Three intriguing questions about the culture of Professional Services organizations

Three intriguing questions about the culture of Professional Services organizations

Culture was the breakaway topic at my presentation on November 10th to the IEEE Consultants Network. Here are my favorite questions from the audience.

“I am thinking of creating a startup company. How do you recommend defining the culture?”

Culture is the sum total of all the people in your organization, and so whom you hire in the very early days of the firm will define the culture of the company. Find all the people you love to work with, because you’ll be working with them for a lot of long hours. Make certain their values align with your values, and that they understand and own the vision you are defining. You can write down values, but you cannot pin down the intangibles of how those values are demonstrated daily. And start your company now. It is better to start and make decisions spontaneously then to try to predict every permutation of your business plan.

 “How do you learn about an organization’s culture before an interview?”

Start with LinkedIn. View the profile of the person who will be interviewing you. Check what schools they went to – are they conservative, or cutting edge? What companies has the interviewer or hiring manager worked at before, and how are those companies perceived in the market?

Next, go to Glassdoor. What are people saying about working at the firm? Is the management praised for their competence or publicly pilloried for perceived bad decisions? Do you want to work at a firm where it is socially acceptable behavior to tear people down?

Finally, check social media – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and a Google search. How does the interviewer or hiring manager conduct themselves on social media? If their direct reports are on LinkedIn, what’s their use of social media? Do they look like people whom you would enjoy working with, or will you be arguing daily?

“Our new manager has a background in finance and is an external hire to the firm. It is all about billable rates and utilization now, not doing what’s right for the client. What do you think I can do?”

Wait a few months to see if the new manager’s tone changes. External hires are difficult in professional services, particularly if the new manager comes from a different professional discipline. Either they’ll see that the culture is to do the right thing by the client, or they intend to change the culture to focus more on financial results, rather than repeat business. If that is the case, update your resume and start networking, because a high-profile hire with a different vision for the culture will frequently demoralize and repel the existing employees. Either find another practice area in your firm that’s aligned with your values, or find another business that reflects your culture.

Special thanks to Scott Tully for organizing last night’s event.

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