Leaders are tasked with setting the vision and drumbeat of the organization, fostering the kind of positive culture they intend, posting meaningful goals, and establishing behavioral norms–all things that yield the “feel and smell” of the place. The truest read of the tone of a workplace comes from the person least informed, with the most objectivity, with the rare ability in the organization to articulate a first impression.
The new hire.
Having brought many new hires into many organizations over a 30-year career, I’ve always viewed them as the test for the look and feel of the place I was trying to create. So I developed seven questions you can use as your own test, should the newest kid on the block ask. Ace this quiz and chances are you’ve been thinking about the right things to produce the right gestalt.
1. “What do we believe in around here?”
To crisply answer this question is to have a clear understanding of the core values you’re espousing, role-modeling, and asking employees to adopt. It speaks to the purpose, the profound why, of what your company does. Being able to answer this definitively means those beliefs have likely already seeped into the DNA of the place.
For most workplaces that lack a distinctive, positive vibe, it can be traced back to the absence of a clear set of values and purpose articulated and spearheaded by leaders.
2. “What’s worth preserving that makes this place special?”
This speaks to the cultural behaviors expected and to an understanding of company heritage that matters. This speaks to understanding your competitive advantage and compassionate advantage, a.k.a. what makes employees feel uniquely cared for. Knowing the answer to this question helps you draw talented employees to your company and keep them there.
It’s also about understanding what employees love about the place and want to protect, and what should never fall by the wayside to any company initiative.
3. “What’s expected of me?”
Gallup data indicates that an astonishing half of all workers don’t understand what’s expected of them at work. This is a major driver for why nearly 70 percent of all employees are disengaged. You should be able to articulate for the new hire how their work will fit into the big picture you outline, and expect that every boss under you clearly outlines expectations for their direct reports.
4. “What is the difference we’re trying to make?”
This is a different take on the typical question of “What are we trying to accomplish?” which can be answered with a numerical goal. You don’t answer “What is the difference we’re trying to make?” with a number.
It inspires a deeper, more thoughtful answer. It draws off the purpose you’ve established for your organization. It asks you to set goals that are meaningful and that will ultimately make a meaningful difference in something that matters. This requires thinking of the end users and the important impact your product or service will have on them. It moves motivation from spreadsheet to societal.
5. “What are the biggest opportunities in front of us?”
This engenders an action orientation and requires discipline, choice, and imagination. You’ll note I didn’t include the cousin to this question on this list, “What might derail us?” Yes, you have to be aware of potential pitfalls, but the truth is you often won’t know what they are. I’ll take one new hire focused on making the right things happen over 20 who are overly focused on what might happen.
6. “How do things get done around here?”
This question speaks to the work processes fostered. For example, have you banned PowerPoint presentations? Do you place a premium on collaboration, remote work, autonomy, trust, and empowerment? Do you have a clear picture of the rewards and recognition systems and norms?
The point is you should have a vision for how work gets done because it has such an oversize impact on the workplace culture. When it’s left to its own device, things like bureaucracy, internal competitiveness, callousness, and command and control behavior take hold.
7. “What does a good risk look like?”
Risk-taking is more important than ever in ambitious organizations, yet too often fear of taking risks is predominant. Change that by being able to articulate the rules of risk-taking. What constitutes a good risk? A bad one? Who needs to sign off on a risk before taking it? You get the idea–it’s about taking the fear out of risk-taking by bringing clarity in.
So if you can articulate answers to these questions for the newest guy or girl in the room, it serves everyone well.