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Assessing Corporate Culture: A Comprehensive Guide

corporate culture

In this guide, you’ll learn how to keep your finger on the pulse of your company, with detailed advice on assessing corporate culture and putting your findings into action. 

It seems like everybody is talking about culture these days. And for good reason. That’s because a good corporate culture provides a clear competitive advantage – helping to boost everything from productivity and morale to retention and recruitment

So, given its importance, why do so many companies wait until something goes wrong before taking steps to address their corporate culture? The thing about company cultures is that they’re constantly changing. They’re the living, breathing soul of a company that ebbs and flows on a year-by-year, month-by-month and even week-by-week basis. Because it’s in constant flux, smart leaders understand that they need to keep their fingers on the pulse. That’s why assessing corporate culture has become a key concern for organizations.

Assessing Corporate Culture: A Preview

  • Plan Assessments: Strategically schedule culture evaluations.
  • Engage Employees: Foster a two-way dialogue through surveys.
  • Questionnaires: Utilize targeted questions to gauge culture.
  • CVF Framework: Apply the Competing Values Framework for insights.
  • Analyze Data: Collect and interpret feedback for actionable insights.
  • Benchmarking: Set and compare against industry standards.
  • Actionable Steps: Transform assessment findings into progress.

assessing corporate culture

In this guide, you’ll learn…

🔍 The current state of corporate culture

💭 What a corporate culture assessment is

📋 How to assess corporate culture

Sample questions for your corporate culture assessment 

💪 How to leverage your findings 

The Current State of Corporate Culture 

The idea of corporate culture is nothing new, but it has come under increased scrutiny in recent years as the battle for talent has intensified. 

It all started with the so-called Great Resignation that came in the wake of COVID-19. After lockdowns and restrictions ended workers across the world found themselves at a crossroads. Driven by a desire for better work/life balance, fresh challenges and higher wages – many decided to quit their jobs. 

But even though the global pandemic is now in the past, businesses are still battling to retain and recruit the very best talent. 

In today’s marketplace place its employees who are in the driving seat. Driven by skills gaps, the rise in remote working and generational shifts, there are more open positions right now than there are employees to fill them. In the US alone there were more than 9 million unfilled positions at the end of 2023, shifting the balance of power firmly in employees’ favor. 

The combination of record numbers of open roles coupled with the re-evaluation of work/life balance means that companies are faced with something of a perfect storm. That’s because people are not only actively choosing to make career decisions that are right for them, but they know that there are plentiful opportunities out there if they do decide to quit. It’s why the vast majority of employees admit that they have actively considered switching roles, because they’re confident they can find something better elsewhere. 

Faced with this growing crisis companies have been forced to act. Retention and recruitment has shot up the corporate agenda, forcing organizations to consider everything from their pay structure and benefits packages to rewards, recognition and remote working. 

assessing corporate culture

However, as the Battle for Talent has raged, company culture has emerged as something of a secret weapon that’s separating the winners from the losers

It’s because company culture taps into people’s innate desire for purpose. While bigger pay packets and better perks certainly have a role to play, more than anything employees want to feel like they belong. They want to know that what they do has a purpose, that their efforts are appreciated and that they can believe in what their employer is trying to achieve.

It’s these intangibles that make company culture such an effective recruitment and retention tool. Get it right and you won’t just have your pick of the very best talent, you’ll also improve productivity, creativity and your bottom line. Get it wrong however and it could spell disaster.   

“Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company.”

– Brian Kristofek, President and CEO, Upshot

What Is a Culture Assessment? 

We’ve mentioned them already, but what exactly do we mean when we’re talking about a “corporate culture assessment?”

Put simply, a corporate culture assessment is like a health check for your company’s culture. It’s a tool that leaders can use to see if, in reality, their company’s culture matches up to the values and ideals that they’ve written down in their corporate handbook. Done right, it can also provide a metric that can be tracked over time to see if your organization is hitting its culture goals. 

In practical terms, assessing corporate culture involves a series of questions that you can ask employees in order to judge the current state of your company. In many ways, they are similar to engagement surveys, but instead of measuring how motivated your people are they provide a tool that enables you to track whether the reality of your company culture matches your ideals. 

Just like engagement surveys, you can control how regularly you’re going to be assessing company culture. Many companies conduct these reports annually, proactively scheduling assessments so that they have a barometer for their progress. However, assessing corporate culture can also be a reactive exercise, something that’s performed in response to periods of change or uncertainty that might be impacting the work environment. 

assessing corporate culture

Why Should You Assess Corporate Culture? 

Your culture is like your company’s personality. It’s the way your employees think, feel and act. Typically it’s built on values or ideals that leaders decide upon. In that regard company culture is something of a theoretical exercise. After all, it’s one thing to write down the kind of ideals you want your employees to adhere to, it’s another thing entirely to make sure that they’re actually following them.

Assessing company culture enables you to compare your theoretical idea of your organization with the reality. It’s a tangible measure of how closely your day-to-day operations are aligned with the vision laid out in the company handbook. In this regard, it’s a vital tool for businesses that place a high priority on corporate culture.

The benefits of assessing corporate culture don’t end there, however. 

Monitor employee engagement

One of the benefits of assessing corporate culture is that it can often help to boost your employee engagement. That’s because taking the time to question your people and showcase the importance that you place on culture can help them to feel valued and supported. It’s a virtuous cycle that often leads to more positive environments. 

Manage organizational change

While we’d all like our organizations to maintain a steady course, throughout your lifetime it’s likely that your business might enter stormy waters. It could be a takeover or an economic downturn; perhaps a valued leader moves onto pastures new, working processes change or the company hits the headlines for the wrong reasons. Whatever the cause, corporate life is rarely plain sailing. 

Managing these periods of change is key to the long-term success of your business. And in particular, ensuring that you protect your people from any potential impact is vital. By taking steps to assess your corporate culture you can track the impact that these events have on your employees and then course correct in real time. 

Reduce turnover 

By assessing corporate culture you can also help to cut the costs associated with employee turnover. That’s because the assessments provide you with actionable insight into where your business might be failing to meet employees’ expectations. Armed with this knowledge you can proactively take steps to address them before they become an issue that might lead a valued employee to leave. 

Avoid costly errors 

Toxic work cultures cost businesses more than just lost employees. That’s not to underestimate the impact of attrition, which can cost businesses billions every year. But there’s also a long tail of other effects that can negatively impact your organization. Things like absenteeism increase while productivity decreases. Toxic work cultures can also have a negative impact on your brand and can even influence investors. 

It all adds up to bad news for your business’s bottom line, which is why keeping on top of culture is so important. 

Boost your employer brand

A good culture can help you to attract good people, and lots of them. Today’s top talent aren’t looking for a big bonus or a company car, they’re looking for a great culture. In fact, 15% of candidates admit to turning down a job offer because of concerns over a company’s culture. By taking the time to regularly assess your culture performance you’re showing potential candidates how important it is for your organization, boosting your brand as an employer and gaining the edge on your competition. 

assessing corporate culture

“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.”

– David Cummings, Co-Founder, Pardot


How To Assess Your Corporate Culture

If you’re intent on assessing corporate culture then you need to put a plan into place for how you’re going to do it. The key to your success is not just to gather anecdotal evidence, but to try and source hard data and insight into how your organization is performing. There are a number of different techniques that companies use to gather this intel but the most common, and effective, is through targeted questionnaires. 

The appeal of questionnaires is that they can be targeted to gather specific information on your corporate culture. But they also have an added benefit, and that’s that they create a two-way dialogue between you and your employees. By giving your people a voice, you’re showing them how much their opinions matter and reinforcing the role they can play in creating a great corporate culture. 

But before we look at some greatest sample questions that you can include when assessing corporate culture, we first need to look at some of the theory behind them. 

The Competing Values Framework (CVF)

Your corporate culture is as unique as you are. Some companies are successful because they’re fast and agile. Others are innovative. Some are caring and committed to their communities. While some stick steadfastly to their values and ideals and evolve over time. 

As the adage goes “You can’t measure what you don’t know” – so understanding exactly what your culture is is vital when it comes to assessing whether it’s working or not. The problem is that identifying exactly what your corporate culture is can be tricky. 

That’s where the Competing Values Framework (CVF) comes in. 

Originally developed in the early 80s, the CVF is a framework that was developed to help organizations to identify what they value the most. It’s a deceptively simple model based on the idea that most company cultures can be defined using two competing axes that run between opposite or competing values. 

What you’ll find as you begin assessing corporate culture is that your employees’ answers will begin to lean towards one of the four quadrants of the CVF. This will not only help you to locate where your current culture is at, but also the journey you will go on as you attempt to implement organizational change.

It’s a fantastic tool for quantifying something like culture, which is often difficult to put into actionable language.

assessing corporate culture

The four quadrants

Each of the four quadrants of the CVF identifies different values, behaviors and ideals. Your organization’s culture will determine where you sit on the framework. So what kind of culture does each quadrant describe? 

Collaborate (Clan) – Companies that fall within this quadrant value communication, loyalty and teamwork in order to succeed. Collaborate cultures are often like an extended family where employees feel a strong sense of belonging and leaders are seen as mentors rather than managers.

Examples: Zappos, Patagonia.

Compete (Market) – This quadrant contains cultures that are focused heavily on profitability and the bottom line. Competitive, results-driven and zeroed in on performance – these cultures are the polar opposite of Collaborate or Clan cultures and aim to become market leaders and are often characterized by their agility and drive. 

Examples: Amazon, Apple.

Create (Adhocracy) – Focused on innovation above all else, companies with this kind of culture are typically fast-paced and experience fast growth. Employees are encouraged to think out-of-the-box and go above and beyond to come up with new products and technologies. If your company is creative, entrepreneurial and risk-taking then you probably fall into this quadrant. 

Examples: Tesla, Google. 

Control (Hierarchy) – Structured and process-orientated, Control or Hierarchy cultures are often found in traditional businesses that rely on designated job titles and a clear chain of command. With a heavy emphasis on order, procedure and process these organizations are often smooth-running and incredibly efficient. 

Examples: Goldman Sachs, the Military. 

assessing corporate culture

Sample Questions For Assessing Corporate Culture

If you’re looking for a few ideas to help you kickstart your corporate culture assessment, here are some sample questions that you can include on your employee questionnaires to gather insightful feedback. 

Do you feel connected to the work you do? 

Are you motivated by your work? 

Do you feel a sense of purpose at work? 

These types of questions are a vital indicator of how engaged your employees are and how connected they feel to your company culture. They demonstrate how strong your corporate culture is and how committed your employees are to it. 

Do you know what the company’s values are? 

Are your goals clearly aligned to the company’s values? 

Do you think management shares the same goals for the company as you do? 

Connecting the dots between the corporate culture you’re hoping to achieve and the one you have in reality is an essential part of any assessment. These sample questions are designed to gauge how much your employees know about your corporate culture and how well it is being executed at all levels of your organization. 

Do you feel recognized and appreciated for your efforts? 

If you work hard and achieve success do you think your efforts will be rewarded? 

Do you think that you are rewarded for exhibiting the company’s values?

Recognition and rewards are key components of any flourishing culture. These sample questions will help to see if your programs are working and whether there are any areas that need improvement. 

Do you feel that leaders are transparent?

Is there a clear management structure in place? 

Do you feel pressure from management to perform well?

Leaders are key to strong corporate cultures. Values, ideals and behaviors trickle down an organization and so the actions of your management team will directly impact everyone else at the company. Questions like this will help you to determine if your leaders are doing their bit to create a great corporate culture.

company cultures assessment

Do leaders help to foster an environment where teamwork is championed?

Do employees support each other?

Is collaboration celebrated at the company? 

If you’re looking to build a collaborative culture then these questions will show you how close you are to achieving your aims. Even if collaboration isn’t a key pillar of your plan, it’s important information that can tell you how well your people are performing as a team. 

Do you think the company supports your career development?

Does management focus on mentoring individuals and teams? 

Does your work give you opportunities to develop new skills and experiences? 

Today, employees want to feel valued and that the company they work for shares their goals. Career development is just one of the ways that you can demonstrate your commitment to them, as such it should always be included when assessing corporate culture. 

Does the company care about your wellbeing?

Are individuals given autonomy to complete tasks in their own way?

Is your schedule flexible enough to meet family and personal responsibilities?

These questions highlight the kind of corporate culture that so many employees are looking for these days. From flexible working practices to wellbeing support and benefits, if you want to create the kind of corporate culture that people flock to, then you’re going to want to score highly here.

Do you feel the organization prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Do you feel like work is a safe and supportive environment? 

Are everyone’s values and perspectives taken into account?

Another piece of the culture puzzle is how your company handles issues like diversity, equity and inclusion. These are no longer “nice to haves” but essential components for any business. Supportive, open and inclusive environments have been proven to be beneficial for businesses, but they’re also crucial for employees who want to work somewhere that they can believe in. 

Do things change quickly enough at this company? 

Do you have the information and tools you need to adapt quickly to change? 

Are proper procedures and processes followed by everyone at the company? 

As we saw with the Competing Values Framework (CVF), how reactive your company is to change can be a great bellwether for assessing what kind of culture your company has. In our modern age where the pace of change is rapid, knowing how adaptable your people are can also help you to navigate whatever life throws at you. 

company cultures assessment

How to Choose the Right Questions for Assessing Corporate Culture

The sample questions we’ve laid out above are a good place to start when it comes to assessing corporate culture. But when it comes to your organization it’s vital that you carefully consider the type of questions you want to ask your employees. These can’t be chosen on a whim. Instead, you need to specifically tailor your questionnaire in order to uncover the insight you need to assess your culture.

That starts with asking yourself what you’re hoping to achieve? Why are you conducting the questionnaire? What data are you hoping to gather? What are you planning to do with the findings

Armed with this knowledge you can work backwards and gear your questions towards achieving the outcomes you are looking for. 

How To Leverage Your Findings 

Once you’ve begun the process of assessing corporate culture your next step is to take the data you’ve collected and put it into action. So what steps should you take to transform your assessments into tangible progress?

1. Crunch the numbers

Your corporate culture assessments will provide a treasure trove of data. But that’s not the only tool you have to examine your culture. Exit interviews, employee one-to-ones and even anecdotal evidence from leadership should all be added into the mix when it comes to assessing corporate culture

Once you’ve gathered all of this data together the next step is to collate it and analyze the findings to identify patterns as well as any strengths and weaknesses that your organization exhibits. 

2. Set benchmarks

Once you’ve collated your data, be sure to set benchmarks. These will help you to set achievable goals and track your progress over time. They will also enable you to compare your efforts to best practices within the wider industry so that you can see how you compare to the rest of your sector. 

company cultures assessment

3. Be honest with yourself

The thing about company cultures is that they often feel more personal than any other area of the business. There is so much emotion tied up in them, so much sentiment that can sometimes get in the way of rational decision-making. That’s why it’s so important for you to be honest with yourself when assessing corporate culture. It may be that you have an idealized vision of what your company culture looks like, only for that to be undermined by the data you receive. That can be a shock to the system, but it’s vital that you remain impartial and analyze the results based on what your people are actually telling you and not what you hoped to hear. 

4. Turn insight into actions

By conducting employee surveys and taking steps to assess your corporate culture you are talking the talk, but you’ve also got to walk the walk. One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is not acting on the information they have gathered during their culture assessments. Not only is this a missed opportunity but it also sends the message to your employees that their feedback doesn’t matter, the polar opposite of what you set out to achieve in the first place. 

Wrapping Up: Assessing Corporate Culture 

A strong company culture is now a business imperative – something that’s increasingly top of the agenda for everyone from employees to potential investors. Given its importance organizations simply can’t sit back and hope that they create the right culture, they’ve got to act – putting tangible measures in place to nurture the kind of culture they want to create and track their progress along the way. 

Conducting a corporate culture assessment is a great first step in ensuring that your organization is achieving its goals and creating a positive environment for your employees. A well-executed assessment will give you a clear picture of what your current culture looks like, as well as the steps your company needs to take to improve it. 

By investing in assessing corporate culture you’re investing in your company’s long-term success, laying the foundations for a thriving workplace that will engage employees and retain top talent while boosting productivity, performance, and ultimately, profits. 

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