What Is The Litmus Test For Company Culture?

Company culture is not what the company tells the outside world.  It is reflected in the behaviors of the employees and rooted deeply in the upper management.  Usually, the true company culture comes to the surface during scandal, redundancies, firings, etc.

For employees it may be hard to align their perceived understanding of the company culture with the actual company culture resulting in people leaving in dismay and distrust and thus resulting in a bad experience from their former employee.  This bad experience is passed along to friends and acquaintances and can result in companies having trouble finding talent because good talents do their homework and refuse to get caught up in such companies.

The purpose of this article is not to dive into the nuts and bolts of culture but to discuss how employees or candidates for employment can sniff out the true culture and not learn about it in the shock and awe moments.

The question is how can employees or potential employees learn the true underlying layer of company culture without raising eyebrows or trouble?

I think the answer is simple: By HOW people get promoted:

The best litmus test for company culture is understanding the process for how people get promoted from within a company.

I can remember once a colleague getting a promotion and  I am happy when people get promoted because it shows that there is a future in the company and that the company doesn’t only hire from the outside but promotes from in its own ranks.

Very curious as I am and wanting to test my manager, I went to my manager at the time to discuss: How people were promoted in our company? I expected him to produce an official company document that explained the fairness of how the process of promotion occurs and how to get considered.

I can remember our conversation ended quickly where the manager called for a second meeting with the “coach” that company employed to help him explain why I wasn’t promoted. In the next meeting we sat three grown men discussing why I wasn’t promoted.

What was crazy was I never asked why I was’t promoted and I can remember specifically asking my manager not to explain why I wasn’t promoted but to name the process and explain the steps a person has to go through to get a promotion.  After 1 hour of discussion it was blatantly obvious that there was NO process for promotion and they didn’t want to discuss this anymore with me.

Completely baffled by the discussion, I went down to HR and asked the same question and I was told to speak to my manager. It was at this time that all the bells and whistles started to go off in my head and at that moment I felt as if the veil of what was the perceived culture was removed from my eyes.  I could see how the pronounced culture was nothing like the real culture and immediately lost faith and trust in both my manager and the company. Over the next few months, I began to question more and more the decisions of management.

A promotion is a result and all results can be measured. When the promotion of a person doesn’t makes sense many people will try to calculate how it happened and companies that promote the wrong people erode the trust factor from within their own.  However, companies with proper promotion strategies are transparent in this process and employees learn how their work ethic, behavior, contribution and luck participate in them getting a promotion.

I would suggest to any person that wants to see if what they think is their company culture is true then go ask for a meeting where their manager explains the process for how they can get promoted.

If you have a job interview and you are preparing questions for round 2 or 3, ask them to explain their promotion process to you.

I guarantee that the result of these discussion will start a process where either a person can see their cultural values in their companies or not.

Thank you

Patrick Kitchell