How To Evaluate Your Culture
The specifics of a good culture vary from company to company, but there are a few general qualities of a good culture that you should aim for whatever your industry and mission.
A good culture should be:
- Well-defined and understood;
- Embraced by people in the company;
- In alignment with your mission; and
- Beneficial to the long-term success of the company.
Is Your Culture Defined and Understood?
If you asked your employees to talk about your company culture, would they know what to say? Would they have similar answers? Could they point to a mission or vision statement? Maybe a set of core values and shared beliefs? What about company policies and procedures? In short, do they know how people are expected to behave and interact in the workplace? Do they know the rules? The traditions?
You won’t have much control over your culture if you don’t clearly define it. You don’t need to write down every expectation, but they should be evident in some way. That said, written statements really do help. Add them to your company handbook as a way to communicate those expectations and hold everyone accountable to them.
It’s also good to take time to discuss your culture—maybe in a quarterly meeting or at an annual retreat—that way everyone understands it and knows how they can play a role in cultivating and developing it. By discussing the culture that you have as well as the culture that you want, you can work through any ambiguities and ensure you have alignment and buy-in. And if you discover that your ideas about the organization’s culture are not well-received or agreed upon, that’s useful information to have, as your roadmap for success will look different depending on the kind of culture you have in place.
Is Your Culture Embraced?
If you’ve defined your culture and clearly communicated it to employees, the next question to ask is whether your employees embrace it.
It’s important that the people who work for you believe in the purpose of the company and ways you set out to achieve it. A company that prides itself on honesty and being helpful doesn’t want salespeople who lie about the products and manipulate customers. It wants professionals who value truth and integrity.
When you look at your defined culture and evaluate how much it’s internalized by employees, you may find that not everyone buys into it. This may be expected, but don’t settle for indifference. Make it a point to emphasize that the culture you’ve defined is important to you. To start, the leaders in your organization must live the culture themselves. Interact with employees the way you want them to interact with you.
Remember, though, that culture isn’t set in stone. It’s always developing and adjusting since culture lives and grows out of the way people in an organization think, feel, and act. Each new person you bring in will contribute something new to the culture. New habits. New perspectives. New ideas. So, encourage employees to make the culture their own and encourage them to contribute to it.
Is Your Culture Aligned with the Mission of Your Organization?
Let’s say your culture is clearly defined and most of your employees embrace it. What’s next? Make sure your culture is aligned with the good of your organization. Your organization has a purpose. Does your culture help further the purpose, does it sabotage it, or is it a mixed bag?
When identifying and assessing your rules and traditions, make sure they all work together and don’t undercut each other. Suppose as a company you encourage employees to be innovative, but you also don’t put up with mistakes. What would happen? You’d likely stifle innovation. Employees would avoid sharing new ideas, since they’d be worried they might make a mistake.
Also take a good look at the cultures of each department and each team. These smaller groups will have their own ways of interacting and doing things, and that’s okay, but their micro-cultures shouldn’t fundamentally conflict with the larger organizational culture.
If your overall culture isn’t aligned with your mission, or if the cultures of some departments don’t match the cultures of others, this can create conflict and disorder. If people aren’t united behind your company’s purpose, they likely aren’t all following your rules or traditions, either. And that can create resentment and frustration, hurt morale, and stifle productivity.
Is Your Culture Conducive to Long-Term Success?
Among the most important questions to ask when evaluating your culture is whether it’s conducive to the organization’s success. Your core values and practices might all be in alignment, but what if the values themselves, or the mission or vision, aren’t good for long-term sustainability? There’s a possibility that the core values you defined aren’t really the best ones for you to have. Maybe your current mission and vision won’t take you as far as others could.
One way to answer whether your culture will lead to success is to analyze your recent successes and failures, asking why each happened. For this analysis, you would examine the underlying reasons why people acted the way they did. If, for example, a project failed because there was a breakdown of communication, you’d assess whether the existing policies and procedures for communication played any kind of role. Maybe the rules for how people communicate weren’t clear to everyone. Or perhaps people weren’t sharing information because they didn’t trust one another, in which case you’d want to discover why they didn’t trust one another. If your rules or traditions are causing problems, they may need to be revised or abandoned. On the other hand, if they’re contributing to your successes, look for ways to strengthen them.