The good organizational culture checklist

Written by Greg Kedenburg, I/O Psychologist
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

The word “culture” is tossed around so frequently in workplaces that it’s developed countless definitions, interpretations, and stigmas. Some view it as an unnecessary endeavor (“A paycheck should be enough!”), others have misguided understandings of it and try to perfectly copy another company’s culture, and many others consider it so vague and enigmatic they simply don’t know where to start.

Organizational culture, stripped down to its most basic elements, refers to the general internal atmosphere cultivated by a company, and it is often driven by their corporate mission and values. This can encompass details such as how they treat their employees and where they focus efforts for development, and is often reflected in their policies and procedures. Because every organization is different, embracing different values and beliefs, very rarely will two companies share identical cultures. Since every company has a different culture, it can be hard to tell if the company you work for has a good one.

Below is a checklist that will help you determine if your company has a good culture, or not. 

□ Do you feel that you have a voice?

Generally, companies with highly rated cultures give their employees, regardless of rank or level, the opportunity to speak their mind. Whether it’s getting their feedback for a new policy or allowing them to voice concerns on a matter, providing a platform for employees to say their piece gives them more control and helps effectively guide company policy.

□ Do you have autonomy in your position?

Not all jobs lend themselves to independence, but the majority of positions across industries allow for at least some level of autonomous decision making. Are you trusted to make the right call when questions or problems come up? Companies that encourage supervisors to empower their subordinates to make decisions in their roles see increased morale and productivity as a byproduct of their commitment to good culture.

□ Is company communication clear and transparent?

Companies dedicated to building a good culture make a point of communicating all decisions in a manner that is easily understood and as transparent as possible. This shows that they care about their employees enough to thoroughly explain their rationale and reasoning behind a decision and not just keep people in the dark who may not ‘need to know’.

□ Are you and your fellow employees valued?

Some companies go above and beyond with employee appreciation, like Google’s free food and ‘bring your dog to work’ policy, but an organization doesn’t need to break the bank to show their employees they care about them. Fringe benefits like offering flex time or telecommuting, employee discounts, and even basic things like a pizza party can do the trick. The value isn’t necessarily in what the company offers, just the fact that they’re offering something can show they care.

□ Are policies uniformly enforced?

Companies that pass down decisions or mandates and then only selectively reinforce send the message their employees that they are not all equal. When an individual in a leadership position doesn’t follow the rules, a company committed to promoting a good culture will intervene to show that no special treatment is allowed; everyone is in this together and has to abide by the same guidelines.

□ Do leaders practice what they preach?

In a similar vein, poor organizational cultures often play host to hypocritical or insincere leadership. If an individual in a position of power is encouraging or requiring their subordinates to adhere to a certain process or rule, they set the tone for the situation when they either act as a role model by making a point to do so themselves, or set a bad example by ignoring their own advice. Good culture fosters behavior similar to the former.

□ Is learning and development encouraged?

Companies with good culture recognize their employees as their most valuable asset, and as such devote resources to promoting opportunities for the development of that asset. Encouraging employees to expand their knowledge and skills in work-related areas displays a commitment to and appreciation for the contributions of their employees.

□ Is the organization adaptable?

This last item may be the most important. If a company makes a decision or tests out a new policy, they need to be prepared to deal with the results of that action. Nobody is perfect; senior leadership in an organization being no exception, and when the decision makers of a company refuse to acknowledge mistakes and investigate alternative solutions, they’re only shooting themselves in the foot. Staying open to the possibility that they might be wrong demonstrates humility, which can help you, as the employee, relate to them. Being flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances is what keeps industry leaders at the forefront, those that are bullheaded and stubborn are destined to falter and fade away given enough time.

This checklist contains some of the more obvious ways to determine if the company you work for maintains a good culture. It doesn’t include all potential signs, and understanding that there are different ways to promote a high level of organizational culture means that some of the methods may not be on this list. Take the time to be extra observant of the policies and practices around you, you may notice that there is some opportunity to improve the culture and make your job more enjoyable for yourself and others.

Hiring for cultural fit

What you need to know to get started

Organizations are increasingly turning to the concept of “culture fit” for successful recruiting and hiring. Ensuring that new hires have values and beliefs that align with those of the existing organizational culture can be even more important than skills, qualifications, and experience when it comes to successful hiring decisions.

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