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Leadership team discussing organizational culture survey results
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Usually one day each year, patients elect to have their blood drawn, blood pressure taken, and BMI measured. Your results are delivered a few weeks later with a comprehensive report on vital metrics. Some metrics are simple to understand and improve such as blood sugar and salt levels, while others you need an MD to decode for you like Albumin/Globulin Ratio and eGFR. 

These metrics give a holistic picture of your health; however, doing something about the results is an active choice. Similarly, company culture surveys are diagnostic. These powerful tools identify an organization's culture, areas of strength, and opportunities for change. However, acting upon the survey results requires additional effort. Effectively administering an organizational culture survey, asking the right questions, understanding survey results, and implementing change consists of multiple parts. 

1. Determine and Communicate the Purpose 

The first step is committing to taking action on the results of company culture surveys. Suppose as a leader or leadership team, your reason for running a survey is strictly to gain employee satisfaction or job satisfaction insights. In that case, you may make a more negative than positive impact on your workplace culture. It can be discouraging when employees share honest feedback, especially when it’s difficult to share, and not see change within the company. Not committing to change can lead to lower trust and employee engagement within an organization. If you haven’t acted on previous surveys, your next survey is a great place to start. 

It's important to communicate the purpose of the survey to your team. Communicating the purpose allows you to share with your team what you’ll do with the information such as hear employee frustrations, make improvements, and reinforce what’s working well all to build a strong company culture. Sharing this information helps employees see the value in the survey and lead to better employee engagement. When the purpose of running an organizational culture survey is to better care for your employees and improve their work environment, it can lead to a higher response rate, more honest feedback, and greater appreciation from your team members. In addition to communicating your commitment to action, using an anonymous survey tool and communicating its anonymity to team members often results in more direct employee feedback and a higher response rate. 

2. Prepare Leaders to Receive Survey Results 

Workplace culture surveys can and often do surface difficult issues within an organization. Preparing your leaders for the survey results is important for them and your team. Here are a few actions to consider: 

  • Have an open mind. Your employees' perceptions are their reality. It is fine if a leader disagrees with the results or has a different perspective. However, disagreeing with a person or group does not serve to further the conversation, better understand the situation, or build a positive work environment. 
  • Ask open-ended questions. While your workplace culture survey should include multiple question types such as likert scales or multiple choice, open-ended questions are vital to accurately capturing employee feedback. Open-ended survey questions allow employees to share their perspectives and expand their understanding of a situation. Conversely, closed-ended or yes-or-no questions can often reinforce your perspective. 
  • Listen to employee feedback. When discussing survey results and employee feedback, practice empathetic listening. This looks like giving your full attention, not interrupting, keeping your internal thoughts at bay, and confirming what you heard. When we ask teams around the world, “What do great leaders do?”, listening almost always falls in the top five responses. Not only does listening validate the employee experience, but it also builds empathy for their situation and reinforces an open mind toward positive change. 

These three steps provide you with better information as a leader to deliberate on how to move forward and build your company's culture.

3. Communicate the Survey Results 

An all-team meeting is a great place to start when sharing these valuable insights into your organization's culture. First, thank those who took the time to complete the workplace culture survey. Then, share the main themes from the survey data, starting with the positives. This frames the conversation that your team has its strengths and your goal is to address specific areas so you can build a strong company culture and positive work environment. When you share the negative feedback from the survey, remember to pause and listen to what your team's response is.

After sharing the survey data, it's important to include the next steps so your team knows what will happen in response to employee perceptions being shared.

4. Follow up with Employee Focus Groups

After identifying themes from your organizational culture survey, organize small, in-person focus groups that provide you with greater clarity and insight into employee perceptions of your company's culture. Similar to health screening results, some areas of feedback will be easy for you to understand, and some areas will require further investigation through open-ended questions and conversations. Getting further clarity from your team members allows you to make more informed decisions for your action plan. Here are a few recommendations for hosting successful focus group sessions with your team:

  • Determine relevant groups. If an issue pertains only to a certain department or location, it probably doesn’t make sense to invite employees outside of those groups. 
  • Inclusion is the key to understanding the full employee experience. Often, problems within a team are multi-faceted and impact many individuals across the organization. For example, if your sales process surfaces as a problem, invite your Sales, Marketing, Research and Development teams, and any other groups or individuals with insight into the specific employee experience. 
  • Organize as many focus groups as necessary, but remember to keep their size manageable. Anything over thirty people can be challenging to ensure each employee's voice is heard. If you have a topic that impacts a larger group of team members, try hosting several smaller group sessions on the same topic. Then, identify recurring themes to address.
  • Stories and behaviors lead to more valuable insights. Stories focus the conversation and avoid generalizations and exaggerations. “This company punishes anyone who speaks up.” is very different from “When I shared my thoughts during our Monday project meeting, I was told after the meeting by my manager that I need to stay focused on the agenda instead of thinking of different ways to do things.” The former lacks specificity, while the latter offers specifics for more actionable insights and change. 
  • Practice empathetic listening. Listening can facilitate more powerful conversations and encourage team members to share more. It also makes employees feel valued, which in turn provides you a better understanding of the issue and increases employee buy-in towards change for a more positive company culture. 
  • Thank each person after they have shared. Even if you disagree, each employee's experience shared is their truth. Your team members are at the core of your company culture and it's vital to treat them with respect and care, even if your perception differs.

5. Create an Action Plan

Taking action is arguably the most important next step to building a strong, positive culture. It demonstrates to your team members your commitment to improving their work environment. Consider your company's values, are there buckets or categories your action items can fall into that align with your company's values? Think back to the purpose you communicated for running the organizational culture survey, then create an action plan aligned with your commitment. Sharing your commitment to action builds trust for future company culture surveys and increases the likelihood of continued honest feedback. If you don't take action, why would they share again?

Here are three recommended action item categories. 

  • Quick Fixes 
    These are easy changes you can make in one or two months to show your commitment to taking the workplace culture survey seriously and improving your company culture. Examples we’ve seen include fixing burned-out lights in the parking lot to make employees feel safer and cleaning outdoor walkways. These may seem simple but have a large impact on your team and company's culture. 
  • Long-Term Change 
    These changes often take longer, as they are generally more complex problems that must be investigated. You might not know exactly what the problem or solution is. Sometimes these changes require system and process changes, or leadership training and team development. With these long-term changes, it’s important to share your commitment to investigating and taking action, even if it will take longer. 
  • Won’t Change 
    Finally, out of respect for your team, share what won’t change. These are inherent parts of your company culture that some might struggle with. For example, your team might need to operate at a high speed and pivot quickly during change or you might be in a client service industry that requires team members to work outside of regular business hours. If these are fundamental parts of your business model or culture that won’t change, share them with your team so they can make an informed choice of whether the team is a good fit for them.

6. Communicate Progress Regularly

Finally, communicate progress toward your immediate and long-term goals regularly. Identifying tangible metrics or running periodic pulse surveys can be a great way to monitor progress. Monthly or quarterly meetings might be an appropriate cadence to update your team on what initiatives are taking place. This keeps your culture front of mind, and it helps keep your team invested in your cultural journey. 

Similar to a health screening, culture surveys are a powerful tool that provides an overview of your company's culture. However, if you only complete a health screening or culture survey once a year, it's unlikely you will improve your health or your company culture. These assessments are diagnostic and effectively using a culture survey requires proper communication, implementation, and action; all resulting in a strong company culture. 

If your organization is interested in learning more about implementing an organizational culture survey, Chapman & Co. can help

Meet the Author

Andrew Barenz

Client Engagement Leader

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Jessie Turner

Leader, Marketing and Brand

Responsible for all client experience learning materials, she enjoys approaching content with a creative lens to develop tools and materials that aid and enhance the learners’ experience.

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