The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask About Your Company Culture

Culture remains one of those organizational beasts that everyone wants to talk about, but relatively few people actually know how to affect. Because culture is made up of individual and collective ways of thinking and doing, it is highly complex. Asking the right questions early can set you on the path to dealing with that complexity.

In order to get to a good picture of your culture (where you are and where you’re going), try asking these 3 important questions:

How does our lived culture compare to our desired culture?

First, acknowledge that your desired culture is only a wish unless you are living it out. Next, get real about what is really happening in the day-to-day lives of the people in your organization. Is the declaration “we are transparent” really true if the boss has exclusive meetings with the executive team about important decisions? If we say “we are highly collaborative” but most problem solving happens alone or in silos, then are we collaborative…really?

Once you’ve made peace with the inevitable discrepancy between those two things, start figuring out what the culture is that you want. Against what markers will you measure your success? Get lots of input on that. Then figure out how day to day behaviours compare. Baseline data is important — and getting it from lots of angles is critical.

What about our culture is going to hold us in the past and what will help us shape our future?

Cultural attributes are either propelling you forward to the future or holding you back in the present and past. Now that the rate of change in the world is accelerating so rapidly, our present and future are becoming blurred. The time for some companies to be innovative and some to choose not to be is gone.

When I began my work intervening in company cultures and sparking organizational change the big push in culture mapping was focused on knowing what your culture was like — period. There was no assumption that companies needed to be one way or the other. New literature on our changing expectations in an evolving future of work is making a clear case for the need for innovation-ready cultures everywhere. It’s time to get specific about where you’re going, and how your culture might be getting in your way.

What cultural attributes can we leverage in our journey toward our desired culture?

No one is starting from zero on the path to a more desirable company culture. It’s often the connections between cultural elements that offer leverage for change. For example, your current culture might be highly disciplined. Is there a way to leverage that discipline toward the adoption of new practices? How does discipline express itself in your company? Could you build a daily practice of a new behaviour.

Remembering that culture is complex can help you build a reasonable plan for desirable change. You can’t tackle the whole thing at once, but you can focus on cultural elements that are closely tied and thus influence each other. When you’re changing behaviour and culture it’s not the 1 thing that makes a difference, it’s the 1000 things.

We have built a new tool for cultural diagnosis which will help organizations like yours address these 3 questions. Click here to get your free copy and resources to support your work.

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