Why Interns are the Best Measure of a Successful Culture

Lauren Pazzano

Lauren Pazzano

There is no shortage of information out there about what both students and employers can gain from internships. Students can apply their learning in a real work environment, make connections, and get an idea about what direction they want to take their career. Employers can benefit from fresh perspectives, learn the latest social media hacks, and even do some early scouting for potential full-time hires.

Speaking as a current intern, our value to organizations does not stop at our expert caption crafting skills or our out of the box insights. Students in your workplace are not a short-term investment, but a benchmark to quantify the accessibility of your value statements.

Let me explain. How an intern is treated in your organization can say a lot about your company’s values, and how well they disseminate to the lowest ranking members of the team. Student’s willingness to learn and take initiative is not just a testament to their individual work ethic. The best interns will not be successful in an unorganized, purpose void culture. When organization’s take the implementation of their values seriously, even the intern will be driven to do their best work.

When crafting core values, the intern experience is definitely not top of mind, but students in your workplace can be a measure of how well your value system translates IRL (aka ‘in real life’, as the kids would say).

How much do you invest in a student who is only around for 4-8 months? The correct answer is as much as you can.

I started at PostBeyond 4 months ago and I felt like I was a part of the team almost immediately. When reviewing PostBeyond’s value statements during onboarding, I wondered how I would interact with these values, if at all. It quickly became apparent to me that these values were as relevant to me as an intern as they were to our CEO.

PostBeyond is guided by 5 core values that acted as a foundation for all the work I did as an intern. These values informed my level of comfort making mistakes, offering my perspective, and taking initiative.

We act as owners.

During my time at PostBeyond, I never felt like work was created merely to keep me busy. The work I was doing had meaning to me and a positive impact on my team. Instead of waiting to be assigned tasks, PostBeyond fosters an environment where interns feel comfortable taking initiative and seeking projects that will improve existing processes. Taking accountability for my work gave me a sense of pride in the results, whether the outcome was intended or not. That is what ownership is all about.

We play as a team.

I never felt unsupported by my team. When I made mistakes, they were not seen as failures to be ashamed of, but opportunities to learn. I was treated as an equal member of the team and as a result, I felt safe enough to innovate. In a psychologically safe environment, I felt comfortable challenging the typical confines of my role.

We challenge ourselves.

Instead of micromanaging interns and making them afraid to move outside the boundaries of their role, PostBeyond trusts students and communicates that trust clearly to them. The trust my team had in me gave me the confidence I needed to take risks, innovate, make mistakes, and learn valuable lessons that I would have missed out on if I stayed in my lane.

We build bridges.

PostBeyond operates on a level of transparency that I was not accustomed to. During my first week, our CEO sat down with myself and the other intern and explained the direction he saw the company going. Clearly communicating PostBeyond’s trajectory gave us the context we needed to make thoughtful decisions in our roles.

We are thoughtful.

The culture at PostBeyond is shaped by empathy. Interns are included not as a second thought, but as a best practice. In team meetings, I was not only encouraged, but expected to voice my opinion. My perspective was valued and I was able to contribute meaningfully to the team.

PostBeyond takes their values seriously and it shows. Though I was only on the team for 4 months, the “why” was never lost on me. By cultivating a transparent, trusting, and encouraging environment, PostBeyond ensured that my work was always infused with meaning. Being treated as an equal member of the team gave me room to grow, learn, and make the experience my own.

A successful culture is guided by a company’s core values. These values should be accessible to all employees, including interns. If your values are only relevant to your leadership team then you may need to reevaluate how those values are implemented. A value-driven culture motivates all members of the team to do their best work. If an intern feels comfortable asking questions, taking initiative, and making mistakes, then your company has successfully disseminated their value statement.

How a company treats its interns says a lot about their value system. Does your intern feel supported? Do they have room to innovate? Are they making mistakes? Are they learning from those mistakes? If the answer to those questions is not an affirmative yes, then you might want to rethink what it is that you value.

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