The authentic organisation

30 October 2019

Tags: Supportive Environment

Companies now have an array of tools to help them attract new talent. In a crowded marketplace and faced with increasingly aware and discerning candidates, there are powerful incentives for companies to paint highly flattering impressions of their culture. Projecting authenticity in this space is everything but, as Groucho Marx might have said, "if you can fake that, you’ve got it made”.

There are some elements of the proposition that only the most naïve candidate would take on face value - the photographs of endlessly smiling colleagues; the gushing quotes from uniformly delighted customers - but there are other elements that are fundamental to what it will feel like to work there, and these can be harder to spot. Most organisations now have values statements and profess to do the right thing, but you will need to know that these are an authentic description of how the organisation will actually behave, under pressure, particularly when things go wrong.

Cultural due diligence is vital. Feeling at home at work will encourage you to be your best. It will be hard to be the authentic you in a culture that does not match your own personal values, and making a poor choice of employer will make for a challenging and unsatisfying experience. But a mismatch in ethical standards could prove catastrophic for you both personally and professionally. If something goes wrong and your employer has behaved unethically, you’re at risk of being tarred with the same toxic brush.

Thankfully, there are ways you can test these areas, including:

  • Reading everything you can - Background research on the annual report, news items and sites like Glassdoor will help give an impression not just of what has gone wrong (things do go wrong) but also insights into the organisation’s attitude and response to problems
  • Assessing the tone from the top – Watch any on line videos of the senior leaders that are available. What have they said about ethics and is there real evidence that they are championing the values that appear on the organisation’s website?
  • Speaking to everyone you can - Talk to friends about the organisation and meet as many people as possible who work there (or, better still, who used to work there) and who interact with the organisation (for example as suppliers, advisers or customers)
  • Observing – Do the people you meet during the interview process talk about the company values? Are those values visible as you walk around the building? 
  • Asking challenging questions - Work out some of the ethical issues likely to be relevant for the organisation and its sector and sound out the attitude to those issues at interview
  • Following-up on any areas which raise questions or doubts – In the excitement of landing a new job, it is easy to ignore or rationalise away any red flags
  • You are looking for evidence of a culture of integrity and openness. You will want to see evidence of a ‘speak-up’ culture and to be confident that that if you raised an ethical issue you would be treated with dignity and respect and that your concerns would be addressed promptly and properly. 

Above all, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. There is a reason why the organisations which take their ethical culture seriously succeed in attracting and retaining the best talent. Candidates always have a choice and the ethical standards of their employer should be a deciding factor.


Mark Chambers
Mark Chambers

Associate Director - Governance, IBE,

Mark brings 30 years of experience from a successful career in business to help grow the IBE’s interaction with boards, regulators and policy makers.

After graduating in Zoology from Oxford University, Mark re-trained as a lawyer and spent his early years at Slaughter and May in their London and New York offices before moving into business. During his career, he managed world-class global functions responsible for governance, legal and regulatory risk management in large, complex, regulated businesses. He was General Counsel & Group Company Secretary at RSA Insurance Group and at Worldpay Group, and held senior positions at American Express and GE Capital. He retired as Deputy Group Company Secretary of HSBC in 2018 to pursue a second career, which also includes non-executive and advisory work. Mark is a former member of the CBI’s Financial Services Committee.

For many years, Mark has had a successful career as a charity trustee, most recently as Chair of Amref Health Africa and prior to that as a trustee of WWF, where he chaired the Audit Committee and oversaw the development of the charity's exemplar new headquarters building. Mark was a finalist in the 2014 Sunday Times Non-Executive of the Year Awards.

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it. – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Read lessmore