How To Gauge Company Culture

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fun homeworkCompany culture is on everyone’s lips these days. Whether the subject of a rousing keynote speech, the oft quoted success stories of Zappos and Rackspace, or the goal of a small business owner who wants to do things right, culture is a buzzword, but an important one.

But for all the talk about company culture and what is GOOD culture and what is BAD culture, few, if any, have figured out a way to calculate or gauge the culture of a company. Since we are aware, at least peripherally, that culture can positively affect employees, productivity, and bottom line tangible benefits, we must, if not quantify, then at least identify.

A simple metric cannot show culture, so while the following may not be as specific as some would like, they will allow those within an organization to gauge not only the type of culture that exists but the potential effect.

Internalized knowledge vs mandatory training: Many companies pave their journey to cultural incompetence by insisting that managers and employees attend mandatory training. That is, they try to measure if the culture is ingrained by counting heads. This is a dangerous way in which to measure culture, since a compelled employee does not a cultural evangelist make. Instead, teach your managers and executives to have conversations with employees to see if they’ve internalized the cultural values (hopefully these have been laid out and identified throughout the organization’s processes).

Assessing behavior vs counting communications: Counting how many times your values appear on plaques, in emails or on company collateral is virtually useless. However, behavior of company ambassadors is just as readily apparent and way more accurate. The surest way to tell if a company culture is alive and well is to see it played out among the employees in your organization.

Recommendations vs lengthy surveys: A long complicated survey is not likely to result in employee transparency unless it’s anonymous and even then it can take time. Instead ask your employees anonymously if they’d recommend that a friend or family member work with the company, rated on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, in a follow up query, ask employees what it would take to to move their answer forward on the scale. This simple, two question email will allow you to quickly gauge your culture and give ideas on how to tweak it and make it better.

Satisfaction and contribution vs perception: Employees rarely want to be quizzed on pie-in-the-sky values and many resent the intrusion on what they consider their “real work”. Instead of seeking alignment between strategic high level thinking and everyday operations, focus instead on how satisfied your employees are over all and how they see their contributions to the company. Pinpoint, if you can, anything hindering their contributions and you will have uncovered an engagement and cultural roadblock.

Small changes by many vs big changes by a few: Paul Hebert points this out in a post about Stickelback Fish. 

Culture is function of shared values.  If only a few people have them – it is less likely to move through the entire employee population.  The chances of a culture change are much greater IMHO – if you can demonstrate small changes in many people over time versus a simple “program” that’s launched in January and wrapped up in December.

In short, measuring of gauging your company culture doesn’t have to take a long time, and it doesn’t have to be a laborious program centric effort shouldered squarely by the HR pros. It can be a series of simple, constant changes throughout the company at all levels.

By Maren Hogan