Culture is the DNA of an organization. It dictates how the organization chooses to conduct its operations. And because it is a choice, it varies from one organization to another.
If we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, cultural elements are present at all levels of the pyramid, from physiological needs all the way up to self-actualization where performance excels. According to research by Glassdoor and Bersin of Deloitte, Culture and Leadership are 3 times more important than salary in the employment brand.
To find out if an organization has a healthy work culture, ask employees simple questions such as: do you have friends at work? Do you trust your manager? Are you allowed to be creative? Are you proud of the organization? Have you ever had a conversation with one of the directors?
Because culture is unique, there is no magic recipe for success. However, below I offer ten indicators that determine the type of culture you are in or want to create. There is no right or wrong culture, it depends on strategy-fit and personal preference.
1. Level of Formality
The formality of the organization from its location, to décor, office attire and the way employees address one another is an indication of the culture the organization has chosen and wants to project. Some are formal, others are casual or a combination of the two depending on the nature of the business.
2. Hiring and Onboarding Process
Some organizations adopt the “Sink or Swim” approach to introduce new hires or employees who have been recently promoted. Others go with a full-on accelerated integration. There are few levels in between too. Glassdoor reviews are good source for this indicator, employees do not hold back on sharing their experiences!
3. Internal and External Communication
The level, frequency, medium and tone of communication is one of the most important culture indicators. External communication can build reputation in public relations or ruin it, especially at critical times. A good case study to reflect on is Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back” public comment on BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which he later apologized for.
4. Decision Making
How are decisions made in the organization and what is the process for approval? Are there many hoops? Is there autonomy? Are there many delays or repetitions? Does the organization track decisions and learn from history?
5. Handling Conflicts
How are conflicts handled? Are people allowed to raise their concerns and have a constructive debate? Beware of organizations that claim they do not have any conflicts ever! That is an indicator of lack of trust, or the organization is made up of "yes people".
6. Organizational Design
What does the organizational chart look like? Is it a flat hierarchy or do they have webs of integrated networks where employees work on cross functional and/or cross geographical teams? How easy/difficult is it to reach colleagues across business functions?
7. Business Meetings
How many business meetings is an employee required to attend on average? Do employees have a say in meetings they get invited to? How productive are these meetings? What formats do they take and what tools do they use?
8. Social Events
What kind of social events does the organization engage in? Are they purely “happy-hour” gatherings? Do they participate in any charity events? Are spouses and partners included? Do they host family events? How do they celebrate successes?
9. Performance Development
How seriously does the organization take performance development? Do employees have ownership of their progress? Does the organization use technology to track it? Is the process open and transparent? Do employees get punished for their mistakes? Are there signs of favoritism?
10. Handling Employee Separation
Eventually, employees leave an organization voluntarily or involuntary. Either way, the separation must be legal, fair and humane. What do former employees say about the organization? Do they act as ambassadors to future hires?
Again, Glassdoor keeps history of all employee reviews. Organizations cannot request for these reviews to be taken down, the only thing they can do (and should do) is track and respond to positive and negative reviews they receive.