Corporate Culture: Marketing Gimmick or Values-Driven Reality?

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Boasting about a company’s culture is easy. Actually having a fair, transparent, and highly satisfying corporate culture is hard. Though the term corporate culture is thrown about a great deal by recruiters, marketers, and executive leadership, leveraging these buzzwords doesn’t guarantee the organization has a worthy, fair, and inclusive culture. A corporation’s culture is a complex mixture of written guidelines, unspoken expectations, and collective behavior which can ultimately drive company success or failure as well as the success and failure of individual employees and management.

There was a time when businesses touted benefits packages as recruiting nuggets designed to win over excellent job candidates. A good salary was made better by lots of PTO (though rarely used), the right matching dollars in a 401k, good health insurance, and, of course, dental and vision. Corporations now include enticing text on their websites containing glossy pictures of happy and diverse workforces fully engaged in fun and collaborative endeavors. Some companies will display graphs and charts showing their increasing success in attracting and retaining minorities and women. These features can attract a candidate, but often in today’s landscape the serious jobseeker with sought-after skills and experience will want some evidence that all is well once a commitment has been made.

The most obvious sign of a healthy corporate culture is a low turnover rate. Loyal employees appreciate thoughtful attention paid to developing company principles that support everyone within the organization as well as the clients and customers served. However, a low turnover rate in the ranks of leadership may indicate a difficult path to landing a role in upper management.

To gauge the sincerity of a company’s attempt at creating a nourishing environment, a job candidate should ask specific questions about corporate governance, including:

  1. Does the company leverage employee input at all levels to develop its handbook, policies, compensation, and evaluation processes?
  2. Does the company periodically hire outside experts or consultants to conduct surveys or investigations about firm policies, and do the findings result in improved methodologies and better governance?
  3. Does the company conduct exit interviews when employees leave, and does the company implement new policies based on these interviews?
  4. Is the company transparent about the way it disperses profits and revenues among its employees?
  5. Does the corporation have a history of investing in the communities in which it resides?

Savvy job seekers will be on the lookout for a recruiter’s tendency to gloss over questions about what a year-in-the-life of an employee really entails. The reality of some company cultures may only be truly uncovered after serious facetime in the office, exposure to staff and leadership, and making it through the first few evaluation periods.

If a new employee is disappointed in some behaviors or attitudes within a department, they have a duty to find like-minded advisors or mentors within the organization who can help foster the type of work environment that will, in due course, inspire. After all, it is ultimately the collective power of an organization’s individuals that will determine its values and principles.