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How to Assess Your Company Culture

Mapping your current company culture is the first step to understand what your organization stands for. This visual method will help you assess what's working and what's not.

By Gustavo Razzetti

January 26, 2021

A visual method to evaluate your current culture, identify what's working (or not), and define a course of action.

Mapping your current company culture is the first step in understanding what your organization stands for. The Culture Design Canvas also allows you to assess the different building blocks of your current culture, see what's working, identify areas of opportunity, and prioritize in which blocks you want to start working on.

As I explained in a previous post, to successfully map your culture, you must facilitate various design sessions. This ensures you capture multiple perspectives, not just what the CEO or HR think or see.

In this post, I assume that you've already gone through the process of not only capturing how different groups perceive your company culture, but have also consolidated all of those perceptions into one culture map.

I will provide a thorough checklist to analyze and assess all the building blocks of the completed Culture Design Canvas.

Review Your Current Company Culture Map

Before jumping into the different elements, step back and focus on the big picture. What do you see? A strong company culture is clear, consistent, and simple.

Look for a theme – one line that best describes your current company culture. As you're mapping the actual state, the theme should represent the reality, so it could be positive, negative, or neutral.

For example, Netflix has a culture of freedom and responsibility. Airbnb has a culture where everyone feels they belong anywhere.

A large grocery retailer I was working with had a culture where bosses promote one thing and reward another.

Use the following checklist to evaluate the entire culture map:

• What does your organizational culture stand for?

• Is it simple and clear?

• Does your organizational culture feel difficult to replicate?

• Is it a competitive advantage?

• Are all the elements aligned with the values and purpose?

• What are the consistencies and inconsistencies across elements?

• Which building blocks are working and which are not?

• What makes you feel proud about your workplace culture?

• What feels embarrassing or disturbing?

Once again, it's important to remember that the exercise of mapping your company culture is about capturing the real culture, not the ideal one.

Does the Culture Design Canvas represent your real culture? Has the process been inclusive enough to capture the perspectives of different areas or groups within your company? Have you included 'extreme users' during the process? Have the facilitators neutralized low psychological safety or leadership perspectives from influence people's points of view?

Once you complete this analysis, it's time to evaluate the elements of your company culture, one by one.

Assess Each Building Block of Your Current Culture

Evaluating each element of the culture map is essential before moving on to the next phase: culture design. Reviewing each of the elements of your company culture will help you define on which areas need attention and prioritize the ones you'll tackle first.

To help you review each block, I created a checklist with a series of questions. As a rule of thumb, if you answer 'yes' to all, that means that the respective building block is working and needs no intervention. Conversely, if most answers are 'no,' that means that the specific building block requires immediate action.

Purpose

• Do you have a company purpose?

• Do employees know what your purpose is?

• Is your company purpose ambitious yet attainable?

• Does your purpose focus on serving others rather than being self-serving?

• Is your company purpose clear and unique?

• Does your purpose clearly dictate what your company stands for rather than being too vague?

• Is your purpose realistic and connected to how your company runs its business?

• Does your purpose invite people to be part of something bigger than themselves?

• Does your organization create a positive impact in the community/ world, regardless of whether or not it's altruistic?

Core Values

• Does your company have explicit core values?

• Do your employees remember all your company values?

• Are your values clear, simple, and easy to understand?

• Do you use core values to guide how people make decisions?

• Were employees involved in creating and selecting your core values?

• Are your core values relevant and unique rather than generic?

• Do your values operate as guiding principles rather than being empty words?

• Do your core values share people's behavior instead of being empty words?

• Do you have 5 core values or less?

Priorities

• Does your company have clear priorities?

• Do you have a maximum of three priorities?

• Are your priorities helping people choose one good thing even over another?

• Are your three key priorities used to make decisions across the board?

• Are people aware of your three priorities?

• Can people make decisions on their own if they respect your priorities?

Behaviors we reward and punish

• Does your company have explicit behaviors that are either rewarded or punished?

• Can you limit those behaviors to three that are rewarded and three that are punished?

• Do leaders and managers abide by the same rules as everyone else?

• Is your organization consistent between what it preaches and what it rewards?

• Do people know what will help them succeed?

• Do people know what is not acceptable and could get them fired?

Psychological Safety

• Do employees believe that your organization is a safe place?

• Do people feel free to be themselves at work?

• Are people comfortable speaking up and being candid rather than defaulting to groupthink?

• Do people feel safe to challenge the status quo or their bosses without fear of being punished or fired?

• Are mistakes seen as stepping stones rather than the end of the world?

• When something goes wrong, do team members work together rather than blame each other?

• Does the culture encourage people to be themselves at work?

• Does your organization encourage people to be candid and have courageous conversations?

• Is it easy to ask others for help?

• Would no one in the team deliberately act in a way that undermines other people's efforts?

Feedback

• Does your company provide feedback regularly rather than once or twice a year?

• Is feedback seen as a gift rather than a punishment?

• Does your company encourage people to ask for feedback instead of giving feedback?

• Is peer-to-peer feedback encouraged more than a manager-to-employee practice?

• Are managers open to receiving feedback from their direct reports?

• Do teams address feedback collectively rather than just individually?

• Does your team spend more time discussing what needs to happen versus what happened?

• Has your company ditched formal reviews and encouraged a culture of ongoing feedback instead?

• Does your company provide feedback on outcomes versus evaluating people?

• Does feedback help people learn and grow?

Rituals

• Does your team have rituals?

• Do your team rituals help bring your company culture to life?

• Do your team rituals encourage positive behavior changes?

• Are your team rituals meaningful experiences rather than simple events like Friday happy hours?

• Does your organization purposefully design team rituals?

• Were team members involved in the creation of the rituals?

• Do your team rituals move your organization forward rather than backward?

• Are people excited about company rituals versus seeing them as something artificial or imposed?

• Can teams customize corporate rituals or create their own?

• Do your team rituals evolve through time?

Norms & Rules

• Do your rules treat people like adults rather than kids?

• Do your company rules provide criteria for people to make the right choices versus telling them what to do?

• Are offenders taken care of directly rather than creating new rules that punish everyone?

• Does your company address conflicts via conversations rather than create a rule every time a problem occurs?

• Are unspoken rules consistent with the behaviors you reward and punish?

• Do you work at turning unspoken rules into explicit ones?

• Does your company aim to keep rules to the minimum?

• Are your company policies or rules short and straightforward?

Meetings

• Do people love to attend company meetings?

• Do you avoid meeting for the sake of meeting?

• Are meetings how work is done in your organization?

• Has your team stopped complaining about having too many meetings?

• Are meetings short in duration based on the topic at hand?

• Are participants limited to make meetings more effective?

• Do your meetings have a clear purpose and are outcomes usually met?

• Can people opt out from attending a meeting if they will create more value being somewhere else?

• Are your meetings designed for participation?

• Do you have a facilitator – not the meeting owner - who runs the process or discussions?

Decision-Making

• Are people clear and aligned on how decisions are made at your organization?

• Is decision-making authority distributed in your organization?

• Does your decision-making method vary/ adapt to the context or nature of the problem?

• Are teams allowed to make decisions without consulting their managers?

• Do managers consult rather than always decide?

• Are people consulted during decisions that will impact their work?

• Are people involved in providing input during a crises or big challenges that will affect the organization's future?

• Do people have a say, even if it will not always define the outcome?

• Are people happy with how the organization makes decisions?

• Does your company make decisions faster?

• Are those closest to the problem allowed to make calls?

• Are decisions across the organization consistent with key priorities and core values?

A Visual Approach to Assess Your Company Culture

To make it easier to evaluate each building block, you can use a visual approach that will let you quickly identify how each element of the culture design canvas is faring.

You can either do this with physical sticky notes or using a visual collaboration tool (you can download the free MURAL template here).

If you're using a physical Culture Design Canvas, place the questions on each of the building blocks and use a specific color: green for "yes", yellow for "maybe", and red for "no." As a rule of thumb, if all answers are green, that means that the specific building block is doing great. On the other hand, if they're mostly red, that means that it's doing awful and requires a huge intervention.

The image below shows the MURAL template. If you opt to do the exercise virtually, you'll notice that all the sticky notes on the MURAL template are green – that's the starting point. You can change their color depending on how you respond to each question.

Click here to download the MURAL template.

Culture Mapping – Defining a Course of Action

To categorize and prioritize a course of action, consider the following four categories:

- Maintain: Building blocks that are working and need no change

- Clarify: Building blocks that can be optimized by simplifying the approach or improving communication

- Improve: Building blocks that have areas of opportunities

- Transform: Building blocks in critical condition and needing deep intervention

Continuing with the visual approach, use the following criteria to determine where each building block falls:

– All the responses are green (yes) = "maintain"

– The majority are green (yes) = "clarify"

– Mixed replies (many maybes, or no and yes are split even) = "improve"

– The majority are red (no) = "transform"

 I've been using this visual approach to help multiple clients assess their current culture. Using a color code simplifies the process and also makes it easier for people to evaluate their culture map and see how each section is faring.

Also, if you assess your company culture regularly (as you should), you can visually monitor the changes in colors of your Culture Design Canvas and see how it becomes greener over time.

Reach out if you have any questions or need help building a more powerful company culture.

Want to learn more about The Culture Design Canvas? Join the Culture Design Masterclass.

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