We all aspire to work for a company that values our work and treats us like grown-ups. But what else do you want from the place where you spend the majority of your waking life?
Company culture is best defined as “the way things get done around here,” and it’s influenced by both deliberate choices and unintended consequences. Over time, a company’s culture can evolve into enviable greatness (such as Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines and Hubspot) which can help you attract amazing new talent. Or it can dissolve into pockets of dysfunction.
A major corporate event, like an acquisition or merger, can be an impetus for reexamining your company culture – and taking control of the dysfunction.
How we did it
At my company, Sterling Talent Solutions, we seized the opportunity to reinvigorate our company culture as a result of a merger in early 2016. We began with a comprehensive employee-wide survey that asked a full range of questions about the company’s culture, from decision-making norms to dress code. We wanted to understand what employees liked about working at Sterling and what they didn’t.
The survey armed us with a raft of data points and about what our culture is today. But it didn’t tell us what sort of company culture we should aspire to be tomorrow. So we decided to take that question to employees directly.
With thousands of employees and offices across the globe from New York to Mumbai, starting a culture conversation with employees (and collecting their feedback in an organized manner) required an inclusive strategy to ensure we discovered high-impact initiatives that would influence the entire organization.
We conducted culture workshops
We started by constructing a repeatable workshop tailored to three stakeholder groups: employees, management and executives. Our objective was to include employees who enjoyed sharing honest opinions about the organization and who also had a desire to improve culture. In total, we hosted 18 workshops around the world and invited about 350 people (or 10% of the company) to join the conversation.
Each workshop was designed to be interactive and elicit as much conversation as possible. We focused on 16 cultural attributes (out of the 32 attributes included in the company-wide survey): social interactions, how decisions are made, how meetings are held and more.
In order to further define these 16 attributes, workshop participants were asked to use a “scale” to define the attribute in our target culture. For example in the decision-making attribute, the scale ranged from “top down decisions” at one end to “consensus decisions” at the other end. Employees had to decide as a group where to place our aspirational culture on the continuum – more top-down decision-making or more consensus building. WARNING: The middle of the scale is a glaring indicator that your organization and employees are not sending a clear recognizable message; you have to pick a side.
What we discovered
While it will be different for every organization, we discovered our employees cared the most about these five culture attributes:
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- Put the client at the heart of everything we do.
- Reduce organizational silos.
- Ensure quality first.
- Make innovation a cornerstone of the organization.
- Become more technology-focused.
These five traits might not always be top of mind when you think about culture, but we discovered they were crucial for our organization. And on an interesting side-note, dress code turned out to not be as hot a topic as we originally thought. The beauty of research is that you never know what you’re going to get!
Tips for hosting a culture workshop
As we created these culture workshops, we learned a lot. Here are five quick tips for developing your own culture workshop.
- Go from the bottom up, from the top down and meet in the middle – Collect as much information as you can from everyone. Culture is not confined to the boardroom, so make sure to gather feedback and data from all levels of your organizations. If there are multiple offices, make sure to include their unique qualities in your culture development strategy.
- Make sure everyone has a voice – If your landlord randomly decided to rip out that old, bright pink bathroom tile, you would likely be thrilled. But wouldn’t you like to be included in the process and consulted on how you want the final product to look? Yes, employees want a dynamic, engaging work environment that flows from a distinctive internal culture, but they would also like to be included in the construction from the beginning.
- Account for region-specific differences – There will be differences in your datasets based on the geographic regions you operate in. It’s important to remember that every region has different customs, expectations and beliefs that will cause subtle (or sometimes significant) disparities in how things should work. Make sure to accommodate for these variations in your overall planning.
- Use your data – Numbers regularly speak louder than words. As you collect your data, let it demonstrate the positive, tangible impact culture has on your employees. Data is very persuasive at every level and will be one of your largest assets when it comes to justifying your plans and implementing change.
- Manage expectations – Culture transformation takes time – a lot of time. It’s hard to do and a quick search will find many cautionary tales of failure. You need to continuously remind people that it took time — many years for older companies — to create the culture you have today; it will take a while to replace it. Consider conducting regular “pulse check” surveys to gather employee feedback and track progress around your transformation areas. Carefully review the data and address reoccurring concerns.