2020 was a tough year. Pandemic. Social uprisings. Economic uncertainty. 2021 has had an equally tough start. The Capitol attack in January. Two shooting sprees in Atlanta and Boulder in the past week alone.
In the coming months, with much on our hearts and minds, many people working from home will be returning to some version of a physical workplace. It won’t be a return to normal. But it will be a return.
According to research, only 41% of employees strongly agree they know what their organization stands for. The organizations to which we return need to anticipate a change in perspectives and expectations. Understanding and adjusting to that energy will determine whether your organization reaches the level of performance it aspires to.
Workplace culture is like an ocean current, not always visible, yet powerful and directional. Before diving right back into that current, you must explicitly revisit it. Rethinking your organizational culture survey is one place to start. Here are six tips in three categories to help you on that journey.
Assess the level of care and humanity felt in the organization.
Although we’ve been told people should separate personal life from professional life, that is impossible. More importantly, it isn’t healthy. We spend too much time at work for us not to personally feel good about those eight hours (or more) of our lives. Here are two questions to include in your survey.
- (Question) I have at least one colleague at work who cares about me as a person.
At the individual level, this may feel like a low bar (only one colleague…?). But the bar for the answer at the organizational level is as high as it can possible be. 100% of your organization should answer “yes” to this question.
If anyone in your organization feels not a single person cares about them, that is a huge problem. If an organization is small, senior leaders need to have one-on-one conversations with every team member and tell them they care about them and ask if there is anything they need. If the organization is large, then team managers need to have one-on-ones with their team members and do the same.
Before you launch this, be transparent about the survey results that caused the follow-up. Be clear to the entire organization that no one should feel this way. This response may feel excessive. But imagine walking into work—every day—feeling that no one cares about you. In the name of humanity, that deserves an over-the-top response.
- (Question) This is a psychologically and emotionally safe place to work.
Physical safety is one of the key factors for returning to the workplace—spaced seating, ventilation, cleanliness, etc. Just as important is psychological safety. Research shows psychological safety is by far the key determinant of strong team performance. In short, it means people feel safe to be vulnerable in front of each other. This is more important than ever as people return to work juggling a multitude of complexities and should feel they can be open about how they are doing emotionally.
Ask questions that help you see shifts.
A lot has shifted in a relatively short time span. Opinions about remote work have shifted. Definitions of health have shifted. Social justice issues, particularly around race, have made many realize the pre-pandemic “normal” was not beneficial for entire segments of our communities.
Don’t go back to normal. Use your culture survey to learn how things have evolved. Use the following question and the following analysis to become better.
- (Question) Given all that has occurred in the past year, we are living up to our stated values.
Every organization has values or principles that purportedly drive their culture. It’s time to revisit those. It’s possible they weren’t drivers in the first place. If they were, they may hold a different meaning now, require new prioritization, or need a refresh. Your people will have a great perspective on how those values now truly feel. That is insight you need to know.
- (Analysis) During your analysis of survey results, spend more time than usual on open-ended questions.
We love quantitative data because we can easily see trends, set goals, and measure improvement. But the questions you choose and the drop-down lists you provide can limit the answers you receive. The best insight often lives in the words that team members independently choose to describe their experiences. Open-ended questions allow them to fill in what you weren’t seeing and therefore didn’t know to ask. Yes, it is time consuming to read through them, but think of it as gold mining. You’ll sift through a lot, but the insight you extract is extremely valuable.
Use the survey as an opportunity build community and ownership.
Culture is never just one person’s responsibility. The organization creates the context, leaders model it, and it manifests in collective actions. Your survey can remind people of the reciprocity needed to build strong communities. The following question and the following question design send a signal about the shared responsibility we have to each other and ourselves.
- (Question) What is a quality you see in a team member that you’d like to cultivate in yourself? Who is that teammate?
This question signals that we each have an obligation to live up to not only organizational ideals, but our own ideals. Additionally, if they share someone’s name, it can uncover hidden talent in your organization. For a range of reasons—proximity to leadership, level of role, identity, introversion, etc.—some people aren’t recognized for the value they bring. This question can help identify those people.
- (Question Design) If your survey asks team members to assess the organization, when relevant, ask them to also assess themselves.
For example, if one of your questions is, “Our organization seeks to understand the perspectives of others, regardless of personal or professional background.” Then also ask team members to rate themselves, i.e., “I seek to understand the perspectives of others, regardless of personal or professional background.”
This again sends the signal of mutual responsibility for culture. Surveys can easily devolve into casting blame without self-reflection. While the areas of organizational development must be addressed, there is always an element of individual ownership you want to build as well.
I’m an optimist, but clearly there will be more difficulties to come. All the more reason to have an organization that helps people weather storms and emerge feeling supported and sheltered. How people feel about their organization impacts how they feel about the world. In these times, that is a responsibility we all owe to each other.