Charles Koch Institute Reviews | Glassdoor

Charles Koch Institute Reviews

Updated September 24, 2017
65 reviews

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Charles Koch Institute Chairman & CEO Charles G. Koch
Charles G. Koch
40 Ratings

65 Employee Reviews

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Pros
  • This attitude makes work life balance really easy and the work environment very pleasant (in 6 reviews)

  • There are dozens of training opportunities for professional development and leadership places a huge emphasis on professional growth for their teams (in 10 reviews)

Cons
  • Market Based Management is kind of a joke (in 5 reviews)

  • Mid-level management is either nonexistent or underutilized (in 7 reviews)

More Pros and Cons

  1. Helpful (3)

    "A review"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time

    Pros

    Very flexible environment. Very diverse employees, both in terms of background and ideology. This company is very invested in helping employees find fulfillment.

    Cons

    Inefficient leadership often makes structural and strategic change take years when it should take days. Far too many useless entry-level employees as a result.

    Advice to Management

    Trim the fat. There's no reason a private foundation should be as inefficient as a government agency.

    Charles Koch Institute Response

    Sep 22, 2017 – Vice President and Chief of Staff

    We appreciate your insights and would value discussing where you see specific opportunities to be more efficient and strategic. Please feel free to stop by my office and/or schedule time with your... More


  2. Helpful (25)

    "Framework for What Exactly?!?"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at Charles Koch Institute full-time

    Pros

    Good Place to Start
     It can be a good place to get your foot in the door. Full-time jobs in the non-profit policy organization world are hard to come by. CKI will employ you for a couple years and not require very much. So make the most of your time by networking, go to grad school during

    Vast Resources
    If you can get leadership's ear, (and get through the bureaucracy) you can do a lot and have unlimited resources.

    Good Benefits
    Good 401k and Healthcare. Match was 6% and a two year vesting period when I was there. Healthcare policy was good as well, especially for non-profits. It helps to have a workforce of childless 20 somethings aka no healthcare costs.

    Relaxed office
     You wont have to worry about staying late to finish a project. There's almost never anything that needs to be done urgently. If you going to grad school part time, take advantage of the slow pace at CKI.

    Libertarian oriented organization
    If you want to sit around all day and talk about politics from a libertarian perspective, this is the perfect job for you.

    Cons

    Risk Adverse
    CKI is extremely risk adverse. The policy of stop, think, and ask is about compliance and keeping its 501c3 status. CKI should be compliant, but compliance is often used as a tool to kill projects and initiative. Want to talk to someone at another organization about a project? Better talk with legal to see if its compliant. People here are paranoid that they might have an uncompliant thought and lose CKI its tax status.

    Ever Changing Strategy and Tactics-
    The Well-being Initiative, Framework for A Free Society, having a coms team, firing the coms team. Trying to do commentary on half a dozen policy areas and doing them poorly. Have you seen any blog posts recently? CKI is part of a broader network of organizations that fundraise twice a year at Koch lead events. The twice-a-year events means there's always a push to have some new strategy to present to get donors excited. As a result, it seems there's a constant change because there needs to be a new pitch to donors. Slow down and stick with one long term strategy. Persistence should be the 11th guiding principle.

    No middle-management
    As weird as it is to praise mid-level management, CKI could use some. The senior management is flies off to Wichita to chat with Charles on what seems like a biweekly basis. As a result, its a bunch of 20 somethings running the show. Senior management either needs to be there and manage people or hire middle management to do so. You cant expect to hire a bunch of people right out of college with little to no experience and give them no guidence. The recruiters constantly talk about how you can make your own job at CKI. Well, maybe managers should do a little more in figuring out what the 22 year old they just hired is doing. You can go for weeks at CKI without having any accountability or people checking up on you.

    Doing Obsure Too Many Things- CKI should focus on doing a few things well. CKI's comparative advantage is that it has a ton of money and a huge network. Because of that, it should focus on grant-making and the educational programs. Stop trying to be a mini think tank. If you must be a think-tank, narrow down to a few issues that resonate with broad swath of the American public. Instead of doing that, CKI has morphed into doing esoteric foreign policy and hosting expensive wasteful events. Example: "What Is A2/AD and Why Does It Matter to the United States?" hosted at the Army Navy country club in DC instead of at CKI's brand new office building with flown-in Italian marble floors that people cant shut up about. (See other reviews for context)

    Advice to Management

    CKI should simply focus on grant-making and educational programs. Those are the two areas it does well and has a comparative advantage in. (See I remembered MBM from the programs!)

  3. Helpful (1)

    "Great Culture, Great Mission"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Associate Director in Arlington, VA
    Current Employee - Associate Director in Arlington, VA
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    I've worked at the Charles Koch Institute (and Charles Koch Foundation) for a total of 7 years; I've also worked at a non-profit that partnered with them and received grants from them. To me, there are two overwhelming "pros" to working at CKI: culture and impact.

    First and foremost, the culture. It fits my personality very well. It's very entrepreneurial--I really value that I have the ability to prove myself and take on more and more responsibility. And, directly related to that, I value that I'll be held accountable for my results -- good ~and~ bad -- not only in terms of the impact of my projects but also how I treat others relative to our organizational principles/values. I like that those principles/values (our "Guiding Principles") are meaningful--from interns to the president and even Charles, we all have the same standard and (though far from perfect at implementing it) are held to them. I've seen very talented people get fired because of issues with respect; I've been in dozens of interviews where we turned down an otherwise top-notch candidate because they lacked humility or integrity. It's refreshing to work for a place that takes these things seriously, which limits things like playing office politics or having to worry that a colleague is waiting to stab you in the back to get ahead. Finally, I like that our culture is defined by ~guiding~ principles, instead of detailed rules and policies.* Our management philosophy (market-based management, or MBM) gives us a lot of ways to ask questions and view an opportunity, but it doesn't give us answers. So, there's an onus on us to figure things out. On the downside, if you're more of a paint-by-numbers person or like to know exactly what's expected at all times, it can be tough; but for me, I value that we try to be nimble and constantly evaluate what make sense, and constantly try to hold each other to the principles we care about (instead of some rule or budget written 12 months ago by someone else).

    The second big pro for me is that I'm very driven by our mission, and I value being surrounded by people who are similarly driven in a culture where we focus on actually getting results instead of just doing activities that make us feel good. If you feel that the best way to help the most people is through more freedom and equally protecting the rights of all, or if you're passionate about issues such as free speech, toleration, limiting costly wars, free markets, and reforming the criminal justice and education systems, then this is a great place to work. Again, we could be doing a lot better, but in my experience MBM really makes me more effective, and pushes us all to do better. And, just because we're a non-profit, I'm not being asked to sacrifice my paycheck for the cause--in fact, the better I do for the cause, the better I've gotten paid. Speaking as an employee, and a supervisor, I've seen firsthand that for those who get results and who do so with integrity, respect, etc. (that is, following our Guiding Principles), the compensation system works very well.

    Money aside, though, it's very fulfilling to work at a place where you get rewarded for your results (not your pedigree or how long you've survived), you're surrounded by people and a founder who cares about the things you care about, and are in a culture that is effective and principled. There's no such thing as "the one, best work culture" for everyone--that said, if any of the above sounds like a fit for you, I'd wholeheartedly recommend CKI.

    *As an aside, I've seen a few comments here about CKI being "bureaucratic." I've worked in bureaucratic places (schools, rigid non-profits) and definitely would NOT use that word to describe the culture here. I don't mean to deny the experiences of those reviewers, but it may be the case that someone had a bad experience: perhaps they were let go, or quit due to frustrations from being on a struggling team--in either case, it'd be likely that they did experience more questions and checks on their authorities (after all, if a team or individual isn't doing well, there would likely be more limitations on someone's authority to make decisions, not more). That could feel "bureaucratic" but in my mind I don't conflate that with the overall culture of the organization. For example, I've had times where I've not done well, and had more constraints put on me; it wasn't fun, but I think it's consistent with our culture and principles, and ultimately that helped me do better.

    Cons

    One that I alluded to above is that there is a lot of change. Because we operate by guiding principles instead of detailed rules, blinding following budgets, or waiting for your boss to tell you what to do, we are all constantly evaluating as we move forward. To me, that's a feature, not a bug (I'd rather put up with the pain and uncertainty of change and make a bigger impact than taking the easy way of "following the plan" ); but, it's true that working in a fast-changing environment can be tough.

    I think we have room to improve when it comes to choosing lower or mid-level managers--we too often fall into the trap of assuming that a promotion has to include becoming a manager (though this is definitely getting better). So, this can take people out of where they can make the biggest impact, and puts them in positions of leadership though they may not have that skill set or may not appropriately drive our culture forward as a leader should.

    Advice to Management

    I like that we're moving more and more to a system where we handle "training" based on the individual or team, instead of putting large groups of people through the same thing. I'd continue to do that.


  4. Helpful (2)

    "Genuine People & Strong Principles"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time

    Pros

    -In a city where principles in the policy/political space are few and far between, this organization sticks to what they believe in. Simultaneously, the organization seeks common ground with unorthodox partners to advance change among their 5 issue areas.
    -Very genuine people, in an intellectually stimulating workplace. CKI's employees are sharp and it shows both in daily conversation and staff-wide meetings. The sense of curiosity surrounding different philosophies and worldviews is refreshing.
    -CKI invests a TON in it's employees and educational program participants. If you're looking to develop your professional skills, this organization is second to none.
    -The "Challenge Culture" at CKI is pretty unheard of in most professional environments, but gives everyone a voice. Management seems to take feedback in a humble, productive manner. The descriptions of a vindictive management that I've seen in other descriptions on this site is not reflective of reality.
    -Working at CKI gives you access to an enormous network, which in many ways CKI operates as a hub. A great "in" to the conservative/libertarian non-profit space.

    Cons

    -While the constant focus on "change" internally has it's merits, the consistent shifting pieces across the organization can make your trajectory a bit uncertain.
    -Though "knowledge sharing" is an important and worthwhile piece of CKI's culture, meetings can become a bit excessive at times. Many employees are pulled away from their day to day responsibilities when their calendars fill up with meetings that they may or may not need to be attending.

    Advice to Management

    Continue to improve lines of communication and transparency across the organization. Continue to embrace change, but seek considerable feedback from all employees during the process.

    Charles Koch Institute Response

    Sep 22, 2017 – Vice President and Chief of Staff

    I share your excitement for working for an organization that sticks to its principles and will seek to find common ground with unlikely allies to advance a shared goal! If you have thoughts or ideas... More


  5. Helpful (1)

    "Never been so excited to work for CKI!"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time

    Pros

    Focus on Strategy: Over the past few years under the direction of a new President, CKI has experienced renewed focus and energy on vision and strategy. We’ve defined priorities, articulated strategies, set clear goals within them, and are starting to see real outcomes towards achieving a vision of long term peace, civility and well-being. I’ve been here several years now and have never been as excited about what is possible to achieve! I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to our work on criminal justice reform and have found so much fulfillment in seeing our voice in the national dialogue make a difference. Proud to see CKI stand up with allies as diverse as Mike Lee and Snoop Dog to raise awareness about the real need for sentencing reform in America.
    The people: I’ve never worked someplace where everyone is so mission driven and passionate about their work. It’s a collegial place to work – most people are happy to lend a hand or help work through a problem or opportunity.

    Cons

    Change and an Evolving Organization: Through this evolution of tightening the strategies and goals, CKI has undergone a lot of change. If you are not comfortable with “experimental discovery” and pivoting on projects, this might not be the place for you.

    Advice to Management

    Take more time to proactively seek feedback from the staff. Continue to focus on hiring the right people and making sure jobs are clearly defined.


  6. Helpful (4)

    "Good Place to Learn and Grow!"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    Focus on Professional Development: CKI is really focused on the professional development of their employees. In the year and a half that I've worked here, my supervisors have remained focused on my professional development. As often as feasible, they've found ways to help me gain new skills, grow in responsibilities, and increase my knowledge. Not only has that growth been in response to questions I've asked or areas I've identified as areas I want to grow in, but my supervisors have all been proactive in identifying opportunities for me to learn and grow.

    Culture: When staff at CKI say they appreciate feedback and asking questions (challenge), they mean it. I love working somewhere that I'm not only encouraged to offer my opinion, but somewhere that takes my opinion into account when it makes sense. Even if it's explaining how to think through something in a new way when I've questioned something, my questions or ideas are addressed by those around me.

    Flexible Work Environment: CKI encourages you to make the best decisions for you with your time. Based on conversations with supervisors, you have the ability to work from home on occasion or shift your hours to your preferred schedule. This attitude makes work life balance really easy and the work environment very pleasant.

    Cons

    Embracing Change: One of CKI's guiding principles is embracing change. They take change seriously, so that can mean that things shift quickly and dramatically. This can be tough to get used to, but that's true of all change! Overall, I think this change is well motivated and the change I've experienced has led to better results. It can just be a lot to get used to.

    Advice to Management

    Continue to ask for feedback and answer employees questions openly. Continuing this education process both in a group setting and on an individual level will keep the culture of this organization positive and enable employees to be bought in when changes arise.

    Charles Koch Institute Response

    Sep 8, 2017 – Vice President and Chief of Staff

    Thanks for sharing your feedback. I’m glad you have participated in our challenge culture by raising questions and offering your opinions in order to help us more effectively advance our mission... More


  7. "Work Experience"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee

    Pros

    You learn a lot from great people.

    Cons

    The administrative process is not really efficient.

  8. Helpful (21)

    "Years of my life, wasted"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Culture & Values
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time

    Pros

    Decent money for working in a non-profit once you get to middle-management, but certainly didn't start that way.
    Working with people who share your political leanings.

    Cons

    Here's the deal about CKI--ultimately we're not advancing the mission that we say we are. No progress is being made and we're focused on growing the numbers of people in the programs rather than actually making any change. Our policy team doesn't do policy. CKI is basically a make-work jobs program for young libertarians who just want to argue about the non-aggression principle and middle-aged folks who see dollar signs and a cushy job with no accountability where they can leave early to pick up their kids. It's honestly a joke, which is sad, because I (and most people who have come and gone over the years) did genuinely want to make a difference. But the organization is populated by two-faced back stabbers and gossipy people who have no real skills. You get ahead not based on work product, but because of who you go to happy hour with and sucking up to incompetent leadership. The best thing about the Glassdoor review bloodbath (other than maybe the fact that leadership keeps telling us to write our own reviews--you got your wish!) is that all employees are talking about them and EVERYONE AGREES with all the awful things being written. The culture gets worse by the day lately. Lots of people are looking for new jobs.

    Advice to Management

    The funny thing is, most of the problems with the organization could be solved by actually applying the MBM management philosophy that we supposedly practice. Of course that will never happen, though. The part of the problem that can't be solved by MBM is actually much more fundamental, though, and that's the fact that the vast majority of the population has no interest in living and working in a libertarian society, and therefore even if the org got its act together, it still wouldn't accomplish the mission.


  9. Helpful (23)

    "Welcome to the CKI Circus: the Greatest Show on Earth!"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Arlington, VA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Arlington, VA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at Charles Koch Institute full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Relatively competitive pay for a non-profit, though this aspect mostly depends on an individual's supervisor and the ties/relationships they have to senior staff within the organization. The org employs a number of passionate and immensely talented individuals that serve as wonderful role models and colleagues. They also have a spiffy office space, but looks can be deceiving.

    Cons

    It would be an understatement to say that my last year at CKI was nothing short of a circus show. On top of extreme dysfunction and misdirection, slanderous gossip and back-stabbing ran rampant daily. Even more surprising were the comments made by certain Vice President in front of subordinates regarding other subordinates - a true display of professionalism.

    My team would regularly witness our new Vice President ask his assistant to fetch his breakfast come rain or shine (and when I say rain I even mean hail and severe wind storms), that were blatantly charged on his company card. So much for "honoring donor intent".

    Then again, it's not really that big of a surprise that the same aforementioned individual would regularly disregard MBM Guiding Principles. Multiple times, the same VP would outwardly and directly bash Mr.Koch's Guiding Principles in group meetings - "Customer Focus" to be more specific - stating such ideology illustrated "weakness and lack of leadership skills." I was formerly under the impression that philosophical alignment was of utmost importance when hiring for any position, especially other members of senior leadership. But this ideology is only applied when it was convenient, or when there was a lack of qualified/interested applicants and they were in desperate need of a warm body to fill an office chair. It was typically the latter as I witnessed in my experience.

    For an organization that claims to honor and encourage a strong "feedback" culture, it certainly doesn't take that feedback into consideration.

    Just ask any one of the 12 employees that the org decided to "lay off" in June after supplying them with a false sense of job security for months prior. The week before said "lay offs", all members of a particular team were forced to openly voice their opinions about the negative work environment and office politics/favoritism/nepotism during a team round table meeting led by peers that were chosen by the VP, though there's not much surprise there.

    When I first began my tenure at CKI, I was so proud. I loved the camaraderie, the collaboration, the knowledge sharing, and the immense talent and leadership that was portrayed by a great many number of my former colleagues, many of whom I still look up to to this day that I am grateful I had an opportunity to learn so much from. But within a year's time, the team I was on changed drastically under new and unqualified leadership - and not the type of "change" the guiding principles allude to.

    CKI was an organization that provided all employees an equal and fair opportunity to succeed by identifying and utilizing their comparative advantages and strengths. The designated responders of this Glassdoor page will likely claim that it still does, and to be fair, there were a small handful of individual people who do. However, at the time of my departure, it had turned into a one (or maybe two) man circus show depending on who one might ask, void of a true ringleader with a President who failed to proactively speak out on the organization's behalf to defend its work. Generic press release quotes written by other people write don't count.

    If Charles Koch himself read any of these Glassdoor reviews, does CKI honestly think he would be proud? Would he support the way certain decision-makers at CKI treat their employees? I would like to believe he is simply unaware, though I'm guessing the answer would likely be no considering how many times key org staff begged employees to write positive Glassdoor reviews in all-staff meetings - even when I was an employee years ago.

    CKI can't expect people outside the organization/network to understand the work it does, let alone support it, if it continues to hire or promote key leaders who publicly disrespect and fail to understand its vision and guiding principles while they waste time squabbling amongst themselves.

    Advice to Management

    Get your heads out of the sand and stop blaming org-wide shortcomings on entry-level staff and middle management. Firing copious amounts of people year after year without giving them a fair and unbiased chance at success, while at the same time allowing the same leaders who are the main cause of confusion and dysfunction to remain, creates a vicious cycle. Any business no matter how sizable or wealthy is only going to be as strong as the people at the top making the decisions or calling the shots (or not as in this case).

    Charles Koch Institute Response

    Sep 22, 2017 – Human Resources Generalist

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on how we can improve our culture. Our Guiding Principles set a high standard, and one of my team’s responsibilities is to help all employees learn and strengthen... More


  10. Helpful (31)

    "Short-term value funded by a company making disposable products"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I have been working at Charles Koch Institute full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    If you’re an entry-level employee, or a first time job seeker, this is a good place to cut your teeth in the working world. If you do an educational program, you’ll likely get a semi-decent experience until the program is done.

    Cons

    Reading through others’ reviews, there are several themes here that I think are worth highlighting, and which pretty well sum up my experience thus far with CKI.

    1) This ship has no rudder. Every one of these reviews has some mention of how middle and upper level management is failing. This is true for the most part. But with so many smart people in the building, how come they can’t figure it out? Well, the real issue is that the entire organization has no direction. Ask an employee what the mission and vision is for the organization, and they’ll tell you how much they love “advancing a free society,” but never really give you a specifics beyond that. Don’t you wonder why? The mission is so broad that the ship, its captain and crew on board, has lost its way. Instead of succinct, achievable goals, CKI glides along on an endless sea of money without ever reaching a destination. They’ll tell you to embrace “change,” but what that really means is that there’s no set direction for the organization, so you better be ok with working towards a mission that exists only in the ethers and can and will change in an instant. You sure you want to join this ship?

    2) No one does actual work. 80-90% of my time is spent in meetings trying to convince other people that we should be actually doing the work we keep talking about. Read for yourself! These reviews say things like, “Doing actual work will get you fired.” or “…if you don't want to do actual work, this is a cool way to collect a paycheck.” I even had someone say to me recently, “Everyone at CKI seems busy, but I have no clue what they actually do.” It’s all true. That’s why there is a policy team that doesn’t actually write policy papers. And a communications team that hasn’t updated the blog in 3 months (granted, this could be because that whole team got fired by a new guy on the block who doesn’t know what he’s doing). And an HR team that instead of working to improve an obviously ailing culture, asks people to spam this page with positive posts (it happened and they admitted it in a response!).

    3) Open, honest feedback, which, like “change,” is touted as a pillar of the culture, never occurs. That’s because the honest feedback is that CKI is a terrible place to work. Who can you say that to? No one. And if you think that HR is a safe place to go to communicate some real honest feedback, better think again. Retaliation is a real thing and it happens more than anyone cares to admit. Just remember that HR exists to protect the needs of the organization, not the individuals that exist within it.

    If you’re considering a job here, take heed. This is a leviathan of an organization that exists to create short-term value, funded by a man who made billions manufacturing one-time-use and disposable products—and they treat their employees that way. You will just be another cog in the “social change” machine. Cheap. Replaceable. Disposable.

    Advice to Management

    Clean it up, folks. This organization is huge and ineffective, and your employees (and that “free society” you keep yammering about) are all suffering because of it.

    Charles Koch Institute Response

    Sep 8, 2017 – Vice President and Chief of Staff

    Thanks for the review. I’d like to talk with you more about your experience at CKI. Please stop by my office or schedule some time for us to talk: Katey.Roberts@cki.org.


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