4 ways to size up your client’s culture

I appreciate all the clients I work with. Each one is unique, with its own corporate culture. Often, that culture makes it easier to work with the client. But sometimes it erects obstacles that we have to overcome.

How can you measure the corporate culture of a client you’re working with, or are about to work with? If you’re a full-time employee, how can you measure the culture of a company you’ve just joined or are about to join?

The answers to these questions will probably determine whether you’ll have a successful working relationship with the client.

1. Do they value their customers?

Every company says its customers are important. But to see if that’s really true, observe and ask yourself:

  • Can everyone in the organization describe, in concrete terms, who their customers are and how they use the company’s products?
  • How much influence does the Tech Support organization have on product development? On documentation design? They should have a lot of influence, and their opinions should be sought out, because they know the customers better than anyone.

2. Do disparate business units work well together?

It’s much easier to work with an organization when all of the various product teams and all of the various functions (marketing, development, QA) are connected and are working in harmony. So:

  • Do managers talk about each other as if they’re colleagues or rivals? If sighing and eye-rolling accompany words like “Marketing” or “Product B” (when you’re talking with someone on the Product A team), it’s a bad sign.
  • When people from the various groups are in the same room, what’s the atmosphere? Is it collegial, or does it feel like a roomful of strangers? Do people from the various groups ever even find themselves in the same room?

3. Are they committed to training their people?

Everyone says they want their staff to be up to date in tools and technologies. But…

  • When rolling out new tools and processes, is money budgeted for training the staff?
  • Are employees given time to learn and master new skills?
  • Are training opportunities recommended to employees, or are they expected to fend for themselves?

4. How do the people treat you?

Your very first meeting provides a barometer to how your relationship with the client will go. Do people treat you as:

  • An advisor, who can bring expertise and perspective to their business problems.
  • A colleague, with whom they can talk honestly and without condescension.
  • A fellow participant in the product development process.

"No minions" (using illustration from Despicable Me movie) If these attitudes are not in evidence, be careful lest you find yourself being treated as:

  • A mushroom, constantly kept in the dark and expected to be quietly productive.
  • A scapegoat, onto whom blame can be shifted.
  • A political pawn, used to puff up one manager at the expense of another.
  • A minion, who’s asked to shoulder all of the grunt work. (Despite what you see in the Despicable Me movies, being a minion is no fun.)

How do you size up the corporate culture of the companies you work with (or for)?

Originally on the SDI blog, 10 December 2013

4 thoughts on “4 ways to size up your client’s culture

  1. Pingback: 4 ways to size up your client's culture | M-lea...

  2. Pingback: 4 ways to size up your client’s culture | TechCommGeekMom

  3. Corporate Life

    I like this article and, having personally experienced many of the organizational characteristics mentioned, I agree with what has been said here. One of my friends often says that, to bring out the true colors of a corporate executive, take him/her to a restaurant and observe the behavior with the waiter – rude, polite, humane, etc.
    If you are interested in some light-hearted corporate musings, please take a look at my blog (corporatelife101.wordpress.com).

  4. Pingback: 4 ways to size up your client's culture | Alarm...

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