12 Questions to Evaluate Where Your Corporate Culture Needs Improvement

Jan 10, 2019


Given the rapidly changing demographics of the workforce and the highly competitive nature of the economy, organizations that value hiring top employees have no choice but to do a thorough, honest self-assessment of their corporate culture and determine if it is helping or hurting their recruiting efforts.

My law firm did precisely that five years ago. We found we had some core strengths that had brought us a great measure of success. We had an excellent focus on client service. We had a large number of exceptionally talented lawyers who achieved outstanding results for clients. Our staff featured a high proportion of dedicated, experienced, and skilled professionals who supported our lawyers extremely well. We were a very good law firm.

But were we a great place to work? The more we talked to people and listened, the more we realized we had room for improvement. Stress was high. Lawyers too often put undue stress and unreasonable expectations on staff. Younger lawyers often felt that the more senior lawyers were not respectful. The list goes on. These behaviors led to job dissatisfaction and attrition.

We asked nearly every member of the firm a series of questions, and the answers helped us see not where we needed to improve, but that we needed to improve.

Evaluating your corporate culture

Does your organization need to improve? Ask yourself these questions, and you’ll likely have a better idea of whether your culture needs an upgrade:

Approximately what percentage of your company’s workforce leaves in a given year? Check your employee turnover percentages from year to year; if they’re rising, you may well have a culture problem. When people leave, what are they saying? Perhaps more notably, what are they not saying?

How often does your CEO or do members of senior management meet with your rank-and-file employees? Generation X’ers and Millennials derive great satisfaction from being heard by senior management.

Does your company perform 360° evaluations on all members, including senior management? 360° evaluations foster an egalitarian element of an organization’s culture, an element that younger workers often value greatly because it makes them feel valued by leadership.

How often do your company’s leaders talk about work-life balance? Have they enacted policies that increase work-life balance and flexibility? Study after study shows that Gen X’ers and Millennials value work-life balance. They don’t oppose hard work, but they believe in having the flexibility to manage their work and their lives in the ways that work best for them, while not hurting the organization.

Does your company have a large number of managers, but few leaders? If your organization doesn’t understand the difference between a manager and a leader, trouble awaits.

Do those leaders know the names, personalities, and aspirations of each of their direct reports? Authentically caring about your people and desiring to know them and foster their development are essential to employee engagement.

Do your leaders have temper control issues? Explosions of temper by leaders irreparably harm your culture.

Is there a mass exodus of employees heading to the parking garage at precisely 5 pm? Nothing says “I’m glad to get out of that place” quite like a 5 pm traffic jam in the parking garage.

Do all members know the company’s core values? Every new member’s first day at our firm begins with a program we call “Day 1, Hour 1,” in which the CEO meets with the new employee to discuss the firm’s culture and core values.

Do people in the organization feel comfortable reporting inappropriate behavior? Tolerance of bad behavior will manifest itself in high turnover, difficulty in hiring, a bad reputation with clients, and lawsuits. It’s also inexcusable in the #MeToo era.

Do your employees say, “That’s not my job”? This attitude can be evidence that employees either never “tuned in” to the organization or have become frustrated and have psychologically “bailed out.”

Do employees voluntarily help others without being told to do so? Employees who take the initiative to help co-workers show they understand the big-picture mission, value the success of the entire organization, and have empathy for co-workers, all signs of a positive culture.

Five years after starting this initiative, we’ve completely changed our culture and our firm has prospered. But when it comes to developing a positive culture, the work is never done. You must always seek to improve. You must honor great behavior daily. You must fiercely defend your culture at all costs—even asking talented but poorly behaving members to leave. Your employees are watching. An entire generation of future employees are as well.

About The Author

Jeff Dunn is a shareholder with Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard P.C. in St. Louis, Mo. With nearly 20 years of experience as a litigator, Dunn leads the firm’s Values initiative, is a member of the firm’s executive committee, is the former leader of the Health Care Services Practice Group, and is a frequent speaker on law firm and corporate culture issues. He can be reached at [email protected]