• Organizational Culture In Everyday Business Language

    Organizational culture has an enormous impact on employee engagement, customer service, and business performance. There are many complex and sophisticated methods for analyzing organizational culture—I use some of them myself. But culture is an important business issue, and leaders should be able to discuss it in everyday, normal-course, business language—relatively free of technical HR jargon.

    Here are a few core culture questions in everyday business language. You can use them to assess, define, and improve your culture in areas that really count. Because these questions are so simple and direct, and so obviously meaningful, you can use them to engage your leaders and employees in discussing and improving your culture.


    1. What do we stand for? What are our highest aspirations?
    2. How do we want to work together?
    3. How do we want our employees to represent us?
    4. How do we want our leaders to treat our employees?
    5. Which skills and values will most drive, reinforce, and support our vision and strategy?
    6. Why would really talented people want to work for us?


    The decisions you make around these questions will have an enormous impact on the success of your business.

    Prior to working on these culture questions, you can assess your “current state” by asking a large sample of your employees: “What is it like to work here?”

    You can apply the same principle to training & development. If you are unable to engage senior leaders in a rigorous needs assessment process, you might be able to engage them in these short cut questions:

    1. Improvement in which core value would have the biggest positive impact on our business success?
    2. Improvement in which leadership skill or competency would have the biggest positive impact on our business success? Or: If we could improve leadership performance in one way across the entire organization, which improvement would be most valuable for our business?


    Risks of not managing culture:

    The risks of not discussing these questions—of not working through these issues—are great, for example:

    • ending up with a culture you don’t want
    • your culture not being aligned with your vision and strategy
    • difficulties influencing employee behavior
    • poor employee-management relations
    • weak bond as a team/community
    • damage to your reputation/brand


    Good data:

    Obviously, getting good data from these open-ended questions depends on the quality of the interviewer (or facilitator) and the level of trust in your organization. If necessary, have outside consultants help you interview your employees.

    The data you collect should be reviewed and discussed thoroughly by your management team (not just by HR, but led by HR), and only then should decisions be made regarding the kind of workplace you need to create.

    As in all of these people type issues, improvement goals will be adopted most quickly when they (i) draw on your organization’s strengths; (ii) are perceived as meaningful by the employees (aligned with existing values); and (iii) are important for the company, i.e. genuinely helpful for doing business and doing it well.

    Engage your organization’s leaders in the discussion—they need to be part of the solution.

    Broad engagement in the discussion is the most direct and powerful way to build buy-in and commitment.

    Relevant blogs:


    Copyright © 2016 Joel Shapiro, Ph.D., all rights reserved.

    Joel Shapiro is a leadership educator and culture guru with Incrementa Consulting in Calgary, Canada. Joel is passionate about developing leadership capacity, making employees part of the solution, and finding the perfect blend of humanity and business performance. You can read more of Joel’s thoughts on the Incrementa website and on Twitter.

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