As a recruiter for accountants and finance professionals in Toronto, I have been working with small, medium and large enterprises for over 10 years. I have a very voyeuristic job. You see, I am often invited into different companies to help hire accountants who will build the finance team. Other times, I am asked to help a growing company stop the exodus of top accounting talent. It is a necessary part of my job to dig in and understand an organization and the different teams and individuals that make up the staff. To be completely transparent with you: I see patterns all the time and some are positive, while others are negative.
Perhaps the most troublesome pattern I see is when the people running a team or organization are unable to come to terms with the fact that they have a toxic culture. This type of culture may, or may not, be a direct result of learned behaviour, the leader(s) or as a result of an event turned sour. Regardless of the cause, denying an issue exists and burying your head in the sand is a sure way to let the problem continue and ultimately the dysfunction will grow.
How does this pertain to you? Quite simply, I want to give you three tips when evaluating a company to take notice on if any or all are apparent. Think twice about accepting an accounting job with them if any of these are noticed. Without further delay let’s dig in:
1. As a percentage, how many people have more than three full years of tenure in the team or organization – 50%, 40%, 30%? Watch the response of the interviewer during this question and if they give you an answer of anything less than 50% then hit them with the follow-up question: What do you think is driving the turnover in staff? Listen for them to address this head -on and if they can’t then I suggest you run.
2. How does this team work cooperatively to achieve results? This question is meant to gauge the health within the team. Has a positive culture been creative to enable active engagement and collaboration on problems? My experience has led me to believe that even the most competitive teams should have a highly collaborative culture alongside the healthy competition that drives performance. Ask them the following:
What examples do you have of this cooperation affecting the outcome of a major initiative in the past month? Ask this so that the hiring authority has to get specific as opposed to spouting platitudes or fluff. You want them to know that you are actively listening for proof and that you need this type of environment.
3. Then you should take a look at how realistic the client is when they evaluate their team. Ask them “How would you rate the overall health of your team?” Regardless of the response you should ask the hiring authority to explain why they ranked the team one way or another. Write down the answers and ask the same question of other people in the team when/if you make it to the next round of interviews. If the manager doesn’t want you to meet people on the team then you should seriously consider the fact that they may be keeping something relevant from you.
I sometimes identify with Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as I often see events and themes re-play themselves. In a way, I get a sense of déjà vu quite regularly as I observe mangers making the same great decision or the same terrible mistakes. Can you guess which repetitive moments I enjoy more?
If you think you could be leading a potentially toxic culture, know that acknowledging change is a positive first step. More critical is asking yourself, “What can I do to fix this problem?” In this instance change in habits are crucial for success, as Einstein brilliantly once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”