can tell you 90 per cent of people cannot say what drives them. Before you can understand what drives the people in any particular company, first you need to know what drives you so as to make a successful match. Here is a quick test - answer these questions.
  • What really motivates you?
  • What are your career values?
  • Where exactly do you want to be in one/five years?
  • What core career beliefs do you operate by?
  • What are your ambitions?
  • Where do your ambitions come from?
When you have answered these questions for yourself, then ask the same questions to any company you are applying to. The most common answers to the above questions from company members define its culture.
Did you find that on answering the above, the answers were straight there with clarity? If they do are all of your short and long-term goals really yours, or those of your peers, parents or friends, for you?
Crosshead: Assessing the culture
You now have to be able to assess the culture of a target company you want to work for. You need to establish their values, style, beliefs, motivations and goals. Here’s how.
The culture of a company is everywhere. It comes over in its employees, its offices, advertisements, and dealings with the public. The easiest way is to put their name into an internet search engine and read everything that has been written about them. From what you read is this a company you would want to be part of?
Firstly do they have a clearly defined culture? This tends to indicate a company which is going places. McDonalds, British Airways, Microsoft, Virgin, Amazon – all have a clear identity and values.
The secret of judging how well defined the culture is found by looking for commonality at all levels. A company may have a 1000 people working for it. The question is what binds them? What set them apart? What lets you know that they are representing that particular organisation?
So it’s not how they dress that’s important but how they dress relative to each other. It is not the particular value set that is important in itself but that they and you share common core values.
So look for commonality in every aspect of them. How they answer the phone, dress, talk to each other, plan out their offices, incentivise their staff, train their staff, report and accounts, marketing, advertising styles, competitive stance etc.
How would you describe the culture of the following organisations?
Nat West Bank, Disney, The Army, Oxfam.
Which above organisation do you think would have most of the following core values?
  • Team work
  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Profit
  • Attention to detail
  • Benefit to others
  • Challenge
  • Learning
Ask two of your colleagues and you will find that your answers are much the same. The point being that their culture is that clear and agreed upon.
From the above, list the three most important values to you? Now which company do you think you would be happiest in and develop most working in? Why?
You will achieve considerable career success by knowing your personal profile, match it to an aligned organisation then you will be somewhere which will appreciate and develop your talents best.
The final ingredient is talent. Talent is a choice not a gift. I firmly believe that everyone is incredibly talented, you just have to recognise it. Now most of us recognise the talent of Elvis and you should all know by now why he would never of got a job in Microsoft, but it could be right for you.

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