“When it comes to landing a good job, many people focus on the role. Although finding the right title, position and salary is important, there’s another consideration that matters just as much: culture. The culture of a workplace — an organization’s values, norms and practices — has a huge impact on our happiness and success. When the big boss is human, the little guy makes it to the top, and leaders try to protect employees even when times are tough and mistakes are made, we judge the culture as just, safe and controllable.” A. Grant, New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: The One Question You Should Ask… By Adam Grant, NYT
“But how do you figure out the culture of a company you’ve never worked for?… How is this organization different from all other organizations? The answer should come in the form of a story. Ask people to tell you a story about something that happened at their organization but wouldn’t elsewhere. Organizational cultures, and in particular stories, carry a claim to uniqueness — that an institution is unlike any other… But paradoxically, the same stories occur in virtually identical form, in a wide variety of organizations.
Let’s look at four stories:
Story 1: Is the Big Boss Human?
The insurance company president who takes his turn fielding calls on the company’s switchboard throughout the year: He’s one of us. The executive who doesn’t let anyone use his parking spot — even when he’s on vacation — maintains an air of superiority. This is one of the big debates about Steve Jobs: Was he a narcissist who felt entitled to special treatment or a leader who sought to bring out the excellence in all his employees?
Story 2: Can the Little Person Rise to the Top?
Jim Ziemer starts at Harley-Davidson as a freight elevator operator and rides all the way to the corner office. In the more depressing variation, a low-status employee achieves great things but is denied promotions.
Story 3: Will I Get Fired?
The organization may need to conduct layoffs: What does the leader do? Contrast the former Walmart chief executive Michael Duke, who slashed more than 13,000 jobs while raking in $19.2 million, with Charles Schwab executives’ taking pay cuts to avoid downsizing — and giving employees who lost their jobs a bonus when they were rehired.
Story 4: How Will the Boss React to Mistakes?
In many organizations, employees are fired for errors. Some stories point to a different culture, like the famous one at IBM in the 1960s. After an employee made a mistake that cost the company $10 million, he walked into the office of Tom Watson, the C.E.O., expecting to get fired. Fire you? Mr. Watson asked. I just spent $10 million educating you!
Take a close look at these stories, and you’ll see that they deal with three fundamental issues. First is justice: Is this a fair place? Second is security: Is it safe to work here? Third is control: Can I shape my destiny and have influence in this organization? If you’re still unsure where to work, start asking for stories about one practice that says a lot about a culture — a practice that consumes more than half of the time in big organizations. When people find it productive and enjoyable, that’s a good sign.”
For more Great Tips and Ideas:
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer by San Juan Education for assistance.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Many applicants try to evaluate a company culture.
- There was some consensus about the company’s values.
- They discovered an organizational uniqueness.
- People think their cultures are more distinctive than they really are.
- But paradoxically, the same stories occur in a wide variety of organizations.
- The plot involves an authority figure.
- Was he a narcissist who felt entitled to special treatment?
- In many organizations, employees are fired for errors.
- People are lucky if they walk away without permanent scars.
- When an organization has a bad reputation cross it off your list.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Across organizations/organized large and small, pivot/private and public, from manufacturing to knowledge/know to service work, Professor Martin’s team found seven stories over and over. Organizational cultures, and in particular stores/stories, carry a claim to uniqueness/unquiet — that an institution is unlike any other, the researchers wrote. But paradox/paradoxically, the same stories occur in virtually/virtual identical form, in a wide variety of organizations.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- How do you figure out the culture of an company?
- The stories touched on common themes.
- Some cultures are more distinctive.
- This is one of an big debates.
- The organization may need to conduct layoffs.
- Employees received a bonus when they were rehired.
- In many organizations, employees is fired for errors.
- The other three stories are equally good.
- Some elements of cultures are unique.
Post Reading Activities
Graphic Organizers: Finding the main idea
Directions: Have students use this advanced organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with discussing or writing about the main points from the article.
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following two questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
“Interestingly, though, the values behind these artifacts and practices still link to the core questions about fairness, safety and control. If an organization values innovation, you can assume it’s safe to speak up with new ideas, leaders will listen, and your voice matters.”
“There are lots of organizations where people laugh at unique jokes, speak in unusual jargon, decorate their office spaces in unconventional ways, or have funky rules and norms. But the more defining parts of a culture are its values. Values are the principles people say are important and, more crucially, the principles people show are important through their actions.”
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.