What Cultural Nuances Energize YOU?

Company Culture Elements mind map

Company Culture Elements mind map

When I read Bill Barnett’s Harvard Business Review blog entry, “Investigate Culture, Ask the Right Questions,” I shook my head in agreement. A firm’s culture is difficult to articulate. Yet, cultural nuances such as the behaviors that are supported within a work environment as well as the conditions that exist internally are easier to put your finger on. Bill gives us ideas on how to identify the right questions to highlight these cultural nuances. He begins with six organizational dimensions as sources of inspiration for our queries: purpose, teamwork, colleagues, communication, performance, and productivity. For example, he says that you should learn how teamwork plays out in a firm and as a result you can ask questions that tap into this organizational dimension such as: “are there special activities to promote teamwork?”

However, my advice is to use YOUR professional experiences as the launching pad from which to ask targeted and relevant questions to get at the specific cultural nuances that matter to your own success. If you apply Bill’s logic, which is to use those six dimensions to inform your questions, then you may not distribute enough weight to the cultural nuances that have shaped your past experiences and which I argue will shape your further experiences.  The key to figuring out these critical cultural elements is to ask yourself while considering each of your prior jobs: what cultural nuances have energized and which ones have stifled your success? The output of this exercise should be used to inform what you will ask folks (i.e. company employers, partners, suppliers, etc.) to uncover the key behaviors or critical conditions you need to support YOUR success.

Let’s consider a fictitious job seeker, Mark. He has worked for a startup in the energy space. Below is the OUTPUT of my suggested exercise as he evaluates his own professional experience.

Exercise: Go through your resume. Job by job, identify the cultural nuances that have energized as well as the ones that have stifled your success. Highlight the key implication of that workplace experience. Brainstorm questions that will uncover whether the cultural nuances that have energized or stifled your success exist within a target company.

Company: Energy Start-up    

Energizing Condition: The frequent ability to present directly to the CEO made me step my game up and I loved it.

Key Implication: I thrive and learn the most when I interface with senior executives

Sample Questions: Have you ever presented your work directly to senior leadership at the firm? Do you get to present work to your boss’ boss directly? If so, then tell me about one time. How common are these interactions?

Stifling Condition: I was ignored on day one of my employment, I was not “onboarded” properly and I never learned why the company had been founded. I lost interest quickly at this job.

Key Implication: My long-term dedication is linked to whether I feel part of an organization early on

Sample Questions: What did you do on day one when you joined your current company? What do you know about the heritage of the company? How much of that learning was self-directed versus part of a formal indoctrination process of the firm?

Posted in

Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.


  1. Avatar Dan Marty on October 2, 2012 at 8:14 am

    verses vs. versus…just sayin’.

    • Avatar Melissa on October 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks, made the update. What did you think about the content?

Leave a Comment