Fact Check: Is the Company Culture You Have the One You Think You Have?

Fact Check: Is the Company Culture You Have the One You Think You Have? 150 150 Donna Cutting

The first step in every large project I begin for a customer is Discovery. I spend days, or even weeks, sitting down with employees at every level of the organization just to listen to what they have to say about the culture, their customers, and their ideas. Often enough, the conversations are very different depending on who’s talking to me.  There are times where senior leaders and managers paint a compelling picture of their company culture. “We really believe in our mission!” “We collaborate across departments” and “We care about people.” Sometimes, the conversations I have with the frontline staff align with those statements. Other times, when I speak with the hourly employees, it’s like we’re talking about an entirely different organization. In those cases, the picture is a workplace where people are stressed, overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated.

Is it possible that the culture you want to have, and you think you have, is not being felt by your employees? Here are a few tell-tale signs that your company culture may not be as great as you think it is.

  • Employee turnover is high, especially within the first six months. Perhaps you got people excited with your mission, your vision, and your values. Maybe your employee orientation is stellar. However, if people are dropping like flies within the first few months on the job, chances are the experience you promised them is not the one they’re getting.
  • Team members aren’t referring new people to your company. Your employees are talking about their jobs outside of work. If you have a distinctive culture that values people and fills them with purpose, they will tell others. As a result, people will be lining up to work for you. On the contrary, when you are not delivering on your cultural vision, you may find that employees drive away your new hires with their horror stories.
  • Leaders are the only ones using your favorite buzz phrases. You know the ones I mean. Those cute little sayings you use to describe what it’s like to work in your organization. If your hourly workers aren’t using them too, they aren’t feeling it.

So, what do you do about it? The first step is always to acknowledge that there’s a disconnect. Then, once you’ve admitted the problem, it’s time to align your vision with reality. Here are five steps you can take to get you started.

  1. Listen. It’s time to listen to your hourly workers. Go beyond the annual online or paper survey. Have “penny-for-your-thoughts” sessions with groups of employees. Talk less and listen more. Host lunch with the boss days. Set aside days just to have video chats with employees. Get an accurate pulse of what the people who are closest to your customers are thinking.
  2. Ask for Help. It’s important to let people vent, but then you also want to ask for solutions. Acknowledge that there are some issues and let them know you hope to work through them together. Encourage suggestions. Put together a team of people at ALL levels of the organization. Ask them to work through some of the challenges together.
  3. Act. Take immediate action on the items that are easy to fix. Identify suggestions you can implement, but that may take time. If they share ideas that are not a good fit right now, be transparent with the reason. Give them the whole picture and better equip them to offer do-able suggestions.
  4. Co-Create. Pull together team members and re-envision your culture. Ask, what kind of workplace do we want to have? What behaviors align with that culture? What will it take for us to get there? The more you involve them in creating the vision, the more likely they will buy into it.
  5. Include. Involve hourly workers by making them ambassadors for your mission, vision, and values. Develop them so they can become facilitators of your company culture curriculum and mentors to new hires. What about including hourly workers in leadership meetings occasionally to represent their peers and learn from the experience? Ask your hourly workers to develop rituals and celebrations to keep your desired culture front and center.

Here’s a bonus. Carefully select and develop your leaders. Promote people who have a natural inclination to care about others and a gift for inspiring those around them. Provide education on coaching their team, encouraging diversity & inclusion, and creating a better employee experience.

It’s not easy to admit that your team members may not think your organization is as great as you think it is. However, by listening, asking, and co-creating, you’ll get closer to speaking the same language of company culture.

Donna Cutting is the author of “Employees First! Inspire, Engage, and Focus on the Heart of Your Organization” (Career Press, 2022) and “501 Ways to Roll Out the Red-Carpet for Your Customers” (Career Press, 2015). She’s the Founder & CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Worldwide and works with organizational leaders to help them co-create cultures of happy, caring people who deliver red carpet customer service. For more tips visit www.theredcarpetway.tv