The general trend nowadays is to create a project regarding culture, where assessing culture becomes an annual formal event that costs organisations millions.

Why is culture only assessed when it is believed to be “unhealthy” or the organisation wants to move to a new culture?

Why not assess culture all year round?

It is well known that the culture of an organisation directly affects its performance, including business performance and employee engagement. If culture is so important, it should be evaluated constantly.

Below are suggestions on how to assess culture all year round:

  1. Observation in the workplace (bi-monthly) – Take a walk around the building – alone. Look at physical signs of the building and listen to employees. This will enable you to get a feeling of the everyday culture, not culture when it is formally addressed. Here are some questions about your observations and factors to observe:
    1. How is the space allocated? Where are the offices located? How much space is assigned to meetings and other opportunities for employee interaction? Are seating areas, kitchens, lunchrooms and restrooms conducive to employee comfort and relationship building? How are these common areas used?
    2. How much individual space is given to whom? Where are people located? Do all employees have cubicles or is a management position required for an office? Are offices signs of status, meaning the more senior the role, the larger the office? Or are offices assigned to positions that require confidentiality or quiet? What else do you notice about the use of space?
    3. What is posted on bulletin boards or displayed on walls? Is it personal, announcing upcoming events or family pictures? Or are the postings limited to government regulations and corporate announcements? Is there visible evidence that employees have been rewarded or recognised for their contributions? What is displayed on desks or in other areas of the building?
    4. What do people write to one another in memos or e-mail? What is the tone of the messages (formal or informal, pleasant or hostile, etc.)? How often do people communicate with one another? Is all communication written, or do people express themselves verbally? Do they send emails to the next cubicle? Or do they actually pick up the phone or visit another employee’s office for a face-to-face engagement?
  2. Culture interviews or focus groups of employees (quarterly) – Make use of an objective party to interview employees and, during these interviews, to observe the behaviours and interaction patterns of people and to hear what they say about the culture. Some of the indirect ways of assessing culture are asking the following questions: What would you tell a friend about your organisation if he or she were about to start working here? What barriers do you experience as you try to accomplish your work? What is the one thing you would most like to change about this organisation? What is your favourite quality that is present in your company? Who succeeds in your company? What kinds of people fail in your organisation? What are the goals of your organisation? What stories do current employees tell new employees about your organisation when they join? What is your favourite story, the story you share most frequently, about your organisation?
  3. Culture surveys (monthly) – In order to assess the practices within an organisation, why conduct a culture survey once a year? One way of overcoming a poor response rate and time is to send a few questions every month (3-4 questions) which are easy and quick to answer.

Using the methods above allows an organisation to address culture issues as they occur and not only when problems are formally recognised.

Sources:

Heathfield, S.M. (2008). How to assess your company’s culture. Retrieved from http://www.ultiproweb.net/pdf/whitepapers/cultureassessmentfinalfinal.pdf

Watkins, M.D. (2013). What is Organisational Culture? And why should we care? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture

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