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Let’s survey the surveys.

If culture is important to your business performance—and there’s growing evidence of how profoundly it can improve operational and even financial results—then you need to regularly check if the heart is still beating strongly.

Most companies will survey employees as a way to gauge their satisfaction and overall alignment with cultural values.

I know these have merit but just how much is open to question. If you’re intending to go down the survey path, it is important to take a number of things into consideration.

Don’t apply pressure, provide incentive

It is difficult to feed bad news up into an organisation. No one wants to be the messenger. Of course this is also a reflection of the existing culture but let’s look at how these surveys are often conducted. Firstly, staff usually have to be cajoled and herded into completing the surveys. This puts pressure on them and the answers can be a result of that pressure. Managers may feel pressured. They may feel compelled to make the results palatable, obviously to protect their own position but also to reassure higher – level management. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news.

Find the filter

As a consequence of what I’ve just mentioned, be aware you’re not getting unfiltered insights. It takes some commitment to analysis and truth to get past the filter and get some clarity around the results. Also, remember there is often a large gap between gathering the data and analysing it – things can change even within that time.

You can’t un-know it.

The results are in, what do you do now? Of course they often get filed away – usually in the too hard basket – or, some general action is taken. I’m speaking about useless, unimaginative actions such as reprimands or increased KPI’s. When the results are not that favourable, it’s time to ask yourself as a leader, “what are the things I can do to make a difference?”.

There’s more gold in 2/5

Yes, a 4/5 will make you feel better but you’re not going to learn anything. Look for the 2/5’s. That’s where the real information is and that’s where you can start turning things around. The 2/5 are the gold nuggets of real information, don’t be threatened by them, be grateful for them.

Live it, breathe it.

It’s the job of management to show they are prepared to make the necessary changes highlighted by the survey. Not punitive changes, although sometimes it may become clear you’ll need to let someone go, but genuine, supportive changes.

Management puts a lot of emphasis on corporate culture, and for understandable reasons. Now it’s time to think strategically, open the lines of communication and involve your staff in the actions that should happen next.

The reality is that the cultural health of any organisation begins with the quality of leadership. Corporate culture filters down from the top.

Some leaders may resist this advice. For them, company culture is generally something that can’t be pinned down and is therefore impossible to measure. And yet their companies continue to ask employees to buy into the corporate culture and make it a part of how they work every day. If it is obvious to employees that the company’s leaders subscribe to these values, it can help the right changes to occur and alleviates the fear of telling the truth.

Beyond the surveys and measurements, when you harness the strong cultural attributes of your company, you can build momentum and create lasting change.