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Corporate Culture

Five Ways to Assess and Improve Your Workplace Culture

Everyone is always talking about workplace culture, but how do you evaluate it? EthOs Senior Employee Experience Consultant Michelle Weil shares 5 ways you can get started!
Michelle Weil
Michelle Weil
Senior Employee Experience Consultation, ethOs

If I asked you to define your workplace culture, could you? What if I changed the question to: how would you describe the way your workplace feels? Regardless of whether it is a good feeling or not so great, how you normally feel while in the workspace is the most representative of the culture.

At ethOs, we believe that a great workplace culture comes down to the employee experiences that generate positive feelings. While business and operational strategy has always landed at the top of leaders’ priorities, focusing on your people strategy can make all the difference in fostering an authentic and productive workplace culture.

We all want our organizations to be successful, so here are five important steps you can take to start working on a better workplace culture.

1) Be Open to Truly Understanding Your Current Workplace Culture

An authentic yet healthy work culture doesn’t happen by just proclaiming values and painting them on the walls. Values are a critical part of establishing your ideal culture, but those words and concepts must then be transformed into lived experiences for everyone who encounters your brand.

The key to learning, truthfully, about the culture your employees are experiencing is by asking them. At the same, it’s critical to be patient, to really listen, and take to heart what is said. How one person experiences the workplace can be drastically different than how the person next to them experiences it, so make sure you’re hearing from a variety of employees with different perspectives.

Additionally, what leaders may assume motivates and inspires their teams may be totally off the mark. Knowing what is important to employees and inspires them provides insight into the motivations that help drive them.

Understanding what your employees value from their work environments and employers, and how employees really feel on a day-to-day basis, is the first step to knowing where you are and where you need to go for an improved workplace experience.

2) Assess Employees’ Day-to-Day Experiences

To truly understand what employees experience every day requires intentional and focused conversations. Sometimes, leaders can be so focused on policy and business strategies that their people strategy gets neglected.

We commonly see a disconnect in what we hear during our discovery focus groups at various levels of the organizations we help.

We listen to the frustrations of leaders who feel like they are supportive of team members, yet their teams don’t seem happy. And we hear from their employees that they don’t feel like leadership truly cares about their wellbeing.

We worked with one leader who was shocked to learn that their employees were facing unsafe conditions every day. The leader only discovered it when we shared information from focus group conversations. Tunnel vision is common in today’s fast-paced world where leaders can get so focused on their own responsibilities that they lose sight of what their employees might be facing on an average day.

Help your leaders by giving them the tools and skills to have honest, sincere, and productive conversations with their direct reports. Help them to ask questions that focus on the experiences employees had, both good and bad. Have them describe their proudest day with the organization, which can identify the experiences that made them feel good, and inquire about their bad days — what happened and how did it feel?

The takeaways from these conversations help leadership and HR work through the next step for future planning. Once you can identify common themes around experiences that motivate and make your employees feel proud, and those that turn their days upside down, you have a way to begin planning for better workplace opportunities and aligning your purpose with your culture.

3) Revisit Your Organizational Purpose and Values

Your organizational purpose and values are the very foundation on which everything you do, every decision you make, and all your organization stands for is determined. Your purpose defines why your organization exists.

In their purpose statement, American Family Insurance, a national insurance carrier, states: “We’re dedicated to inspiring, protecting, and restoring your dream.” The purpose statement isn’t just for employees or customers – it is the essence of why the company even exists.

Yes, they provide insurance, but they view the purpose of their company as supporting the dreams of those they serve. Their challenge then becomes how they implement experiences as a company to bring that purpose statement to life for anyone who encounters them. Their responsibility is to encourage and expect leaders, employees, and all their brand experiences to live up to that promise.

After revisiting your purpose, turn to your values, which can and do change over time as organizations evolve. Are the values still true to your company’s purpose and core beliefs? Your driving values are the way everyone in the organization is expected to act and make decisions that directly contribute to working toward your purpose. If your values don’t align with your purpose, there is still work to do.

Two business professionals talking seriously.

4) Live Your Purpose and Values for Building an Authentic Culture

In a positive and productive workplace culture, all decisions and actions can be traced back to organizational purpose and values. Your employees are the living, breathing reflection of what’s important to the entire organization, and the only way your purpose and values can come to life is if your people fully understand and believe in them.

When you have identified changes that need to be made, or behaviors that could be healthier for everyone, gather your teams and emphasize that improving the culture will take participation from every single person in the organization.

Acknowledge that the conversations that took place were valuable and important, and that everyone is aligned in knowing there is work to do for improvement – and it must be done together. Being honest, upfront, and not hiding or blaming creates a sense of trust, psychological safety, and an environment where people feel free to be creative.

When you’ve identified the right set of values that represent how everyone will work toward the organization’s purpose, make sure everyone with a stake in the company understands how to live it out. If continual learning is a value, be intentional about providing and encouraging everyone to participate in activities that help broaden their knowledge. If honesty is a value, be open to honest feedback and make time for serious consideration and response. All employees need to do the same for each other, for the vendors they work with, and for clients. It may take practice and requires a lot of repetition. In the end, it will become a “way of work life” when new team members join the organization.

You’ll find that healthy workplace environments with strong cultures exude pride among employees. When you’re proud of where you work, how you contribute, and the way your teams collaborate, you want to show them off!

5) Address Toxicity and Negativity Immediately

We can all probably name someone with a “toxic personality.” Typically, this person carries negativity around with them and has a way of spreading it. For one reason or another, they are unhappy.

Negativity spreads, so the key to turning toxic environments around is by identifying where the negativity stems from – whether it’s a person, team, or leader – and addressing it. This begins, again, with a conversation. How is that person feeling? How do they feel while at work? How do they feel with co-workers? What do they enjoy and not enjoy while at work? The goal is to find the source of friction for a person or team to work toward a solution.

In some situations, an employee and organization need to go separate ways for both to be healthy. But oftentimes, there’s an underlying issue that, if addressed and fixed, could change the entire environment for the better.

Ask the questions, then review the answers you received with leadership and human resources. What can you do differently, if anything, and how can we all avoid this situation in the future and/or act on it more quickly? Ignoring negativity only breeds more negativity, so the key to turning a toxic environment around is addressing it immediately.

Improving Workplace Culture Starts Now

If you want to change your workplace culture in any way, know that it won’t happen overnight. Cultivating an authentic culture takes time, patience, and practice. However, there are opportunities to get creative and have fun identifying your values and finding ways to live them out with your employees.

Along the way, don’t forget to celebrate the demonstrated wins and acknowledge work that still needs to be done. Investing this time and effort in helping employees build the ideal workplace culture isn’t just healthy for your teams – it’s essential for your long-term sustainability and growth as an organization.

If you need help assessing your organizational culture and planning for better employee experiences, let’s talk!

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