3 ways to discern a company’s culture from the outside in 2020

The difference between a great corporate culture and a mediocre culture is the same as the difference between shoes that fit and shoes that don’t. With both, for a while, you can deal with the discomfort.

But eventually, the discomfort becomes frustration, and frustration becomes pain. Just like painful footwear, a painful working environment will not support you to reach your desired destination.

The problem?

Most employers and their marketing departments are good at making their cultures look conducive to your happiness, health, and growth. Yet, too many employers will not deliver on that projected image. How can you equip yourself to accept the right offer, avoid the wrong choice, and protect yourself from a culture that isn’t right for you?

Here are three things you can do in the coming year to ensure that you land in an environment that will be purposeful, positive, and productive for you, both professionally and personally:

Choose the company that stands for something bigger

Have you noticed that even the most benign brands are intentionally becoming politicized? Companies such as Kellogg’s, Target, Chase Bank, Starbucks, and CVS have taken bold stands on hot political issues. These could be viewed as risky decisions for executives to make. They could also be viewed as prescient and smart decisions.

Demand for transparent, socially conscious brands will only get stronger. Sooner or later, every company will be forced into meaningful disclosure about the core beliefs driving its profitability. Employees want to work for admirable corporations. Consumers want their purchases to mean something. The companies that will dominate the marketplace in the future will be led by executive teams that thoughtfully, wisely choose to stand for (and genuinely support) something bigger than their own products and services.

In my experience, such forward-thinking executives are much more likely to be on the vanguard of investing in culture-building efforts. Why? Because they know they must guarantee that the top talent they recruit will want to stay, long-term.

Differentiate between values-driven and values-as-afterthought

That said, there is a big difference between brands that take superficial stands on politicized issues and companies that are built from the inside-out to be values-driven and values-aligned. How can you tell if you’re about to join a workplace that pays only lip service to the values it espouses?

The best way to discern the sincerity of a brand’s message is to take a close look at it’s marketing around its verticals. Consider, is each product and service built on a foundation of corporate social responsibility (CSR)? If so, you can rest assured that the company’s website and the press will tell this story in-depth, for all the world to hear.

Conversely, does the company silo off its CSR efforts? Is there only one aspect of the brand’s activity that is green, fair trade, or community-centric? Layering on values-driven offerings does not make a company values-driven.

Again, in my experience, when executives have chosen to add-on valued behaviors instead of integrating core values into the way work gets done — day-in, day-out, within and with the company — you can feel that disconnect and the feeling take its toll.

Once you’re embedded in a “values are only skin deep” culture, it’s a disconnect that can lead to cognitive dissonance, which in turn leads to the erosion of your intellectual, emotional, and physical well being.

Define your desired values system

The best step you can take to understand a company’s culture from the outside actually begins close to home, with you. Choosing a values-aligned workplace begins with your ability to understand your own values, thoroughly.

What are your core beliefs about what’s most important in life? Which beliefs can you “bend,” and which are non-negotiable?

Over the past decade, we’ve all been exposed to a bounty of information about self-awareness, self-improvement, and emotional intelligence.

Yet, again and again, I’m struck by how many industry-leading executives are not in tune with their core values system. Values are the drivers of all human thought, choice, and behavior.

Your ability to become an effective leader and collaborator rests on your understanding of your beliefs.

Discerning your rank-ordered values – and the behaviors you must practice in order to feel that you’re actually living your core values – is the single best step you can take to spearhead your professional development in 2020.

We all have ideas about how to bring about positive change for this planet we’re sharing. Which ideas do you believe in most passionately?

What kind of work and workplace will support you to move forward, manifest your values, and feel deeply proud of your contributions, not just now, but decades into the future?

Define these truths for yourself. Invest that time and energy.

Doing so will equip you to be a better judge of prospective employers and the cultures they offer.

S. Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group.