Questions to ask yourself about company culture
Here are some topics to help you and your leadership team focus on your organisation’s culture. Responses could use a five point scale ranging from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’. It’s important to include the supporting evidence or reasons for your answers.
- Enjoy working here and look forward to each day
- Care about quality outcomes and take responsibility for ensuring they happen
- Are committed to the organisation’s goals and believe their own work makes a difference
- Feel valued and trusted by others
- Believe they are recognised and rewarded for their contributions to the organisation’s success
No organisation is perfect, so chances are there will be areas where you think there’s room for improvement. But before you dive into developing tactical solutions, it’s important to revisit or establish the foundations for the culture you want to achieve. If these are no longer accurate, or never existed, your culture will continue to grow and develop in a random and unpredictable way.
The foundations of company culture
Leading the development of the desired culture begins with establishing a clear picture of the goal. It’s about agreeing to a story of your organisation’s purpose, what you want to achieve and the beliefs that will get you there. Known as the organisation’s ‘mission’, ‘vision’ and ‘values’, these guiding words provide a constant point of reference for decisions around everything you do.
Mission: Focused on the present and travelling with you into the future, this specific statement tells anyone in the world why you do what you do, in a few short sentences.
Vision: This brief high-level statement focuses well into the future, lets people understand the organisation’s overriding goal, and uses emotion to motivate and inspire their support.
Values: These short precise statements describe the fundamental beliefs and behaviours that everyone in the organisation will uphold, in order to carry out the organisation’s mission and pursue its vision.
A company’s values have a strong influence on the culture. They provide a clear reference point for how employees should ‘be’ with each other, customers and suppliers. They also make it easier for new applicants to ensure the organisation’s values align with their own.
Identifying your values and distilling them into four or five brief (sometimes one-word) statements can be quite a challenge. A good place to start is with your leadership team. You may find it easier to use an independent facilitator. A good facilitator can help to:
- ensure everyone has fair and equal input
- identify the reasoning behind ideas
- condense similar ideas into one
- agree priorities through consensus
- ensure the coverage is sufficiently broad
- craft statements to be specific and clear
Getting a reality check on your company culture
Having explored your leadership team’s assessment of the current culture in your organisation, and distilled the values they see as most important, it’s time to find out how employees describe your current culture. This will let you know how far from the ideal culture you are and help prioritise areas for improvement. The degree of similarity or difference with the leadership team’s perceptions will also provide valuable insights.
A good way to learn more about employees’ views on the company culture is through a survey. It may be best done anonymously to begin with. Using an independent third party can help provide reassurance around authenticity and your willingness to genuinely listen. It’s also important to explain why you are conducting the survey, how the results will be communicated and the commitment you have to making improvements as a result.
Culture surveys typically include questions along the following lines. Again, you will learn more by using open-ended questions rather than those with a yes or no answer. The five point scale mentioned above, from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’ can also be useful. And finally, asking for a comment or explanation for each answer will provide helpful insights.
- I understand our company’s main goals for this year
- I know what I am expected to do at work
- I understand how my work helps my team and the organisation to achieve their goals
- Employees’ opinions are valued at our company
- I have the equipment and resources I need to do my best work
- My current role makes good use of my abilities
- I look forward to coming to work each day
- There are people at work I would call a friend
- My manager provides a good level of feedback and recognition
- I’m encouraged to provide feedback to my manager on their performance
- My pay and benefits package is fair and reasonable
- I feel that the work we do here is meaningful
- I have good opportunities to learn and develop at work
- I can see a path for growing my career within this company
- Our company has clear values that everyone lives up to
- I am proud of the way our company operates
Sharing collated results at a team and organisation level helps to build trust. It also provides a chance for feedback around priorities and potential solutions. If you’re not prepared to follow through on a suggestion, explain why and make it clear the idea will be revisited if things change.
Refining your values and building support
Before finalising your values statements, which form the foundation of your company’s culture, it’s important to gather employee input on them.
Sharing your draft mission, vision and values statements with employee focus groups can be a good way to gather input. The groups should contain representatives from different departments with as much diversity as you can. This helps people to become aware of the views of others when discussing their own.
Again, using an independent facilitator can make it easier for employees to say how they really feel. It also helps to exclude managers and team leaders, because they could inhibit communication. You and your leadership team can review the feedback with the facilitator and, if you wish, make adjustments to your mission, vision and values statements accordingly.
Bringing the desired company culture to life
Culture is something that is lived, not just communicated, and it needs to be leadership-led. You and your leadership team must commit to living the values and desired culture, which includes being open to change when it’s required.
In the early stages it can help to talk about times when the values or culture have been lived well in the past and the success that ensued. You can explain it’s something everyone can clearly do and now it’s a matter of doing it all the time.
Linking employee recognition to specific values or aspects of the company culture helps people to see them in action. Posters can serve as reminders, but it’s actions that lead to change not words.
Another strategy is to review all processes in light of the values. This includes hiring new employees, conducting performance reviews, and promoting people with regard to company culture and values.
Done well, you may soon find the new shared culture has increased employee engagement, boosted productivity and taken your company in the direction you’ve always wanted it to go.