Monday, February 22, 2010

The Cultural Interview

Good decisions flow from good communications. You can improve communications by building stronger relationships. This "Cultural Interview" does that.

The Cultural Interview is a structured but informal conversation where two people get to know each other better. By building a relationship, this interview strengthens the culture’s foundation, setting the stage for improved communications, decisions and overall company performance.

Build A Relationship—Not Solve a Problem

The Cultural Interview is not a device for gathering information, or solving problems. It is an opportunity for two people to understand each other better and share their experiences. The Cultural Interview lasts about 40-90 minutes, is confidential, and is held in a neutral private place, such as a lunch-room or meeting room, over coffee, or at lunch, or just walking together around the facility. The ideal arrangement is two people sitting in comfortable chairs, informally.

This is a time for the manager to step out of their usual role as information-giver, decider or question-answerer. In the Interview, the manager or supervisor listens, understands, and builds a relationship. The Interview is best understood as part of the larger process dedicated to a more open, cooperative corporate culture.

Plan Ahead

The Interview is scheduled in advance, so that the person has time to think about it and plan their day's work. Let the person know well ahead of time that the purpose of the Interview is, "To get to know each other better." If your interviews are part of a formal decision by the culture leadership team, you can tell them that also, (see The Formal Culture Change Process). Explain that the interview is confidential, about how long it will be, that it is not a problem solving discussion, and will not directly lead to actions.

Each Interview Is Different

Like people, each interview is special. Relax, make it a part of your personal style, and go with the flow. Make sure you share some of your own experiences during the Interview. Try to touch on something from each of the three general areas suggested below, but if you do not, that's OK. Enjoy it.

Some Suggested Conversation Topics:


  • How did you come to be with the company? What did you do before that?
  • Childhood, school, where grew up? Parents, where from, occupations?
  • Children, spouse, home, hobbies, weekends, vacations?
  • What do you like people to know about you?
  • What would you like to know about me?


  • Future hopes, plans, work and non-work?
  • What do you look forward to? How do you see things down the road?


  • What was it like when you first came here? Work history and highlights?
  • Recent experiences you have had here and what these mean to you?
  • Tell me about communications? And relationships?
  • What parts of your work do you enjoy the most?
  • And what parts do you enjoy the least?
  • What things here would you like to change?

Interviews improve an organization's culture by building personal relationships, and introducing new kinds of discussions and experiences into the workplace. After several interviews, the manager will sense common or recurring cultural themes, on which he or she can then act appropriately, without violating the confidentiality of individual interviews.

Who Should Interview?

Anyone at any level in any organization can conduct interviews.

  • The Interview can be part of a formal top-down culture change process.
  • A supervisor can interview his or her team.
  • A person in one arm of an organization can interview a person in another.
  • Receiving clerk's, frustrated by delivery schedules, have interviewed buyers, improving working relationships.
  • Operations managers and supervisors have interviewed across into technical support and maintenance functions, resolving long-standing issues.
  • People have used the Interview to cut turnover, see Turnover.
  • Managers tell me they have used it to open a channel with their teenage children.

You can use it informally or formally, anywhere you think improved relationships would help.

While classically the interview is between a team leader and the team members—at any organizational level, it is also a wonderful way to get to know anyone you work with but don't know very well. Perhaps you have talked for years with this person but only by phone. Just invite them to coffee or lunch, and very informally interview them. You don't have to mention "The Interview".

Discuss Interview Themes at the Management Meeting

For the top management group, these interviews provide essential, powerful information about the company's culture, that will help leaders shape and direct the culture development process. After each manager has conducted four to six interviews, discuss the emerging themes at the manager’s monthly Culture Leadership meeting. If you are the leader of the management group, you must be careful to curtail any discussion of specific interviews. Discussing individual interviews, or who said what, would be a breach of the confidentiality that is essential to the Interview program’s success.

Scheduling the Interviews

Management groups that decide to do these interviews often keep a list of all employees, and check off those who have been interviewed and by whom. This ensures that everybody in the organization will have opportunity to participate in the Interview process. Ideally every manager will do one Interview a week. If you are the group’s leader you must encourage them to follow their agreed Interview schedule. Part of that encouragement is you keeping to your part of the schedule. If you don't do your Interviews, they probably won't do theirs.

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