Three Signs Your Culture May Be On Life Support

August 13, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

Yeah, yeah. We’ve all heard about Google’s corporate culture and their office slide. And okay, we know that at Full Contact they pay you to go on vacation. But let’s face facts, those cultures are the equivalent of Olympic athletes. By comparison, most of our cultures are just trying to stay fit and healthy and avoid dropping dead on the treadmill.

Which brings me to today’s question: How can you tell if your organization’s culture is flourishing or floundering? Here is a quick three variable quiz that you can use as a spot health check to sort the quick from the dead:

1. Are you measuring it? This one is a self-check for HR and senior management. Do you have metrics to measure your culture? Do you monitor them in real time? Like your own physical health indexes, you should be watching your corporate culture carefully and using that information to make adjustments. You should have ongoing ways to measure employee engagement that go beyond performance review feedback or even a yearly engagement survey. Without them, you’re flying blind and your culture is at risk.

2. Are your corporate values entombed? Do a spot survey:  How many of your employees can recite your company values? Great. Now ask them what was the last thing they did to actually practice one of those values. If they stare at you blankly, or politely ask what exactly that means, or run for the door, you may have a problem on your hands. Good cultures are steeped in strong company values. Employees understand them, practice them and care about them.

3. How are your reflexes? Is the knee-jerk response in your company a can-do or a can’t-don’t? Good cultures find ways around roadblocks rather than throwing them up. Good cultures reward and encourage desired behavior instead of punishing or critiquing bad behavior. Bring up a good but challenging idea in your next meeting, and watch what happens. Are your employees looking for a way to make it work, or a way to kill it? Strong cultures embrace and reward good ideas. Weak cultures resist change with all their effort.

There are, of course, far more nuances to spotting and creating good culture than these, but this quick check should give you a general sense of whether your culture can run a one minute mile, or you should be hooking up the oxygen machines.

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