Ownership -- the company's owners are not be happy with it, and may be selling it. They are embarrassed by it, and may suspect fraud.
Personnel -- the company's hiring, promotional, and firing policies produce the wrong mix of people, and good people are being scared away.
Customer focus -- could also be called product development. The company is not making the right products for the right customers.
Cash flow -- the company is running out of money.
Resource focus -- resources (time/hours, energy/speeches, money) spent unwisely, including not being spent where it should be (no resources for QA, next generation products, money lavished on new headquarters when profits are narrow or negative.
Not yet ratedLevel 1: Possible problem, probably nothing:
The company restates earnings "due to accounting rule changes." (Cash flow)
The most talented employees are transferred to where they're most needed. (Personnel, cash flow)
Incompetent employees who have lingered due to political connections are finally fired. (Personnel, cash flow)
Level 2: Keep your eyes and ears open:
Management consultants hired. (Ownership)
Lawyer seen on the premises (excluding normal staff lawyers for things like patents, contracts, and other business-as-usual). (Ownership)
Stock value peaks the day you join. (Ownership)
Direct employees quit and company replaces them with contractors. (Personnel, cash flow)
No more free soda. (Ownership)
Between Levels 2 and 3
There are people working there who can not explain to you what they are doing or why. (Personnel)
A two month project is proposed, and instead of simply doing it, the company adds a bunch of requirements to it, asks for an estimate, forwards this to corporate and corporate scales the program back to its original proposal. As a result three months are wasted scoping a two month project, and the market window is missed. (Customer focus)
The formerly-intense CTO settles a heated architectural debate between two developers by mumbling, "Don't worry about it too much," and excuses himself from the meeting. (Customer focus, cash flow)
To compensate for lack of technical resources, company hires more managers. (Personnel)
This most likely starts out at Level 2 (lack of organizational skills) but can escalate to Level 3 if the company continues to bulk up on management - indicating they are clueless organizationally.
Level 3: Update your resume:
Outside auditors conspicuously go over the company books. (Ownership)
Regular all-hands meetings with upper management (if this is not StandardOperatingProcedure?). (Ownership, cash flow)
The dynamic, forward-thinking leader, well-respected by all, leaves within a month of your arrival. (Personnel)
Talk of "us" and "them" not referring to competitors. (Personnel)
Your boss is the best programmer in the place and is too busy to provide even minimal guidance to you. After a couple of months all of the work he/she was doing that took their time away from guiding you is thrown away because there was a misunderstanding in the requirements. (Customer focus)
Your cubicle is 6'x6' or less (AmericanCulturalAssumption -- in many other countries, where real estate is at a premium, a cubicle of any sort might be considered a luxury).
When an underfunded project with an overly-aggressive schedule miraculously meets its goals through lots of unpaid overtime, the company president says "That worked out pretty well. We should try more projects like this."
Toilet paper quality suddenly drops This is not a joke. Most of the time, the company buys supplies, rather than the hired cleaning firm. If they are skimping on TP, it is a bad sign, since it is a very minor expense. I once worked at a place that was constantly running out of TP. Massive layoff a few months after this started happening. Our company has just stopped the paper hand towels in the toilets (we still have air dryers)!(Cash flow)
The long promised XYZ version (where XYZ might be Java, Web-Enabled, Linux, anything buzzword compliant) never gets started. Probably cash flow. There is not enough money from the old product line to pay for new development.
Everyone is told to document all their procedures and processes.
Someone comes by to measure your desk and cubicle, but refuses to tell you why.
The enterprise marketing staff removes their 800 numbers from their business cards, web site and social network pages, expecting callers to flip the bill of long-distance calls now.
Between Levels 2 and 4
The company decides to improve its technology by replacing its main application database driven system with a flat file driven system. 2-4: The severity depends on what they are doing. Many applications can work with both flat-files for small data sets, and RDBMSes for large data sets.
The grossly expensive Turkey program is selected over the nimble inexpensive home grown program because there has been a large amount of money and time spent on the Turkey program, and almost none on the nimble one. 2-4: Large companies do this all the time and survive. This might be fatal for a small company. See SunkenCostFallacy.
During a huge drive for a big project, the best player (you!) get pulled off to do a light blue-sky project with a much shorter schedule. Then you get switched back. Then everyone gets switched to the blue-sky project. (Customer Focus)
Between Levels 3 and 4
Your boss gets very upset if you try to talk to another boss. This is not necessarily a sign of CorporateDoom?, but it probably is a sign of a bad boss. (Personnel)
You think the best employees are leaving until you find out that the best employees left before you got there. (Personnel)
No substantively new product has been introduced since the first. (Customer focus)
You are the last person hired, ever. (Cash flow)
One person is let go every three weeks sort of like clockwork. (Cash flow)
You ask for permission to do a BlueSkyProject? (possibly as ResumePadding?) and your manager is like "sure whatever!" because she or he is glad to keep you occupied, and the executive upheavals are easier to hide from you. (Customer focus)
Company overhires in cycles so that they can "sort the wheat from the chaff" -- keeping the ones they deem good and releasing the ones they deem ... non-competitive.
Business travel is suddenly cut back. (Cash Flow)
The plants and grass around the premises start dying off due to lack of watering. You mention this to the security guard, and he just nods and says, "yip, we know about it".
Entire corporate amenities, such as in-campus gyms, employees' lounges and mess halls, are cut. (Cash flow -- Apple did this back when they almost went bankrupt during the nineties)
The company named on your paychecks is not the company that owns the IP (and there is no valid explanation for this arrangement). (Ownership)
Variation: You are ordered to switch the ownership copyright banner on every source file from the previous shell company's name to a silly made-up name you never heard of before. (Ownership -- executive fraud)
You don't know a single thing about your company's shell company. You can only see the public records and that's it. No indication about their top executives, or their employees, or their trade, no nothing -- it literally exists only on paper.
Your branch manager is on its own. No line on the CEO or the upper management.
Pay delays without warning. (Cash flow)
In some places, like California, this is illegal; a company meets payroll, or theoretically closes its doors that day.
I had this happen to me in Cali. Sure, it is illegal, but suing a sinking ship only makes it sink faster. Better to bail out if possible.
Your company is willing to put up with people drinking, doing drugs and sexually harassing in the workplace. (Ownership, personnel -- this often happens when the company is so shady it could very well be a crime syndicate's front, leading to a situation where the company is left with nothing but stoners and gigantic creeps because no self-respectable person would even dare setting a foot inside. CompaniesHireLikeMinded after all.)
Your execs with spook connections arrange for your crooked embezzling CEO to meet with someone in the WTC on 2001 September 11 (true story - but he escaped...)
The company barely makes any sales, yet it looks like a completely healthy company with well-paid employees, top notch, well-maintained infrastructure, and income statements showing large revenues. (Ownership -- money laundering)
The CEO is barely there, always missing, has an extremely secretive agenda, drives a car whose cost is near or in the six digits, and you think you've seen him hanging out with extremely shady people. (Ownership -- crime boss fronting as businessman)
You have seen your CEO with extremely sharply-dressed businessmen speaking with accents consistent with one of your city's dominant mafias (Mexican in Los Angeles, Italian in New York, Russian in Paris...). (Ownership -- crime boss fronting as businessman)
All employees put on one-day-per-week furlough to reduce payroll 20% (and, if necessary, switched to hourly pay basis to do so). (Cash flow)
Employees spend all day watching the company's stock price rollercoaster rather than doing their jobs. (Cash flow)(Ownership)