Yes, You Can Measure Company Culture

Company culture is one of those phrases you hear (or read!) a lot, and you likely have your own definition of what it means to you. Have you ever thought, though, about what company culture means from a real business perspective and how to measure it?

One helpful way to think about company culture is as the personality of your company. And in the same way it’s possible to measure different dimensions of personality, you can also measure your company culture if you know where to start.

Key elements of company culture

Before you try to measure your company culture, it’s helpful to first think about – what are the different elements of company culture? Which of those are most important to your organization? These questions are important for context-setting and for helping you understand what areas of company culture are potentially worth measuring in some way. Some key areas of company culture that exist in every established company and that can be measured are:

  • Work-life balance. What do you do to attend to your employees’ physical, emotional, and financial health? Are you supportive of employees’ lives outside of the workplace?
  • Are your employees empowered to work hard and succeed? Do managers collaborate? Do your employees have opportunities to work collaboratively, or are teams more siloed? Is your focus on completing tasks, or building relationships with people?
  • Strategic direction. Do your leaders connect initiatives to your overall mission? Are business decisions extremely risky for the sake of fast growth, or are they conservative and more focused on company stability?
  • Does your organization have a clear reason for existing? What kind of impact do you make in the world?
  • What does it mean for your employees to be successful? Do you cultivate an environment in which employees know how to achieve success?
  • How do you communicate, both within the workplace, with clients, and with the outside world? Do you have a hierarchical communication structure or a more open avenue for communication?

Consider the above characteristics and make decisions about what kind of company culture you would ideally like to cultivate. Then, be prepared to take feedback from employees — including negative feedback — about where you’re falling short.

Measuring company culture

Developing an effective framework to measure or assess your company culture is a challenge, but it can be done, and there are really two main approaches for it:

  1. Creating your own internal survey to understand current employee perspectives on company culture
  2. Leveraging an established third-party company culture measurement tool or platform that can provide an unbiased assessment of your company’s culture

Your own internal survey

An internal culture survey can yield informative data about your current employees’ perceptions of your organization, but the success of that effort depends on how you set up the survey, what you ask and how you ask it. What many companies do to accomplish this is regular pulse surveys, which involves a short questionnaire delivered to employees on a regular basis – anywhere from weekly to quarterly – to measure the change in their employee experience over defined periods of time. If something less frequent is your goal, you could also do a one-time survey (often referred to as a “climate survey”) to see how things are in your culture at its current state across key elements of your company culture that are most interesting to you.

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If an internal survey (or surveys) is the route you’d like to take, keep in mind that employee responses to surveys from internal HR are often biased for fear that what they say in the survey may not be kept confidential or anonymous. Internal surveys are also commonly biased by design, whether because they only obtain information from people currently working at the company, which limits the scope of the employee experiences being surveyed, or due to other aspects of how the survey is framed.

Using an established third-party culture measurement tool

The success of a third-party approach for measuring your company culture, similar to an internal survey approach, also depends on a number of factors: how the survey is structured, what is being asked, and how the data is captured. Pulse checks are something that a third-party could help your company do or, alternatively, you could leverage third-party resources to gain a one-time comprehensive company culture snapshot.

Regardless of how you approach measuring your company culture, remember that company culture is a highly subjective topic and so the measurement scale of your surveys aren’t always going to be totally black or white, good or bad. Certain company culture characteristics that might seem “bad” to one individual might be preferable to another, and the company culture objectives that your company has may drastically differ from what another company would like to achieve. No matter the situation, decoding and measuring something so important to your business as company culture is an endeavor that is worth the effort.

Dr. Sarah Müller is the Managing Director of kununu, Europe's largest employer rating platform and only professional provider specializing in exclusive employer reviews and workplace insight. She is convinced that digitization of the working world will change what employees expect from their employers and that companies have to adapt to this new world of work. Her work in both Europe and in the US is focused on raising the bar on transparency between employees and employers.

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