Measuring a Healthy Company Culture

— February 18, 2019

Today, strong leaders understand the importance of company culture. They’ve seen firsthand the devastation caused by weak or misdirected culture. They’ve witnessed a drop-in accountability and the rise of two-hour lunch breaks, the communication breakdowns and resulting frustration, and the massive hit corporate image takes from poor customer service.

These leaders are also aware of the benefits of a healthy culture. They’ve seen what it can do to productivity and sales. They’ve seen employees consistently and diligently going above and beyond what is expected of them. They’ve seen people stay late, arrive early, and work through lunch to meet deadlines. They’ve seen high-fives in the hallways and heard excited chatter around the water cooler.

So how does a leader measure where their company lands between the two scenarios above? Part of the issue with troubleshooting company culture is that most leaders struggle with the idea of measuring something that traditionally, was unmeasurable. Can a leader really measure whether or not their people are happy? Productive? Collaborative?

Short answer: yes.

The best way for leadership to assess company culture is to channel your inner PI and start asking questions. Surveys are a great way to get a handle on where your company culture is hitting the mark, and where it’s missing a beat.

For smaller companies, ask open ended questions in a format where employees can actually write in their responses. This way you’ll receive feedback that is personalized and detailed. For larger organizations, try making a statement and then asking participants how true that statement is, on a scale from 1-5. Research shows this method is a much better measuring tool than a yes/no questionnaire.

Below are some basic guidelines to writing a survey for your company:

  1. Make sure you ask the right questions and are ready for the answers.

Time and again I’ve heard management teams say, “they want what?”, “they think what?”. Do not set yourself up for failure by asking for feedback you aren’t prepared to deal with. Well why do a survey in the first place, right? Keep in mind, the goal of the survey is to see what opportunities exist to improve the current culture, not turn it into the Google culture or any other for that matter. Make sure your questions are pointed, custom and fit within the parameters of your desired culture. Otherwise you won’t effectively handle the feedback, you’ll end up telling your people, “sorry, we aren’t going to do that” and it will feel to them like you never cared what they thought in the first place.

  1. Make responses anonymous.

The results of the survey are worthless if your people aren’t 100% confident that their answers will be confidential. If employees have any reason to fear repercussions or blowback from their answers, they won’t give the honest opinions that you are depending on. I recommend making it clear multiple times that all answers are anonymous. Have an admin send out a memo before the survey and write a short confidentiality blurb on the document.

  1. Make surveys short.

I recommend a few short-but-sweet surveys with increased frequency as opposed to one painfully long survey every year. If a survey takes too much time to complete most employees won’t finish it (or even start it). Make sure the questionnaire isn’t a major inconvenience for them. Start out with 5-10 questions.

  1. Ask for basic information.

You are trying to identify areas where your culture is strong and areas where it is weak. Do new employees feel welcome? Does senior staff feel appreciated? Is one department more team-oriented than another, and is that a good or bad thing? Those kinds of questions can be answered by asking a few basic questions on the survey, such as the number of years the employee has been with the company and what department they work in. Of course, be mindful not to break rule number one: anonymity. If you have departments made up of one or two employees, don’t ask them to identify their department.

  1. Ask specific questions that will generate a strong response.

If you want to assess company culture across the board, ask broad, general questions, such as:

  1. I know and understand the core values of this company.

On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with this statement?

  1. I like the leadership style of top leadership.

On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with this statement?

  1. I should be more accountable at work.

On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with this statement?

If you want to diagnose the culture of specific branches or areas of the company, ask tailored questions, such as:

  1. My direct manager is accessible.

On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with this statement?

  1. I felt welcome in my first week of work for this company.

On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with this statement?

  1. My roles and responsibilities have been made clear to me.

On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with this statement?

Before generating these questions, get some outside input. Bring together the C-Suite, head of HR, and other department heads. Ask each of these people to identify areas of weakness in the company culture. It’s likely they each have something new to contribute that you didn’t think of. Perhaps the Director of Talent Management is worried about how new hires are fitting in, or the Marketing Director is struggling with tardiness. By reaching out to the rest of your team, you’ll create a survey with questions that are more “in-touch” with what is really going on in your company.

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Author: Meg Manke

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