09 Feb How to Assess an Organization’s Real Culture
Does your organization “walk its talk”?
That “walk” is actually the culture of an organization—the daily employee behavior that demonstrates the company’s real values. The “talk” is the lip service many organizations give it stakeholders.
For many companies, the culture understood and displayed by its employees in their everyday interactions with each other and the company’s other stakeholders is very different from the one espoused in the company’s mission, vision, and values statements.
One of best examples of this is Enron, a company that was once one of the world’s leading energy companies before its bankruptcy in 2001. Even though Enron presented itself to the world as a progressive, ethical organization, the reality was–from top to bottom–its leadership and employees were corrupt and unethical in their dealings with other employees, vendors and investors.
To determine if an organization’s culture is what its “talk” says it is, use these three key indicators:
- How Employees Treat Each Other
Observe the interaction between employees on a daily basis. Do employees treat each other with respect and trust (especially when the interaction is between a “boss” and an employee)? Do employees appreciate each other? Do they pay attention to each other? Do they have the crucial conversations with each other required to ensure the company is moving–and continues to move–in the right direction?
Are the departments siloed, engaged in “turf wars” and battles for resources? Do employees refuse to collaborate, withhold/hoard information, and refuse to support each other? All of these items are clear indicators of the quality–or lack of quality–of the organization’s culture.
If you are in a position of responsibility and authority in the organization, the only way to really see the true nature of the organization’s culture is to spend time with employees at every level and observe their normal daily behavior.
Understand, if all you do is a “drive by”–show up only when forced to (i.e. on special occasions like a retirement or holiday) and then spend as little time as possible with the employees–employees will be on their best behavior and what you see will be the “talk” culture not the “walk” culture. Here’s the message you send: “I have more important things to do than waste my time with you!”
But if you show up regularly (once a quarter?), hang out for a while! What about an hour at lunch time and an hour observing the employees at work? And…do it with sincerity. Employees will know if you are being insincere.
Invite employees to interact with you. They will relax and let you see them as they normally behave, for better or for worse. BTW: it takes at least three of these visits before employees start to reveal the “walk” culture.
NOTE: Even diligent managers neglect to visit one employee population–those who work the third shift.
The hoot owl shift is the stepchild of most organizations because leaders don’t want to get their lazy butts up and go to the midnight shift for a visit. But regular, unscheduled visits reveal exactly what the third shift’s culture is and it may be completely different from the rest of the company.
- How Employees Treat External and Internal Customers
“World Class Customer Service” is the current business buzz phrase–the “talk”. Because of the internet and cut throat competition, the majority of businesses have reluctantly been forced to recognize that providing exemplary customer service is essential to growing their business.
Yet many companies, unlike Nordstrom and Zappos, continue to not “walk” the “talk.” The Front Line Employees who interact with the organization’s end customer–the External Customer–are poorly paid and poorly trained. They are evaluated if there is a transaction–something gets sold–not on whether there is a valuable interaction with a customer. This “walk” tells employees that even though the company “talks” about how customer service is important, it really isn’t.” Therefore, the organization’s employees treat their customers as a necessary nuisance to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible.
The organization’s Internal Customers are the Front Line Employees who depend on the organization’s support departments–Human Resources, Credit, Accounting, Marketing, Sales–to provide them with the information and services they need to appropriately interact with customers and vendors.
Often, Front Line Employees are looked down on–even distrusted–by employees in the support departments. Rather than consider these employees team mates, support department personnel regard them and their incessant requests for assistance/support as more of a nuisance than External Customers. At least External Customers provide revenue to the company, while Internal Customers do nothing but whine and ask for stuff!
Again, only by spending time observing how employees interact with both External and Internal Customers can a determination be made as to whether customer service in both these areas is only “talk.
- How Employees Treat the Company’s Vendors
The third area that determines an organization’s culture is how the company’s employees interact with the vendors who provide materials or services to the company. Are the vendors treated like valued partners or necessary pests? Are the arrangements with vendors fair to both the vendor and the company or has the company taken unfair advantage of its vendors? Without a fair and equitable working relationship with its vendors, the relationship and the services/products provided eventually deteriorates and ends.
The Bottom Line:
Culture is easily defined–it is the behavior of the employees when they believe no one is looking.
Enron’s lesson is this: an organization can “talk” about its culture, can put it on plaques, in the employee handbook, and preach it at every meeting. But the reality is organizational culture is defined by how–from the top level of the organization to the front line–employees “walk the talk” when they interact with other employees, customers, and vendors.
Which is your organization doing? The “talking” or the “walking”?