The 10 Key Questions to Ask When Building Company Culture [Updated 2020]

Written by:
Collin Waldoch
Posted:
December 7, 2020

Do you know how to change company culture?

Culture change in the workplace is not for the weak-hearted. Actually it’s for anyone regardless of heart strength, but there’s a few things you need to know. This guide gives you the building blocks to address cultural change in your workplace. After reading this guide, you’ll know how to change company culture to boost team morale and productivity.

Dozens of statistics show a clear correlation between creating a positive workplace culture and improving the overall productivity of your workforce. Investing in company culture is a no-brainer. Lack of culture flows into a lack of communication across your organization which can harm your team’s ability to respond to challenges.

Coffee can (of course) be a key part of any company's culture.

94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. A positive workplace culture that attracts top-talent can lead to a 33% increase in revenue. Statistics like these have been convincing corporate leaders across the globe to re-examine workplace cultures.

We’ll answer the following questions in our investigation of changing culture in the workplace:

  • How do you change workplace culture?
  • How do you change a bad company culture?
  • How do you influence cultural change?
  • How long does it take to change a culture?
  • What are the signs of a toxic workplace?
  • Why is cultural change so hard?
  • What is a bad company culture?

Alongside these core questions about how to change company culture, we’ll also consider 10 questions that leaders should ask themselves about cultural change. These could give you a fresh perspective on how to change organizational culture.

If you’re short on time, here’s a sneak peek at those 10 questions to consider when changing company culture:

  • 1) Have you designed a clear set of values and behaviors?
  • 2) Is your culture aligned with strategy and processes?
  • 3) What are the non-negotiables in your workplace?
  • 4) Is your culture connected to accountability?
  • 5) Is your culture aligned with the brand?
  • 6) How are cultural changes being communicated?
  • 7) How are you measuring the effectiveness of culture?
  • 8) Are you rushing cultural change in the workplace?
  • 9) Are you actively investing in changing company culture?
  • 10) Do you play a role in influencing the workplace culture?

It’s the moment you (may or may not) have been waiting for: let’s dive into the core questions around how to change the culture of an organization.

How do you change workplace culture?

“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.” – Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Airbnb

At Water Cooler Trivia, we believe the evolution of a company’s culture is a long-term game. You cannot change the way in which a workforce operates overnight. To effectively change culture, you need to take a series of actions, over several months or even years, to alter the mechanics of how your team communicates and works to achieve goals.

How do you change a bad company culture?

“The way I think about culture is that modern humans have radically changed the way that they work and the way that they live. Companies need to change the way they manage and lead to match the way that modern humans actually work and live.” – Brian Halligan, CEO, Hubspot

The first step towards change is the recognition of a problem. Bad company culture is a problem. If your employees are working in a toxic environment, this will negatively impact their ability to communicate with each other, resulting in lower levels of productivity. The best thing you can do is rebuild the culture from the ground up.

Balloons to celebrate employees are never a bad place to start.

How do you influence cultural change?

“If you want employees to feel appreciated, you need to celebrate their achievements regularly and publicly.” – Logan Green, Co-Founder, Lyft

Leaders have to take ownership of the cultures they help create to understand how they can change them for the better. This is why self-awareness is a key trait shared among the very best leaders. If you can pinpoint where things have gone wrong in the past, this will enable you to craft solutions to meet these challenges.

How long does it take to change a culture?

“Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” – Anne M. Mulcahy, CEO, Xerox

You cannot expect deeply ingrained values and attitudes to change overnight. Once you set cultural change in emotion, it could take months to reap the full benefits. The personality of your company plays a role in employee satisfaction. If you take steps in the right direction, team morale will pick up - eventually translating into increased workforce productivity.

It probably (definitely) takes longer than one day.

What are the signs of a toxic workplace?

“Make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, has a meaningful impact and is contributing to the good of society.” – Larry Page, CEO, Google

When you are an outsider looking in, it’s easy to spot a toxic workplace as there are many tell-tale. Here’s some of the more obvious signs of a toxic workplace:

  • Persistent lack of clarity around tasks and projects
  • Mixed messaging across the workforce
  • Employees feel the need to whisper or limit chatter
  • Passive-aggressive communication from leadership

Why is cultural change so hard?

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.” – Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks

The culture of an organization is deeply embedded in every system and process. This makes it immensely challenging to change. Company culture is more than just a vibe - it’s the values, roles, goals, attitudes, and processes all interlocking together. If you want to effectively crack the code of culture, you need to understand what it means to change the DNA of a company.

What is a bad company culture?

“We believe in relentlessly refining our skills and knowledge, as a team and as individuals.” – Liz Liu, Head of Culture, Scopely

When you lack core company values, there’s no foundation for a positive culture to be built on. It’s your responsibility to set the tone and make sure the groundwork is in place for a positive working environment. You can consult with employees through surveys and interviews to increase your understanding of how they see the workplace.

1) Have you designed a clear set of values and behaviors?

“Company culture is the product of a company’s values, expectations, and environment.” – Courtney Chapman, Product Manager, Rubicon Project

There has to be a clear blueprint for those in your company to follow. Any confusion over what these values and behaviors are will only result in a fragmented culture. The core values and behaviors of your company should be designed in collaboration with the rest of the team. Ensuring the team is actively involved in the process will make them more willing to come along for the ride.

Everybody inside the four walls of the company needs to know what your organization aspires to be and how it is going to get there. Ideally, these values are defined through bullet points. The clearer, the better. When you communicate these values to the wider workforce, the goal is to inspire every employee. Any organization can foster a positive work environment. The key is being able to define exactly what this looks like.

2) Is your culture aligned with strategy and processes?

“Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we’ll settle for intense.” – Jeff Bezos, Founder, CEO, Amazon

When you’ve outlined the vision for your culture, you need to consider how this lines up with different aspects of your organization. For instance, how does this impact your hiring process? Will performance reviews be structured in a new way? Are you going to look at introducing new employee benefits? These are all things to consider as you reshape and restructure your business around an enhanced company culture.

Communicate the alignment. Communicate it with a mega- or micro- phone.

3) What are the non-negotiables in your workplace?

“Ultimately, it’s on the company leaders to set the tone. Not only the CEO, but the leaders across the company. If you select them so carefully that they then hire the right people, it’s a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.” – Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

You cannot change every aspect of company culture. There are likely to be some parts of the existing culture that should be retained. Consulting with team members will help you figure out exactly what is off-the-table. From this, you will be able to begin putting the building blocks in place for a positive work environment.

4) Is your culture connected to accountability?

“It’s about getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment & helping to find a way to innovate.” – Marissa Mayer, President and CEO, Yahoo

Employee engagement is closely associated with the culture of an organization. A team needs to have passion - or motivation, at least - to deliver for your organization. How do you make your team care about their work? You create an environment that rewards performance and celebrates the achievements of others.

Many companies try to drive performance by pitting their employees against each other. This might work for a while but it eventually leads to a hostile work environment. Building a culture that elevates the performance of every employee through positive reinforcement is the way to go. This will boost employee engagement and raise team morale as everyone works towards collective goals and objectives.

Accountability is no problem when your brain has limbs.

5) Is your culture aligned with the brand?

“Our secret weapon for building the best culture is open and honest feedback.” – Gina Lau, Team Operations, HelloSign

What does your company culture look like beyond what goes on at headquarters? If your brand messaging focuses on a core set of values, these must be consistent behind closed doors. You cannot say one thing to the world and then do the opposite internally. In a world with social media, you can’t afford to make these mistakes. Consistency is key.

6) How are cultural changes being communicated?

“Over the years we learned that if we asked people to rely on logic and common sense instead of on formal policies, most of the time we would get better results, and at lower cost.” – Patty McCord, Chief Talent Officer, Netflix

When you are outlining your vision for the company’s culture, try to use visual tools to illustrate the dream. You need to present a framework for understanding organizational culture and how it can positively impact team performance. Everybody needs to be on the same page. Some employees may see the steps you are taking to improve company culture as unnecessary - but there’s plenty of data to support taking action.

People can be resistant to change, especially when things have been done a certain way for a considerable amount of time. It’s important to explain your reasoning behind every change. When your team doesn’t feel like a change is necessary, you need to tell them why it is necessary. Hit them with the facts! At the same time, you should also listen to their suggestions and feedback. Frontline employees bring critical points to the table.

7) How are you measuring the effectiveness of culture?

“It’s important for us to create a culture of innovation—one that both values and rewards risk.” – Barbara Landes, CFO, PBS

What are the gaps between desired and actual behavior? This is something you should monitor frequently. There are so many ways to measure the effectiveness of workplace culture. To start, you can look at performance indicators to see whether productivity has increased or decreased since changes to the company culture were made.

If there haven’t been any substantial changes to performance since reevaluating the company culture, you may need to find out why by digging deeper. This could involve conducting interviews with team members to find out what isn’t working. From this, you will be able to further tweak changes to the company culture. If you want to collect feedback at-scale, you could email surveys to the workforce.

Probably don't use tape measures and chemistry flasks to measure.

8) Are you rushing cultural change in the workplace?

“One of our values is that you should be looking out for each other. Everyone should try to make the lives of everyone else who works here a little bit simpler.” – Stewart Butterfield, Founder, Slack

How much of a gap is there between the culture you desire and the one you currently have? If you feel as though the company culture you desire is easily attainable, it might be tempting to rush through cultural changes in the workplace - but this isn’t a good idea. The workforce is going to need time to get used to these changes. The best thing you can do is gradually introduce changes to the workplace.

9) Are you actively investing in changing company culture?

“Shaping your culture is more than half done when you hire your team.” – Jessica Herrin, Founder, Stella & Dot

There’s no point waiting around for your company culture to change. Without clear direction, these things won’t change. It can take months or even years for investments in company culture to materialize into results. The longer you wait, the longer it will be before these results start to appear. Take action now to secure the future of your organization.

10) Do you play a role in influencing the workplace culture?

“You want to set goals that you can hit, so when you start hitting them, you can celebrate those wins. People start trusting in your way of projecting the business.” – Wiley Cerilli, Founder, former CEO of SinglePlatform

If you are in a position of authority at the organization, you have the power to influence the workplace culture. Everything starts at the top. By stepping up, you will motivate and inspire others in the workplace to step up as well. This is vital if you want to implement widespread cultural change in the workplace.

You don't need a brain this big or this blue to have fun with team trivia.

At Water Cooler Trivia, we believe injecting a little fun into the workplace with trivia quizzes can do a tremendous amount of good. When things are getting intense, introducing some light-hearted fun into the workplace is the perfect way to boost team morale and improve cross-team communication.

Our intuitive tool can enable you to craft customized trivia quizzes for your team. These quizzes can be easily sent to the inboxes of every team member. This is the perfect way to kickstart the week. A quick trivia quiz on a Monday morning will energize the team and provide them with a sense of motivation for the week ahead.

Are you ready to transform your company culture? Take the easiest first step and get started with Water Cooler Trivia today!