Sizing up personalities is easy. A rich vocabulary lets us distinguish between introverts and extroverts, optimists and pessimists, and so on.
When the conversation turns to corporate cultures, however, often we are at a loss for words. Our own company’s culture is familiar but hard to articulate; other organizations’ habits are as mysterious as they are powerful.
What we don’t know about business cultures can hurt us. If you wave goodbye to a familiar, highly idiosyncratic culture (such as General Electric or Nike) and jump into a bewildering alternative, you risk a gear-grinding failure. When academic researchers ask people why a new job didn’t work out, the top factors revolve around culture clashes. By contrast, finding the right cultural fit greatly improves your chances of a smooth transition and fulfilling work in the years to come.
So how can we size up companies with the same clarity that we apply to people? In recent months, I’ve been talking to business audiences in the U.S., England, and Scotland about ways to create something like a Myers-Briggs grid, pinpointing what’s distinctive about different organizations’ habits and values.