Testing Company Culture

Big Red Car here.  What a day in the ATX.  Wow, sunny and clear and, well, just beautiful.  On Earth as it is in Texas, ya’ll.

Hey, why don’t you move to Austin next week.  Quit your job, pack your stuff and move on down.

Haha, Big Red Car, get it under control already.  You are getting giddy.

So how do you test a company culture, you ask, Big Red Car?

Testing a company culture

Here is all you have to do to take the measure of a company culture.

1.  Interview — tough questions — a broad cross section of the company’s employees (the lower in the organization, the better) asking them specifically if they can put their hands on the Vision, Mission, Values, Strategic Plan, Annual Business Plan and their own personal objectives.  If these basic building blocks are not in place, you may not have an organized company let alone a company culture.

If you cannot locate the aforementioned documents, then much of your question has been answered.

2.  Ask about the hiring and onboarding (hate that word does the Big Red Car but it is useful and descriptive nonetheless) process.  If there is no such process in place, well…..

3.  Conduct an anonymous Company Survey asking about the typical best, worst things about the company and what they would do if they were the President.  Ask them where the bottlenecks are in the company’s operations.  Ask them if they are being fairly compensated.  You will love the answers and insights you get.

A sound company conducts an annual Company Survey as part of its normal planning.  The Boss always used to learn something interesting every time he did this.

4.  Calculate the company’s turnover rate and the longevity of the existing employment base.  Who have they lost and why?

5.  Review the company policy handbook and ascertain when it was last updated.  When you interview the folks, ask them if they know any of the policies.  Strong company cultures have high levels of awareness.

6.  Review the company benefits and ascertain when they were last updated.  When you interview the folks, ask them to list the company benefits.

7.  Identify the company’s “rituals” and holidays.  See if you can ascertain any organizing theme as to how they were set and celebrated.

8.  See if the company has a pictorial history of its achievements and stories.  You are testing to see if there is a “campfire” and whether the “wisdom of  the campfire” is being passed on.

If you probe these eight data points, you will have a pretty damn good assessment as to the current state of, the relevance of, the health of the company’s culture.

The vernacular of company culture

With all of the above data in hand, describe the following characteristics from your newly discovered perspective.

Does the company have vision/mission clarity?  This is the big one.

Does the company have well defined and worthy values?  Do the folks know and live them?  Does management own them?

Are the best employees committed to the company?  Are they proud to work there?  Is the company attracting excellent prospective employees?

Are the employees empowered to act both in regard to the business and the culture?

Does the company reward and recognize excellence and hard work?

Does the company spend the time to define job descriptions, annual objectives and performance appraisal?

Does the company provide the best possible technology to its workers?

Does the company evidence high levels of integrity, trust, adaptability and accountability?

When something goes wrong, how has it been dealt with?  Any scapegoating?

Are there high levels of animosity toward any particular department within the company?

Is the company a learning organization?  Does it support innovation?

Does the company have in place an effective communication mechanism rooted in ritual with specific tools?  Does communication go both up and down?  Is it 360 degree communication?  Does the CEO answer questions about anything?

Are relationships strong and visible?

Is the company committed to serving its customers and does it walk the talk?

Are the outcomes of operations improved by the quality and strength of the culture?

Do not try to make this into a PhD thesis.  Just answer with your first impression.  Be honest with yourself.  When you are not sure, take the fact that you could not uncover any evidence as a negative answer.

Now you know the state of our company’s culture.  More importantly, you know where your work will lead you as your transform your company into a better, more effective company with a strong culture.

You are building a business enterprise not a social club.  The company culture is an element of success, it is not success in its own right.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.