Why Performing a Company Culture Audit Is More Important Than Ever

Why Performing a Company Culture Audit Is More Important Than Ever

A strong company culture has always been important for sustained organizational success—with benefits including a clear company identity, improved talent attraction and retention, and a better brand and employment image.

New developments, however, make a strong culture a near necessity.

What’s new?

Workplace expert Larry Alton, in a recent Forbes article, listed the following developments:

  • Recognizing the benefits of strong cultures, more organizations are focused on creating one. Alton noted, “If you don’t at least keep pace with a strong culture and find a way to differentiate yourself, you’re going to fall behind.”
  • In deciding where to work, millennials value a strong company culture more than anything else.
  • The hyper-competitive modern startup economy “forces entrepreneurs to find a sticking point for workers who may otherwise bounce after a short-term assignment.”

We’ll list two more developments:

  • There’s never been more visibility into organizational culture than now. For example, candidates can see social media posts about what it’s like to work at an organization. Or, if they know someone who works at the organization, learning about the culture is just a quick text or instant message away.
  • The candidate-friendly labor market makes talent attraction and retention more important than usual.

Your Culture Audit

To build on or improve your culture, perform a culture audit.

One option is to work with a service provider. An entire industry has emerged over the past 15 years to offer tools and services specifically designed to bring to the surface, articulate, and measure an organization’s culture. 

The other is to perform a culture audit yourself. Use the questions below to bring to the surface the behaviors and norms that make your organization unique. Important: the questions are designed for a focus group or interview setting to allow for discussion and interaction, as well as richer input. It is critical to have an experienced and respected facilitator leading the discussion.

  1. How would you describe this organization as if you were describing a person? When you talk about where you work, what do you tell people?
  2. What does the company value? What’s important here? How do you know it’s important?
  3. What areas are dominant here—does marketing lead, or is it sales or service? Why?
  4. What are the “unwritten rules” for getting along in this organization? What do we always do? What do we never do?
  5. How does the organization handle conflict? Good news? Bad news? Deadlines? Decision-making? Can you give examples of ways in which the company has handled crises?
  6. If I were a fly on the wall at a typical management meeting, what would I see? 
  7. Describe the process for effectively “selling” and idea here. 
  8. Who do you see as the primary customers of your organization? What happens here when a key customer complains? To what extent does the organization hold true to its expressed standards for dealing with its customers? Its shareholders? Its employees?
  9. Think about a new employee who has been successful here. What has he or she done that has been particularly successful? What is the “success profile” for a new employee?
  10. Can you give us some examples of situations where a new employee’s onboarding hasn’t gone well? 
  11. What advice do you have for new employees?

When you perform your culture audit, it’s important to be deliberate as you identify a sample of your employee population to ask about your culture. Ask the following questions to identify the right group:

  • How many employees make up a representative sample of your organization?
  • What divisions, business units, and locations need to be included?
  • Do you want to bring to the surface the culture within specific levels of the organization, such as the executive leadership population? If so, we recommend gathering 10 percent of your leaders for the culture discussion.

It’s also important to also have an effective communication plan when performing a culture audit. Conversations about culture can be challenging and even emotional, and a thoughtful communication plan increases the chances of achieving the intended objectives and outcomes. 

You need to determine:

  • Your message — a carefully crafted and authentic message is critical
  • The author of the message
  • How focus group participants will be invited
  • What you’ll do with the information that is gathered

Your Company Culture Is What It Is, Not What You Want It to Be

Making changes to your culture isn’t easy, but improving your culture can make an incredible impact on your organization. At the same time, you must also meet your organization where its culture is rather than where you want it to be.

For example, talent development initiatives must be consistent with your current culture or they’ll miss the mark—this is one reason why it’s a good idea to perform a culture audit even if you’re happy with your culture! A large, mature, finance-driven organization might consider creating development initiatives that are a blend of traditional and innovative programs, that connect to core traditions and norms and that demonstrate the effect of innovation. Those same initiatives wouldn’t make sense for a marketing-driven startup, which instead would be better to focus on on-the-job opportunities, leveraging the top leadership team, and demonstrating a direct link to short-term objectives.

Good luck!

Looking to learn about or improve your organization’s culture? To see how we can help, contact us at info@connectthedotsconsulting.com.