Finding a workplace that’s good for you

Whether you are happy in your work doesn’t just depend on the job that you do, it also depends on whether you like the culture of the place you are working.  There are ways to route round the corporate bull**** to find indicators ahead of time that show what a place might be like to work in.

Many recruiters will ask you to take a psychometric test to check your aptitude for the job, but if you are looking for work, you should remember you can turn the tables to some extend and avoid a lot of unhappiness by knowing what sort of organisation and culture will suit you best.

The tool we are probably most aware of is good old Myers Briggs but I’m not a fan. I think it’s too complicated and too ambiguous: I think AND I feel, thank you very much. The four scales are:

  • Extraversion vs Introversion
  • Sensing vs iNtuition
  • Thinking vs Feeling
  • Judgment vs Perception

I can never remember where I sit on this, and it’s hard to map on to a work environment though it’s useful when thinking about your suitability for a specific role. It’s popular with HR departments and tests of varying quality are widely available, but I think there are better models out there.

My favourite model is Goffee and Jones’ double S-Cube because it is simple and powerful. Goffee and Jones consider that groups of people are held together by two different kinds of glue: sociability and solidarity.

Goffee and Jones' Double S Cube

Goffee and Jones’ Double S Cube

Organisations with high sociability scores are characterised by long-term friendships, so Monday morning meeetings start with a catch-up about the weekend and a lot of what’s done is done out of goodwill and comradeliness. Organisations and people with high solidarity scores are characterised by a complete focus on the task in hand, social chit-chat is kept to a minimum, people are highly motivated by professional success and when they go the extra mile it’s not for friendship.

Clearly, if you know where you sit in the front 2×2, you know what sort of organisation you will be happy in.  It’s fairly easy to uncover where the organisation sits on the 2×2. In an interview you can ask questions like “it’s clearly a busy department, how do people pull together when the heat is on?” or you can just describe the model and ask where the organisation sits on it. Recruitment websites are clear about their values:

Working at Goldman Sachs is a fast-paced, high-energy experience that can help you find the best place for your talents

Googlers range from former neurosurgeons, CEOs, and U.S. puzzle champions to alligator wrestlers and Marines. No matter what their backgrounds, Googlers make for interesting cube mates.

Another model which I prefer to Myers Briggs is Denison’s Research-based Model.  His two axes are Flexibility vs Stability in one direction and Internal vs External focus in another. When you use this  model to sanity check your workplace just work out which quarter you and they fit in: work out where you and they fit on the two axes Flexible vs Stable and Internal focus vs External focus, and you’ll be fine.

Denison's Leadership Development Model

Denison’s Leadership Development Model

If by temperament you have an external focus and are flexible, then you pay close attention to what is going on ‘out there’ and think the best way forward is to supply what the market wants. Working in an environment where the decision-making style is consensual, where you “have to get buy-in” and you “socialise” an idea will suck your soul. Denison’s view, by the way, is that all traits are equally necessary in an organisation. No-one said it was easy. However, a sales department would probably sit top left, while HR in the same company would probably be bottom right.

No discussion of organisational culture would be complete without mentioning the work of Geert Hofstede whose research compared international cultures.  The image below shows Hofstede’s five dimensions and how strongly each one is present in the UK

Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions - UK

Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions – UK

I found Hofstede’s work fascinating while I was travelling, but it’s of limited use when working out how you’d fit into a specific workplace. The dimensions are:

  • Power Distance Index (PDI)
  • Individualism (IDV) on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism
  • Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
  • Long-Term Orientation (LTO) versus short-term orientation

Other models are available.

While I was researching this post, I came across the Kiersey Model which looks as if it would map neatly on to Denison’s though it’s even more complex than Myers Briggs. Hermann’s Whole Brain model looks at thinking styles, whether you are emotional, analytical, strategic or structural.

However if you want to work out whether you’ll be happy in a workplace, then I have yet to find models that are more effective than Goffee and Jones’s Double S-Cube, and their book is a quick and illuminating read, and Dension’s Research-Based Model whose the website is informative, but designed to sell consultancy.

7 responses to “Finding a workplace that’s good for you

  1. I’m a little bit sceptical now of personality tests after experiencing how they are used in business and questioning whether they are backed up by any real evidence. Brian Dunning recently did an episode of Skeptoid on the Myers Briggs test which tends to confirm my suspicions about it.

    Fascinating subject, I have to say.

  2. Ah see, I’ve been looking a lot at Myers=Briggs recently, and I do find it of some use. Not sure about its applicability in choosing the right organisation for you, though. Having worked in both the public and private sectors I can see huge differences in the cultures of each of those.

  3. Well now, that’s interesting.

    I wanted to post the following under ‘Sorting the goats from the sheep’, but WordPress won’t let me, so I hope you don’t mind if I stick it here:

    On a sort-of related note, yesterday I caught sight of the ‘Diversity and Equality’ forms we will soon be asked to fill in. The sexuality section had the following options

    Heterosexual
    Gay Man
    Lesbian
    Bisexual
    Prefer not to say

    Right, so it’s vital we pin down exactly how many dykes and poufs we’ve got, neatly split along gender lines, but the bi ones? Ahh, lump ’em all together. A bi woman’s worth exactly the same number of points as a bi bloke.

    Straights? Nope, no points in them, sod ’em.

    For some reason, this irks me, but I can’t put my finger on why.

    • I’ve no idea why WP took agin you for these comments, Kerr, since they are bang on topic and very much to the point. Sorry for not noticing them in the spam queue sooner.

      Ben

  4. No problem Ben. Software can have a mind of its own – I should know!

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