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  • Writer's pictureAris Federman

5 Culture Questions Everyone Needs to Ask

Originally Published in HR Professionals Magazine

In today’s world, toxic culture is the primary reason for turnover. Culture has always been important, but it has taken on more weight recently and will only continue to grow in importance for a few key reasons.

Changing values regarding work. The pandemic was a catalyst in many people’s lives, causing them to rethink what was important. Meaning and purpose have moved front and center when it comes to deciding where people choose to work or continue to work. Employees desire to make a difference, aspiring beyond the daily grind. They also want to work for an organization that recognizes the human element to work.

Flatter, more networked structures. The hierarchy is dying. People no longer have time or patience to wait for answers or use the traditional chain of command. Most individuals go straight to the source, expert, or person with access to the information. In some cases, that means working with people outside your organization. Without the hierarchy, we need other ways to promote appropriate behavior, decision making, and more.

Remote or hybrid work environments. Remote and hybrid work environments create a distinct challenge: the invisible barrier between teams. Teams no longer work on projects in the same space, and this lack of facetime impacts the way we communicate. Of course, people still communicate over Zoom, but it is not the same. You lose something. No one wants to spend their day working in virtual meetings. With the disconnection that can occur in these environments you need something to act as glue holding everything together.

Diversity. We lack shared norms. We have more diversity in the workforce than ever before, often including five different generations. As a result, we communicate differently. We use different verbiage. Sometimes, we use similar phrases with varying/misaligned meanings. We hold a variety of value systems. It has become a maze full of landmines for many, even those with good intentions. Without shared norms many organizations fall prey to arguments and even legal exposure because of the misunderstandings that occur and the lack of skill set to address them.

Transparency. The public is beginning to see inside most organizations. With LinkedIn, Glass Door, and other resources it is difficult to hide. If you have a less than stellar culture, people will know about it because of the robust on-line world. The opposite is also true. If you build a stellar culture the public will know that as well.

Incivility. We live in a time when civility has taken a back seat. The headlines are shocking and the statistics are devastating. We have all seen the stories about people being harassed at stores, restaurants and on planes, but what you may not know is that an astounding 98 percent of US workers have dealt with incivility at work. Without a strong culture, the incivility outside your figurative four walls will seep into your organization.

To help you analyze your culture and look for ways to improve it, start by asking these five questions:

  1. Does your culture help your employees know themselves better?

Part of emotional intelligence is learning about yourself or becoming self-aware. Did you know that 95% of people say they are self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are self-aware? Employees who are self-aware perform much better than those who are not. Your culture should help employees know themselves better, almost acting as a mirror reflecting reality back at them. Mirrors share both the flattering and the non-flattering; they share reality and so should a culture. We just need our workplace to share reality in a manner that demonstrates an investment in your people and a desire for them to be successful. Self-awareness is a form of development and the younger generation is craving feedback and development. In fact, 94% said they would stay at the company longer if a company invests in their careers.

  1. Does your culture help you learn other people’s stories?

Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders. Inclusive teams make superior business decisions up to 87% of the time, and they make them twice as fast in half the meeting time. One aspect of making diversity and inclusion work in order to gain such results is empathy, which is another key aspect of emotional intelligence. Part of empathy is learning and getting comfortable with other people’s stories and experiences. Through that learning and comfort people begin to respond in ways that demonstrate caring and support. Team members begin to recognize subtle differences in one another and respond productively. Again, regardless of your unique culture, it is important that your workplace helps your talent to learn about other people’s stories.

  1. Does your culture allow people to struggle, heal, and mourn in front of each other?

Vulnerability. Research shows that vulnerability generates trust, increases creativity, and improves workplace safety. Why? The answer is fairly simple. People are vulnerable when they feel safe. This safety allows employees to take risks, innovate, and feel comfortable failing. Teams cannot lead or exceed if they are landlocked by fear of failure. Creating an environment where employees can be vulnerable allows them to fall, get back up, and jump further. More importantly, employees who can bring their whole selves to work (even their not so perfect selves) can demonstrate that pain, loss and life struggle do not need to paralyze you and the work environment has a space for supporting employees through difficult moments.

  1. How well does your culture represent your client promise?

Client promises are simple-the reassurance that a brand will deliver on what a customer expects. It’s an agreement of support and commitment. It is the value or experience a company’s customers can expect to receive in each and every interaction with that company. Every culture, first and foremost, needs to support the business strategy and customers. However, a client promise does not success make. Success is based on customer experience, which is the promise in action which is completely dependent on your employees. Does your company culture help your employees deliver on that promise? Is your internal culture a match for your external needs? Have you truly designed your organization from the outside in, meaning starting with the customer journey? Are you executing on that client centered design? In order to deliver on the aspects and values of a client promise, those same factors must be exemplified in your company culture. Employees cannot be expected to uphold a client promise if they are not encouraged to do so with systems, processes and a culture that supports that delivery.

  1. Are you happy with your culture?

When all else fails, trust your gut. If you were applying to a job at a company that had a similar company culture to that of your own, would you accept the position? When you look at your culture, do you see an environment of support? One that allows people to be vulnerable or continually develop themselves? Do you see an environment that prioritizes communication? Are you happy? Is your team happy? Does your company support a real work/life balance? Are you being developed? Culture should lift your people up and give them a reason to STAY? It should provide purpose and meaning in their work.

There is no need to focus on culture for culture’s sake. Important to understand what aspects of the culture help and hurt our ability to support our purpose and most critical performance priorities? How did those aspects emerge/evolve and why are they so deeply entrenched? How do they impact results for the business and people? How connected are team members to each other (with open and trusting relationships) and is there a shared commitment to the purpose of the org/team? Today, culture is the cornerstone of success. Address it with the importance it deserves. Build a space where your team can thrive.

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