Is This Company Agile?

Recently Boris Gloger tweeted the question:
This made me think: "If I would switch positions to another company - how could I find out, if it is really agile?".
My first approach to answering this question was to answer the following two questions:

  • Which interfaces are there between me and this company?
  • How can I see, if it is only the interface looking agile or the whole company beeing agile?
This resulted in the following list of companies interfaces:

  • Web Page
  • Building
  • Job Interview
  • Friends working there
  • Social Media
  • Classical Media (e.g. Newspaper)
  • Rating Sites (e.g. WorldBluKununuglassdoor)
  • E-Mail
  • Phone call
  • Job Advertisement
  • Products
  • Customers
I tried to figure out, how one could possibly learn about the agility of an organization by observing those interfaces. And failed. The only interfaces, that are likely to give some clue about agility are the two "organic" ones where you meet somebody working in this company:

Job Interview

In 2012 I participated in a Stoos Stampede session, where some guys collected a large set of really nice questions for a job interview. Some other guys even ordered them in a nice way. I think this is a good resource to look at before your next job interview.
Anyway - you should take a round trip through the company and have look in the faces of people. Observe their interactions and just listen to what happens, what does not happen and how people behave.

Friends working there

Probably the best source for information about any company is your network. Look out for friends and people you know, working for this company. You should ask them every question, that you are interested in and will very likely get an honest answer.
However: Even friends and relatives have different receptions of reality and different tastes!

What else?

After looking on the other interfaces for several days and trying to figure out, how agile companies differ from non-agile companies, I realized that this is probably a mission impossible: Being agile is a deeply cultural thing (as you can see e.g. here and here) and you will not be able to assess a companies culture by observing artifacts only.

So - what else?

I then remembered a really good book, I read some months ago: "The Corporate Culture Survival Guide" by Edgar H. Schein. Schein proposes a cultural model in this book, which consists of three levels:

  • Artifacts: All the things you can see, hear, taste, ... All of the non-organic interfaces mentioned above are artifacts.
  • Espoused Values: This are the values, the organization communicates actively. E.g. "customers first" or "employees first".
  • Tacit Assumptions: This is the real hot stuff. Tacit assumptions are things everybody in the organization knows implicitly and which determine the factual behaviour of employees. This is the core of the companies culture.
(I already explained this and other culture models in a former blog post)

Schein additionally proposes a workshop format to assess a companies culture. This consists of seven steps where three steps are actually used to investigate the tacit assumptions, i.e. the real culture of a company:
  1. Identify and list artifacts: Look at all artifacts, you can observe. To do this for a company, you are not part of, you can use the interface list above and observe, how the company behaves over this interfaces. Do they react fastly on customers questions? How does the building of the organization look like? What about the design and usability of the website?
  2. Identify the organizations espoused values: Try to get all statements about companies values, you can get. A good way to do this is the web site, where you might find a blog or other content about companies values. Another way is to search the web for the companies vision and mission. Especially the latter one will probably contain some espoused values.
  3. Compare values with artifacts: Write all identified artifacts on the left side of a whiteboard or sheet of paper and all espoused values on the right side. Look out for conflicts between espoused values on the right and artifacts on the left. If you find a conflict, you have likely found something that points to a deeper lying tacit assumption held within this company.
If you have this list of tacit assumptions, you will probably get a good feeling for the agility or non-agility of a company. If you take this list to your job interview at this company and discuss it with your counterpart, you are very likely to get a good sense for the agility of the company you are interested in.

Do you have any other ideas, how one might be able to find out how agile a company is before one joins the company? Please use the comments section and spread your ideas!

Update 1: Further Readings (Blog posts recommended to me after publishing this, etc.)