Diana Parkes from the Women’s Sat Nav to Success gives some tips about how to distinguish the reality from the hype in company PR.
Websites, job ads and interviews are much like politicians – they often spin the story they want you to believe. We know that’s true about politicians, but many of us are far too gullible about our potential new employer or new manager. And sometimes that results in paying the price when we find out that the reality of what’s really valued, what’s really expected and how decisions really get made.
But don’t think that it’s just those who are inexperienced who fall into that trap and find themselves six months in and looking for the door and wondering what wording can cover-up their error of judgement on their CV. One of the MDs I interviewed in the research for my forthcoming book said that on the job ad and in all the interviews her new, formerly market leading, employer had described entering a new era, where emotional intelligence was to be at the heart of all management thinking and behaviour. Within months of her appointment the CEO was telling her she had to ‘toughen up’ if she was going to fit in, despite her extraordinary track record of succeeding previously using the skills for which she was apparently appointed.
In fact in the 2017 Women’s Sat Nav to Success Survey nearly a third of all respondents said that their engagement with their employer decreased given their understanding of how their organisations really work. The main issue they pointed to was a conflict between their values and the accepted everyday behaviours – the operating culture – of their organisation.
So, how can you minimise the likelihood of going back to a job with a new boss, or joining a new organisation that turns out to be a let-down compared to the image that was presented?
There are three areas to consider and none of them are easy to do by yourself. Find a friend, a coach or a supportive colleague to try to challenge, test and extend your thinking.
The first, a critical step, is articulating and prioritising what you want from your a new employer, function or new manager.
What do you want to be the truth about what they value; who they recognise; who they support; what they really see as commitment; who they develop; what opportunities arise and who gets them; who gets listened to; how teams work; how they really feel about and behave towards working mums; and so on.
What are the deal breakers for you and what can you work with?
You need to spend time thinking about this carefully because it’s very easy to be swayed by things that might seem attractive superficially, but aren’t actually important to you.
This is the toughest part. How do you find out what the truth is so that you can make a balanced and informed decision?
The approach that we have found works well is taking each of your priority areas and asking yourself, ‘what would the evidence be of this happening in practice in an organisation? What could you see, hear, measure?’
And then you have to consider how to find that evidence. Again, getting help to brainstorm this really makes a difference.
In an interview there are questions that you can pose to seek that tangible evidence, for instance, ‘of the last few people you have promoted, what have been the most significant reasons for them getting on?’
If you know anyone in the organisation or team then you can ask for their experience of the reality. Then there may be suppliers or customers who might have a perspective too.
Then there are sources of insights on the organisation such as websites, reports and accounts and blogs or press releases. Just be aware that these more formal outputs are the least likely to present the informal reality.
There will always be ways that things get done and things get valued that develop and become accepted in any team, function or organisation – ways that differ to the formally articulated processes or measures. This is a reality of how things develop when humans are involved. And while some view this as Machiavellian office politics that are to be avoided at all costs, it is probably wiser and less stressful to take a pragmatic view.
If you are on the outside and deciding whether to step, in then steps one and two are key to helping make an informed decision about committing to an organisation.
However, if you’re in already, then the choices are about accepting this culture and working with it to whatever degree is comfortable, and / or, using the resources and influence you have to make the changes that would make it work better for you (and probably others too).
*Diana Parkes is the founder of The Women’s Sat Nav to Success Ltd. You can find out more about, or pre-order a special edition of her book, The Women’s Sat Nav to Success: How to have your best career at www.unbound.com/books/sat-nav