Before we get into the question of how to evaluate a company culture, let me share a quick story.
After I wrote my first book, which is grossly outdated (even though I wrote a fourth edition), I became a speaker. It wasn’t something I sought after. I thought I was too busy with all the work I had at my home office to get on the road, prepare real presentations, get better at public speaking, figure out a monetization strategy, etc. But the first time someone offered me thousands of dollars to sit on a panel at a conference I realized that maybe, just maybe, I should become a professional speaker.
It was easier to get invited to speak, for money, once my book was published.
My presentations varied depending on the audience and my customers’ needs, but there were a few presentations that became staples. Perhaps my favorite, which I easily did over 200+ times on stage, was titled Career Management 2.0 (I have since turned this into an online course: Career Management 2.0 at Pluralsight).
When I do that presentation in person, I ask the audience if anyone in the room has a personal brand (as personal branding is a big part of career management). Maybe 5% of the audience raises their hand. We have fun as I ask some of them to describe what their personal brand is, and then I talk about how the other 95% actually does have a personal brand. Whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not, whether they agree with it or not, they have a personal brand.
I wonder how that same scenario would go if I were at a conference talking about organizational culture, and asking which people worked at organizations that had an organizational culture to raise their hands. Would everyone raise their hands, or just a small portion of the group?
The reality is that every organization has a culture. Your organization has a culture, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, and whether your leadership agrees with it or not, you have an organizational brand.
Even though there are people debating on whether organizational culture even exists, you have one. Let them argue semantics and philosophy of culture, but I guarantee you have a culture, just like I guarantee you have a brand.
Here are three questions you should ask, and discuss, to help you evaluate a company culture… indeed, to evaluate YOUR company culture:
The First Question to Evaluate a Company Culture: What Do Our Employees Say About Us?
Imagine your employees at a family gathering… perhaps a summer BBQ or a holiday dinner. Uncle Eddie asks about their job… what does your employee say? Do they love it? Do they love your organization? Or is leadership out of touch and they are actually looking for a new job?
Whatever your employee is saying about your organization is part of your company culture. Here’s how I explain this in my presentations about personal branding.
Your personal brand is how others perceive you. It’s as simple as that. Same with your culture. No matter what your leadership does, what HR plans, and how your executives talk about it, your culture can (and will) be described by your employees.
Imagine overhearing your team talk about your culture in a way that is totally different than what your executives are saying it is. Who is right about what it is? The perception by your team is a great indicator of what your company culture is.
As a bonus, check out this free Snowfly eBook we wrote: How to Measure a Team’s Culture.
The Second Question to Evaluate a Company Culture: What Do Informed Outsiders Say About Us?
Informed outsiders might be people in your industry and somehow close to you. Perhaps they are people who go to industry networking meetings that your team members attend. Perhaps they are past employees. Perhaps they are industry watchdogs.
These are people who know a bit about your organization, the industry, and your competitors. They hear things. They listen to things. When someone at their table says, “Yeah, I work there. It’s not as good as what you are saying,” they pay attention. The closer they are to knowing about your organization or industry, even if they aren’t insiders, the more likely they are to have a good idea of what your organizational culture is.
They’ll listen to complaining or praise. They’ll listen to what isn’t said… perhaps sarcasm or body language. And they compare it to what they are learning about with other organizations they know about.
Ask them what they are hearing. Ask them what their perceptions are, and what they think. This is an unbiased person who has nothing to lose telling you what they think, why not tap into that level of honesty?
The Third Question to Evaluate a Company Culture: How Is Your Hiring and Retention?
You’ve heard it costs multiple times a salary to replace a person at your company, right? The X will vary depending on the level, skills required, etc. But part of your hiring and retention successes (or failures) will come from what others know, and say, about your company culture. If you don’t want to evaluate a company culture, or, your company culture, know that other people are… especially prospective employees.
Your company culture is a huge part of your employer brand. People want to know if they are going to be miserable working at your organization, or if they are finally going to work with leadership that respects them. They’ll want to know if their contributions and ideas are valued or challenged. They’ll want to know they are free to do their best work and bring their best ideas to the table.
No one wants to work at an organization that has a bad culture, and so an organization’s hiring success is a kind of a litmus test to evaluate a company culture. I’ve worked at organizations that have amazing company cultures. They also have a long line of prospects waiting for a change to work there. Contrast that to a horrible company culture where there is no long line of prospects and employee turnover is high.
Ask the Hard Questions
Answers to those, and other, hard questions, can indicate how your company culture is doing. The answers could be justified away by talking about circumstances, markets, the political scene, etc., but if you are honest with your answers you’ll be able to uncover opportunities for improvement. We love talking about company culture and would love to walk with you as you go down this path of intentional culture. Want to talk? Because we do!