Four Ways to Read a Company

Professor Maura Belliveau, who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, gives this down-to-earth advice:

  1. Know some answers before you ask questions.
    “The best information about a company comes from the people who know the intimate details: current employees, former employees, customers. But these people may not know you. How do you persuade them to be frank? By becoming as informed as possible before you talk with them. The more you know, the more likely it is that people will consider you someone worth spending time with.
  2. You’re often just two degrees of separation away from the best sources of information.
    “It’s easy to say, ‘I want to talk to people with inside knowledge, but I don’t know anyone on the inside.’ Work your networks and you’ll be amazed at who you know. If you’ve gone to business school, you have fellow alumni who work for that company or in that industry—or know people who do. Get their phone numbers through the alumni directory. Chances are they’ll be candid with you.”
  3. Appearances matter.
    “Don’t just look at where people work. Watch how they work—simple things like how a receptionist greets strangers can be illuminating. Organizations convey something about themselves in their selection of frontline staff. Companies with strong cultures stand out from the moment you walk onto the premises.”
  4. Look for heroes, listen for stories.
    “Every company has heroes, people who embody the core values. And every company has “stories”—anecdotes that employees share with outsiders. What are the stories about? Big wins? Great service? Political battles? The stories that people inside a company share tell you a lot about the company itself.”

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