Do you know what your corporate culture looks and feels like to employees and customers? Do you know whether your workplace culture is helping you to achieve business goals or is it standing in the way? The truth is most of us don’t know the answers to these questions. You might have a vague notion of your workplace culture but because it’s a complex and largely invisible notion, very few of us scratch below the surface. Unlike cash flow and sales, it’s not something you can easily quantify. However, corporate culture is in fact a key contributor to the health and success of any business.
In this post, we take you through the steps needed to carry out cultural audits, the role internal communications plays, and how to assess the state of health of your workplace culture.
What Is A Cultural Audit
A cultural audit provides a snapshot assessment of the health of an organization’s workplace culture.
Definition Of Workplace Culture
OK, but what exactly is workplace culture? Well, one of the inherent problems with corporate culture is that it means different things to different people. It’s a vague, loosely defined term. In essence, though corporate culture encompasses all aspects of a company’s operating environment and it includes the following elements:
- Leadership style
- Company’s vision and values
- Employee values and behaviors
- Workplace procedures and policies
- Communication styles
- Workplace environment
- Reward and recognition programs
- Company stories and interactions, including language and symbols.
Why Corporate Culture Is Important
As workplace culture is such as nebulous term it’s not difficult to see why it often ends up in the too hard basket. But before you do the same, let’s examine why it’s important.
A positive workplace culture usually manifests itself in a business as things going well. Employees are happy and content and morale is high. Staff turnover and absenteeism is low. Productivity is good and sales are exceeding targets.
However, in a poor workplace culture the opposite is true. Employee morale is low, staff turnover is high and sickness rates are an issue. Underachievement, low productivity and poor sales are rife.
Rarely is the situation in a business as black and white as what we have described here but it does serve to illustrate the impact workplace culture has on performance. Even in companies with a seemingly positive corporate culture, there is always room for improvement. And those small improvements can add up to make a big difference to your competitiveness and ultimately to the bottom dollar.
Benefits Of Cultural Audits
A cultural audit will help you to assess where your organization is at and whether workplace culture is supporting your overall business goals.
It will help you to assess the effectiveness of your working environment, employee engagement and internal communications. You will identify threats and opportunities, enabling you to take corrective action before they become bigger issues.
Done well and it will provide a baseline analysis that you can refer to over time. You can also use this data to assess the impact of any initiatives you may undertake to improve corporate culture.
When you are caught up in your day-to-day work, workplace culture often becomes almost invisible to you. However, a cultural audit allows you to take that step back and really delve into what is a key indicator of the health of your business.
It is possible to conduct your own cultural audit in which case the most effective way to do so is by convening a cross-departmental team of employees. That way staff members can have buy-in to the process.
Some companies, however, engage an external consultant because they can see the value of a fresh perspective. If you suspect that the workplace culture may not be as positive as you would like, then an outsider may be better placed to build trust with employees and gain a more open and honest response. And if you are unsure of where you sit, then an initial internal cultural audit will help you to make decisions about the way forward.
It’s important to note here that workplace culture isn’t a static concept. It will evolve over time as staff members and senior managers come and go alongside changes in the operational environment and societal expectations. It’s unlikely, therefore, that your cultural audit will be a one-off exercise. Rather, to be really effective it should be conducted on a regular basis of at least every few years or after a restructuring or similar big workplace initiative.
Workplace Culture Audits: The Key Elements
So, where do I start? Well, there are three main aspects to a workplace culture audit and these are as follows:
This stage involves a desktop review of internal documents. The company intranet will be the starting point for reviewing the corporate policies and procedures which set the overall standard for the company. Pay attention to the language used and the tone. Is it positive or negative? Are the language and images used in corporate documents diverse and inclusive? Is the company vision collaborative or is it more directive from senior management?
The assessment stage should also include a review of internal documents and emails. How do employees talk to each other? What is the overall tone? And are employees more likely to speak to a colleague about a task or issues or would they email?
Also examine the company’s public-facing website, social media platforms, promotional and marketing information as well as any news or media coverage of the business. What does that tell you about the workplace culture and how you present yourself?
A review of customer feedback is also an important part of the assessment stage. How a business treats its customers can reveal a great deal about the workplace culture. Undertake an analysis of customer complaints as well as reviews and feedback. Check out any online review platforms as well as Facebook and Google reviews. What you are looking for here is any common themes or issues that might be indicative of a positive or negative corporate culture.
Staff and Stakeholder Focus Groups
Focus groups are another important source of data within the assessment stage. A focus group with employees also gives you the opportunity to observe the interactions and behaviors of staff members as well as getting a first-hand view on company culture.
You may also want to conduct a focus group with external stakeholders to gain another perspective. Ideally, focus groups should be recorded so that you are free to listen and can refer back to a transcript later.
Another assessment tool is a staff cultural survey. The advantage of a wholescale survey is that you will hear the views of more staff than just a small albeit representative sample in a focus group. In addition, an anonymous survey gives employees the freedom to speak truthfully without fear of recriminations. It’s a straightforward task to set up a cultural survey using the intranet or an embedded Google Form. Once set up, a cultural survey can be used over and over. This will provide you with valuable qualitative data that you can use to assess and measure your cultural performance.
Cultural Audit Questions
Whether it’s to guide discussions during employee or stakeholder focus groups or to canvass views in a cultural survey, here are some sample questions that you can use:
- How would you describe the workplace culture to a friend?
- If you could change one thing about how the company works, what would that be and why?
- How would you describe the organization’s leadership style?
- What are the organization’s main goals?
- Is the company’s mission statement clearly communicated to staff and/or stakeholders?
- Have you come across any barriers that get in the way of your work?
- Do you feel valued and appreciated by the organization? What about your co-workers, how do you think they feel?
- How diverse is the workforce? Is it representative of the population at large?
- Do you feel free to make decisions and take the initiative within your daily work or do you need to check everything out first with a manager?
- How are mistakes dealt with? Is there a blame culture or is risk taking encouraged?
- What is the office environment like? Does it make you feel valued?
- How are employees recognized and rewarded?
- What does customer service look like within the business?
- How are customer complaints dealt with and followed up?
This is not an exhaustive list of questions but hopefully serves as a guide. The aim here is to dig below the surface to uncover the real views of staff and stakeholders on corporate culture.
Now comes the hard part! Completing all the steps we have outlined will result in a significant amount of data, observations and information. All these data sources now need to be collated into a written report that can be shared with staff and management. The analysis should be balanced with both positive and negative aspects given equal airtime. In addition, make sure that any individual feedback is anonymized; in fact, in the written report it’s best to keep the analysis at the aggregate level.
Sharing the tasks around the cross-departmental team means that the burden is not too onerous for any one individual.
To make sense of the data you may want to organize the report along themes. This will assist both in terms of analysis and also when it comes to making recommendations. The themes will vary depending on the type of organization, but here are some common ones to help you get started:
- Company vision, mission and values
- Leadership and management style
- Internal communications
- External communications
- Employee experience including engagement and motivation
- Performance management systems
- Customer experience
- Teamwork, collaboration and interpersonal relationships
- Continuing professional development
- Employee recognition and rewards
- Employee benefits
- Workplace organization and operating environment
- Company policies and procedures.
The cross-departmental team may have been charged with coming up with recommendations, or senior managers may have kept this task as being within their remit. Either way, the starting point is to consider where you are currently at in relation to each of the themes and where you want to be. The recommendations should tell you how to get there. Try and include a mix of short-term, quick wins and longer term projects. Significant changes in workplace culture can take time and effort to embed and in the meantime a few quick wins can have a big impact. They also send a clear message to staff that you mean business.
Organizational Cultural Audit Report
Whether you have conducted the cultural audit internally or have engaged an external consultant, the end result should be the same: an organizational cultural audit report.
Presented in the same format of assessment, analysis and recommendations, the report provides a snapshot of the prevalent workplace culture. The audit should also provide an evaluation of whether the corporate culture is indeed supporting the performance of the business, or whether it is a hindrance.
The report should clearly demonstrate what aspects of the corporate culture are working well as well as highlighting what needs to improve. Finally, a set of recommendations will ensure that the organization has a clear sense of direction in taking things forward.
And if you are serious about improving the corporate culture then it’s essential that staff are kept informed. Publish the organizational cultural audit report on the intranet. Use the news blog to keep staff informed of what you are doing and when. In addition, why not canvass their views on how you are doing with intranet quizzes and surveys.
Cultural Audits Improve Business
The main takeaway from this post is that workplace culture supports employees in producing results for your business. And a cultural audit will help you find out just how supportive that corporate culture is and what changes you need to make. In fact, it could be that important differentiator that will set you apart from the competition.
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