Did you know that the main reason that employees fail at a business is not a lack of technical skills, but an inability to adapt to or operate within the prevailing company culture. A survey from Leadership IQ, which I reported on last year, found that just 11 percent of new hires failed due to incompetence; the other 89 percent failed due to a lack of appropriate temperament, motivation, emotional intelligence, and/or coachability. Taken as a whole, this suggests that the candidates mainly fail when they do not fit in with a company’s culture.
As you are all probably aware, a premature exit or mediocre performance can limit your career in a number of ways, so it pays for you to consider positions where you have both the necessary skills and a cultural fit. Still, many candidates don’t spend enough time considering their likely corporate fit when deciding if they want to join a company.
To help you achieve this, I have prepared 10 simple questions that can help you reveal the company behind the mask. Now, I admit that some of these questions are very challenging, but remember they are meant to get behind the glossy brochure and reveal the company culture behind the mask. You might want to prime your interviewers by explaining that you are assessing culture and your likely fit, as working in a company where you fit the culture will mean you can reach peak performance. It’s win-win.
You also don’t need to ask all the questions – you may just want to focus on questions that deal with areas where you have some cause for concern and/or areas that are especially important to you.
1. Why did the last three people leave your team and where are they now?
You may want to make it clear that you are not looking for identities or to encroach on anyone’s privacy. This question helps to give you an idea of the culture around managing underperformance, engagement, and careers.
For example, if all three of the team members left to take up promotions in the business, there is a pretty good chance this place nurtures careers. If they all left to take up positions externally, you might wonder about the career development culture. If there were a lot of dismissals, it could be a sign of a blaming, rather than supportive, culture. If the interviewer is sketchy or defensive about this question, then you may be concerned with company transparency.
2. How do you recognize exceptional performance? Who was the last person to receive recognition on your team, and what was it for?
Now, we know that some of the best and most engaging corporate cultures are great at recognizing outstanding staff performances. Companies with such cultures have open and accessible systems of recognition, and they use them regularly.
If a company is great at recognizing staff, an interviewer should be able to talk in some detail about this. If they can’t answer this question convincingly, and you crave recognition for good work, you may need to wonder about how well you’ll thrive in this culture.
3. Overall, what sort of pay raise did employees receive last year and/or how was last year’s company-wide pay raise determined?
There are lots of ways an interviewer can answer this, and their answers can give you insight into how transparent a company is about its reward processes and pay-raise philosophy, in regard to keeping up with cost of living, performance-related pay, etc. Is the money shared out, or is it mainly given to higher performers or more senior staff? Do the company’s raise practices appear justified? There is no right or wrong answer here, it just depends on what kind of compensation culture you desire, e.g., more egalitarian or more performance based.
4. Can you describe the busiest stages of the month/year?
You want to understand how the business handles pressure and high demand. A business that is well prepared for high demand will know its high and low demand periods and will have some support systems available, e.g., they have a good arrangement with an agency to bring in temps, or staff members work more hours but are allowed to work fewer hours the following month, etc.
Once again, there is no right or wrong answer. You’re just looking for insight into how the organization operates under pressure.
5. How often do you meet with your staff?
With this question, you are trying to understand how hands-on or hands-off the management is and how meeting-intensive or meeting-shy the organization is. You can then favor cultures that match your own personal preferences.
If you found these first five questions useful, stay tuned for part 2 of this article, which contains the next five culture-probing questions.