Why culture audits can be dangerous

Most large companies spend fortunes on culture audits, which is curious as you can't get to know people through surveys.

Culture audits are surveys that companies conduct to gauge the ‘health’ of their internal culture, in order to pick up what’s working, and what staff need more of.

These are usually very long questionnaires in which employees are asked a whole bunch of questions around satisfaction in various things at work, i.e. do you enjoy working with your manager? Are you satisfied with the salary, benefits, etc? What else would make this a cool company to work for?

Given my experience in the corporate world, I would question whether investing in culture audits is really necessary. Do you mean to say that the leaders in an organisation do not know what their people are thinking and feeling? If this is the case, then why don’t we conduct culture audits at home?

Imagine, sending a small team of consultants in suits to conduct deep dive research with your children, your au pair, your husband and of course… not you (because as the head of the household, it cannot be about you! You need to know what “they” are thinking so that you can create a project team with project plans, and hold weekly meetings, etc.

Culture audits are an indication that business has ‘de-humaned’ us. We have become illogical. We want to spend money, put plans together and give people work to do. You know your people. I have never worked through a huge culture survey and seen the exec team look completely surprised. I once worked with a culture survey that consisted of 119 questions! Who has the time and energy for that?

So how do you go about getting a grip on what the climate is in your organisation? What data can you gather to help you put together a ‘people practices’ strategy that will deliver much more than PowerPoint documents, mission statements and EVP’s (employee value propositions)? A ‘people practices’ strategy is a plan around what you want your employee experience to be like, and how you intend to attract, retain and upskill your people.

Based on our experiences, here are six logical steps to getting to know what your organisation’s climate is really like:

1. Look at your last few resignation reports – why did they leave, what did they say? Call the last few people who left and chat to them about their reasons for leaving and ask them what they were looking for.
2. Look at how many grievances you have had in the last year and review the contents.
3. Where relevant, have a look at the health of your labour relations – if you work for Marikana then you need more than clever consultants.
4. Review the ‘health’ of your leadership teams. How well do your exco work together? Are the relationships open and healthy? What are the kinds of things you debate and discuss?
5. Invite some people to tea – no more than 8 people at once and ask them what they think. What works well, what doesn’t? Just listen, they will tell you what it’s like to work in your organisation.
6. Draw on your knowledge and experience. Trust that you know your people. You know how your relationships feel.

As business leaders, we need to know what all our customers require, and employees are simply internal customers! If you do not know what they are thinking, feeling and believing - then how do you know what approach to take to shift their thinking or ‘change their mind’?

Being curious about what your people believe about your business and your strategy is critical: They are the ones who need to act upon the things that will keep your business running.

By Grace Harding – founding director of Grace Consulting

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