Successful start-ups like http://automattic.com/work-with-us/ and https://www.airbnb.com/jobs/life/ overtly emphasize their corporate culture and are driving companies worldwide to examine who they are, too.
So what exactly is a corporate culture? It’s the way you conduct business. It’s the way you treat employees. It’s your work environment—everything from office space to coffee makers. It all swims around your company’s values. So you’ll need to know what those are first. These 15 questions are engineered to assist you in rising from the dark waters of an old-timey workplace and lifting you toward becoming a fresh and dynamic culture-driven company. Answering them should give you a better grasp on who you are and what it’s really like to work at your company.
What are your company’s origins? What did the founders have in mind? What were their reasons for starting the company, and what did they value?
Though your company might have evolved since its beginnings, its original intent remains. “Unspoken rules,” the strongest rules of all, are typically born from the company’s origins. Even if your company’s been acquired by another, the remnants of its source linger. The values—good and bad—persevere.
What traditions and policies continue no matter who’s in charge?
Traditions—illogical or not—are the ties that bind. Consider what activities and practices carry on despite the change and upheaval around them. What policies have survived over time?
What sorts of social events do you hold?
Do you have grandiose company picnics, or do you typically meet for drinks every Friday? Do you have sporty events? Run marathons? Do you enjoy football pools or group lottery picks? Are charitable events important? How your company injects fun and teamwork into the workplace is an important culture indicator.
Who has longevity?
Look around and determine who sticks it out. Is it the company leaders? Is it the middle managers? Is it your front-line employees? Who lasts the longest and why? If someone has been with the company for a decade or more, analyze their characteristics to determine why they are a good fit. Simply put, these people are the company and should reveal more about the culture than almost anything else.
Who gets promoted? Is it based on seniority or merit (a meritocracy)?
This is important to note. If you value seniority, employees have a clear understanding of what they need to do to get ahead, as well as hope for the future. There’s less favoritism or the perception of favoritism. The other type of promotion is based on performance, or the company decides to hire from the outside. In a successful meritocracy, innovation and profits flourish, and leaders already have skills in place.
Which causes more involuntary separations? Performance or behavior issues?
This reveals the tolerance level for unprofessional behavior or whether employees are nervous about making mistakes or not making quotas. On the other hand, multiple firings due to bad behavior might be an indication of poor leadership or muddy expectations. And if people are primarily being fired for poor performance, the culture might be one of high expectations with a good reputation to maintain.
Who is more successful—employees with high IQs or EQs?
You might value intellect, or you might value those who can work easily with all sorts of people. Look at who’s been promoted and held up as a paradigm for excellence. Also, who do people sincerely admire?
Are projects completed by groups or committees? Or do people work independently? And if you do both, which is more successful?
You’re basically asking yourself how work gets down. Some companies structure themselves with “one-man bands.” Others hire specialists with the aim of creating teams of varying experts. Sometimes, the company fails to understand the independent nature of its employees and forces them to collaborate and work on committees even though they work better alone. And occasionally the employee who’d rather collaborate and brainstorm is forced to work alone. Consider what your company does and who it really is by asking yourself what the fastest method of completing projects is in your company.
What are your meetings like?
Are meetings long and punctuated with food, personal stories, and relationship building, or are they short with clear agendas?
How would you describe your real estate?
Do you have cubicles, or an open plan? Do you have individual offices? Do you have cozy break rooms where employees gather, or do people leave the building to eat or relax? Is your space modern? If not, what era is it from? How is it decorated? What is the first impression someone has when walking into the work space? Do you have pictures hanging up of employees? Professional art? Inspirational posters about common workplace values? Do you have a smoking area? Do you have vending machines or bowls of fruit? Coffee machines or tea kettles? Soda or mineral water?
During exit interviews, what do people say was the most enjoyable thing about working at your company? What do they say was the worst?
Exit interviews can be dated if the data isn’t used to forward a company’s culture, but they’re an excellent tool in figuring out who you really are.
How is information communicated to employees?
Do you have town hall meetings? Or do you use email, memos, social media, or newsletters? Do employees find things out primarily through gossip?
How are decisions made?
Are they made after gathering data and feedback from employees? Is it committee based? Or are they made by only one or two people?
What do employees wear, and what’s considered an acceptable image?
Uniforms aside, how do people present themselves? Do they dress comfortably? Or do they “dress to impress”? Is image linked to your hierarchy? For example, are the leaders in suits and ties? Are people groomed to appear neutral, or is it acceptable to have tattoos and stylish clothing? Or, do your employees appear dated, wearing hair and make-up from another decade?
What qualities must new hires possess to really fit in?
You’ve heard employees speak about new hires, about how so and so “just doesn’t fit in.” They’ve identified a cultural misfit, and cultural misfits generally lack key qualities your company values. What are these qualities? Answering this question will uncover one of the most important components of your corporate culture.