This is part one in a three-part series to help transitioning veterans assess an organization’s culture.
One of the most rewarding lines of work that Josh and I do is volunteering to help transitioning veterans navigate the maze of leaving the service. Josh and I are frequently asked, “How do you know if an organization is a good place to work and what is it like to work there?” The underlying theme is, “How do they assess the values, character and culture and do these metrics match what the individual desires from the company?” Knowing how to assess an organization is an important skill for individuals navigating the transition and one that is frequently overlooked or done hastily. With this goal in mind, Josh and I are stepping out on a three-part journey to provide individuals with the tools to better understand how to evaluate and assess an organization’s culture.
Trying to understand an organization’s culture is a difficult task to do when you are part of the organization and an even more difficult if you are on the outside looking in. Unfortunately, we see veterans that pour their heart and soul into transitioning, yet they overlook in their job search the art of assessing an organization’s culture—which could be one of the single most important tasks you will undertake during your transition and job search. Studies are showing that we are not doing our due diligence. According to a 2016 report titled, “Veterans In The Workplace” by the U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 50% of the veterans that left their new organization within the first year did so because they found a better job and or the job did not align with their expectations. Would you research the next car, house, tv or smartphone you plan to purchase? Our analysis tells us the answer is, “absolutely.” With that being true, why are we not dedicating that same level of research and effort in our quest to find our next organization?
If you search the term culture, you will quickly discern there is no consensus on what corporate culture is—even Webster’s Dictionary cannot help us on this one. One of the best explanations for culture that we have come across is in an article titled, “Culture Takes Over The Room When the CEO Leaves The Room“ by Francis Frei and Anne Morriss. They write, “Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.” In other words, culture is the beliefs, values and norms that shape the way people are working and interacting—with each other and leadership—in an organization. What makes this tricky is corporate culture does not have any set of written rules you can follow. There are no checklists that say, “do this and you will understand the culture,” therefore it is quite often implied and will develop from the people and leaders that the company hires and retains.
Nowhere in the previous definition did we mention an on-site gym, time-off, flexible work schedule, telework or free stuff in the break room. Yet when working with transitioning individuals we frequently hear these types of responses along with a great place to work and a great culture. When asked to define what they mean by a “great culture,” rarely do we get a culture answer. While the above answers hint at aspects of a corporate culture they align more with benefits and perks, but they are NOT the culture. These benefits often change in an organization and, while they may assist you in your research, we do not recommend you choose an organization based solely on the above-mentioned benefits. You may get all those great benefits and still find yourself in a less than optimal cultural fit WITH great benefits!
How can I gauge the culture? It is a difficult task when you are on the outside looking in, but there are always signs or patterns available—especially in the digital age. From news about the company to feedback found on job seeker sites, there is ALWAYS something being opined about a company.
Company Homepage. We recommend you start with the organization’s homepage. Like the Service you are transitioning from, your next organization will likely have a values, mission, vision and goal statement, guiding how the organization does business, works within their communities and visualizes their employees. You can cross reference these statements to see if the information the organization is providing about itself matches what you hear and discover as you research the organization. See if the organization discusses its employee resource groups (ERGs)-specifically look to see if there is a veteran employee resource group that is discussed on the site. Veteran employee resource groups are a proven multiplier at hiring and retaining veterans. Organizations that have these groups see a marked increase in their hiring initiatives and a significant decrease in their veteran turnover when compared to the national average. Look for key phrases that contain the words truth, candor, respect, accountability, diversity, employees, people and quality as these are very similar to the values you had in the Service.
Additionally, readily visible on a company’s homepage either in press releases or with digital badges will be any awards they have received about people, culture and veterans. The search function allows you to type the name of the company you are interested in joining into the search bar and see if they have the award now or have won the award in the past. Look for some of the following awards (not all inclusive and some of the awards only consider organizations with more than 50 people employed there:)
1. Great Place to Work: This award identifies organizations that have high-trust cultures with high customer satisfaction, employee engagement and organizational agility. Learn about how organizations receive this award here
2. Military Friendly Employer: This award identifies organizations whose commitment to serving the military and veteran community is comprehensive in scope and meaningful in terms of actual outcomes and impact-from hiring through career advancement to customer service. Learn more here.
3. Best Places for Parents: This award identifies organizations where policies and procedures of the company support working parents-both mother and father. These companies understand that by supporting parents they are retaining parents and driving business. Learn more here.
As you continue your journey, we recommend you utilize the power of social media, in particular LinkedIn and Glassdoor. These two sites will be among the most important tools you will use in your culture research. If you are reading this article on LinkedIn then part of your work is done–start researching!
LinkedIn is a free social network site (with a mobile app) that is utilized by career and business professionals to connect, network, identify job opportunities and promote businesses. It is also utilized by organizations to post open jobs. OF NOTE—LinkedIn is not Facebook or Twitter and you are encouraged not to use it that way. If you are a veteran that is transitioning you can get a free year of LinkedIn’s premium service by visiting this website and we encourage you to do that.
A few ways you can use the site for your research (not all encompassing:)
1. Do you know someone who works in the organization you can connect with? If you do and haven’t talked to them in a while, now is the time to do it. Determine if they utilize LinkedIn by using the sites people search tool. Connect with them on LinkedIn by sending them a connection request. We encourage you to include a personal note in your connection request. Be advised, if using the mobile app and you send a connection request, you DO NOT have the ability to add a personal message.
2. If you cannot outright identify anyone in the organization, start searching for anyone in the organization that has a common thread with you—veteran, same college, high school, etc. and use that angle to connect with them on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a company search feature that will provide you with the ability to search through all the employees from that company who are on LinkedIn, show you who was hired there from your school and follow the company (See the picture below–Coca Cola is only used throughout for demonstration). Send them a connection request highlighting why you want to connect with them.
3. If you do not know anyone and do not have any common threads with anyone, you are going to make a “cold connection.” These are more difficult and in our experience work about 60% of the time—still pretty good odds. Go through the same process described above, however, this time, find employees in the organization that may work in the area you are interested in joining. Send them a personalized connection request highlighting who you are, what you are doing (“transitioning” works great), and why you want to connect with them. Learn about their line of work, the company or the area where they are located.
Once you are connected, you can start to ask questions such as:
• What is your opinion of the company?
• Do slogans and vision statements mean something?
• Do you enjoy working at the company?
• Would you recommend the organization to a family member or best friend? – One of our favorite questions and one in which you will generally get an honest answer – either in voice reflection or the “long pause.”
Another way to discern what the culture is like in an organization is through intelligence gathering on Glassdoor. Glassdoor is another free site (sign up link here), where current and former employees can leave anonymous reviews (currently over 40 million reviews) on their company and management. It possesses a gold mine of data, including: CEO approval ratings, salary reports, actual interview questions, company-provided benefits and reviews left by current and former employees. Spend some time in all these sections, but in the review section (circled below) you will be able to get a strong sense of what the culture is like in the organization. Our experience has shown that the reviews left by both current and former employees on an organization are generally an accurate portrayal of what you can expect to see if you join the company.
We recently had a conversation with a veteran who had done very little research on the company he joined. It was not a shock when the veteran left the company after only a year. When we asked him about his preparation, he had done a lot of great work—resume, LinkedIn, etc., but he had not done due diligence on the culture. He told us, “Within weeks I knew I had made a mistake. The culture was not right for me and it was a bad environment to be in.” We asked him to look at Glassdoor to see if the company reviews matched his interactions. His response, “What is Glassdoor and how do I use it?” Some time later he came back to us and said, “The reviews on my department match exactly what I was experiencing. If I would have seen those reviews earlier, I would never have gone to work there.” To be fair, some of those reviews are posted by disgruntled current and former employees, but if you start to see a trend developing in your research there is usually something there.
Transitioning is going to be hard-no doubt about it-DON’T MAKE IT HARDER. As you are deciding what you want to do in your next career it would be prudent to “chase the culture” versus “chasing the money.” If you chase the money sooner or later, you will most likely be chasing the culture you wanted from the start. Do your research now and get it right the first time to start your next career on the right foot. We are always here to help.
Mike Bentley, SPHR, GTML, is a 25-year veteran of the United States Army who transitioned in 2016. He has led human capital management projects to include change management programs and talent management initiatives to create leadership development programs, veteran employee resource groups and hiring initiatives for veterans in the corporate world. Mike works as a senior consultant at Whitney, Bradley and Brown Inc., a certified Great Place to Work and is a registered mentor on Veterati.
Josh Atkinson, PMP, DML, is a 13-year veteran of the USMC who transitioned from Active Duty in 2016 and served two years in the reserves. He worked as a Heavy Rigging Project Manager for 2 years and was the Director of Training Management. He also served as the Director of Business Development for a successful Veteran Startup www.pm-prolearn.com. Josh works as a Consultant at Whitney, Bradley and Brown Inc, a certified Great Place to Work.