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  1. Blog
  2. Employer Resources
  3. November 2, 2023

Beyond Surveying: 5 Steps for a Deep Culture Audit in 2024

Your New Year’s resolution? Meaningful change

Team finishing a focus group
Photo courtesy of fauxels

Workplace culture is considered to be one of the most critical sources for predicting overall company success, leading to increased performance, employee morale, and longer-term commitment. Satisfied employees don’t just ‘show up’ to work; they tend to thrive and are reportedly 12 percent more productive on the job than less fulfilled workers. 

Anonymous surveying has historically been used to measure such satisfaction—and truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with having that information. Gathering feedback en masse is a great way to allow employees to feel safe sharing their opinions on their environments and workplace. It simply isn’t enough on its own. 

In a survey-reliant model for measuring employee satisfaction, leadership, occasionally detached from daily realities of the boots on the ground, might overlook essential facets of cultivating employee satisfaction over time—and dropping the ball on that aspect is a risky oversight that most companies simply can’t afford.

That in mind, think of your businesses’ culture upkeep as being just as essential as mapping out and optimizing your business strategy, and a once-annual survey just isn't going to cut it when it comes to truly understanding the nuances of building and nurturing employee satisfaction.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the standard procedure of surveys, but there’s a wealth of depth and insight through other experiences,” says Denika Seymour, CEO of DIGI Discoveries, a business development, training, and consulting firm specializing in DEI focused solutions.

Surveys, while a helpful snapshot as part of cultural audit strategies, may not capture comprehensive employee sentiment. In fact, depending on the makeup of the questions, there’s typically not enough reliable data for employers to use this method of feedback to accurately track how employees are feeling throughout the year. That fact is typically why survey results often end up morphing into formalities rather than true guidelines for change.

When companies aren’t diligent enough to dig deeper and take adequate steps to surface issues that are consistently swept under the rug, a buildup of toxic workplace practices and value misalignment can take root. The brunt of which, sadly, often falls on marginalized groups, such as women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

So, how can leaders consistently gauge—and adapt—to their teams cultural sentiments? Take a look at these five tips to conduct more valuable and actionable culture audits that can help lay the groundwork for building a more supportive and harmonious workplace culture for your employees.

5 steps for a deep and meaningful culture audit

Step 1:  Define your goals 

(If you’ve already taken steps without doing so, start over.)

Isn’t it amazing how so many of us have good ideas but don’t create the framework to get to the desired result? You’ve likely witnessed this play out a time or two at a company level when grand visions never quite materialize into concrete plans.

Intentions, ambitious as they may be, are only the first step on a multifaceted journey toward cultural transformations. Simply stating in a leadership huddle that it’s time to have a better understanding of employee sentiment toward management styles and culture isn’t enough to truly impact change on a larger scale. Like most critical undertakings, the road to change in the workplace is grounded in well-defined, actionable objectives. 

Simply put, there needs to be an end goal (likely several) that centers around the needs of the workforce. Echoing this sentiment, Seymour advises, “Begin by clearly outlining your objectives and what you aim to achieve through the audit.”

The important question to ask here is: What culture do we aspire to build? The answers will help guide you toward an action plan and resources for achieving that goal.

Do you want a more engaged and inspired workforce? If your organization is armed with a mission and vision statement, these can be used as a reference point toward determining the ideals to measure up to. Maybe the challenge you’re aiming to address is high turnover rates. In that case, set a goal focused on increasing employee retention year over year.

Whatever the aspiration, Seymour says the most important takeaway is for organizations to be prepared to act on the findings of their culture audit, demonstrating their commitment to positive change. Your findings should set a practical strategy in motion, aiming for explicitly defined milestones that will elevate the company’s cultural landscape over time. 

Keep in mind, “cultural transformation is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Seymour. “For those embarking on the journey of culture audits for the first time, patience and clarity are key.”

Take your time and carefully select those meaningful goals, map out your game plan, and be willing to commit to playing the long game to reach them.

Step 2: Master the art of direct conversations for rich feedback

Conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups is an amazing opportunity to get to the heart of deeply rooted issues, but it’s often overlooked due to time and budget constraints. Direct conversations with employees often reveal a goldmine of insights, surfacing issues and considerations unnoticed.

Seymour values focus groups for adding a human touch and richness to feedback. They shine by truly getting to the crux of organizations’ weakest points, conflicting values, unaddressed issues, and hidden strengths.

To succeed in this effort, as well as get the buy-in of employee participation, investment in impartial outside expertise is critical. I’m going to break the fourth wall here to revisit the wise words from DEI consultant Alana Grant in my article on colorism in the workplace: “You can’t do your own audit!” 

Seymour says conducting an audit in this regard is no small feat, but asserts that it’s paramount to create an atmosphere of trust to prevent backlash and encourage transparency. Managers, department heads, and executives should not be the facilitators of the focus groups, as that could create environments where employees feel intimidated or at risk of retaliation.

Another important factor to incorporating interviews into your culture audit strategy is making sure that employees have a full understanding of the purpose and overarching goals of the process, affirming that their investment of time needs to lead to actual progress. “Maintain open channels of communication with your workforce, ensuring they’re always aware of the process and the intended outcomes,” Seymour says.

Step 3: Create opportunities to amplify every voice in your organization

In a rush for quick feedback and decision-making, prioritizing diversity in focus groups or surveys can be overlooked. At the outset of the audit, leaders must recognize that various groups encounter distinct cultural issues and participate differently in feedback processes.

“Inclusivity is the cornerstone of any successful culture audit,” Seymour says. “It’s about making a deliberate effort to hear from a diverse spectrum of voices across different departments, hierarchies, and backgrounds. Ensuring that every employee, regardless of their role or demographic, feels seen and heard is paramount.”

Seymour suggests exploring multiple strategies to maintain inclusivity like ensuring surveys are implemented in parallel with in-person interviews and translating communications into multiple languages. Other inclusive methods can include providing alternatives like one-on-one interviews for those uncomfortable in group settings, virtual options for employees who work remotely, and options to provide confidential feedback through third-party partner tools. 

Going beyond traditional one-size-fits-all participation methods signals a genuine interest in fostering an inclusive culture—and demonstrates a recognition and appreciation of every individual’s unique needs.

Step 4: Navigate post-audit realities by setting actionable milestones

Be sure to allocate time as a leadership team to examine and discuss the results of the audit, using your insights to establish milestones for implementing change across the organization. You’d be surprised how often action-taking becomes a missed (or tossed out) step post-audit despite its significance in realizing potential for transformation.

Throughout the course of the project, leadership might face some stark realities that point toward requiring more time and financial commitment—sometimes leading to deferment of culture-building in favor of more immediate ‘business-oriented’ objectives.

Seymour says leaders must remain open to receiving and acting on these unbiased insights, even if they challenge initial expectations. It’s all about accountability.

Commit to establishing clear, actionable milestones to track progress, ensuring that identified issues are systematically addressed. As an example, if a discernible gap in professional development opportunities for employees surfaces, leadership should build a responsive strategy that aligns timelines with pragmatic solutions, scheduling follow-ups along the way to keep up the momentum and demonstrate commitment.

Ultimately, regardless of how hard it may be to face and address specific issues, your audit is about translating candid insights into strategic action, challenging the organizational status quo, and doing what it takes to foster cultural enhancement. 

Step 5: Get creative to track ongoing workplace wellbeing

Creating a healthy workplace culture requires making employee happiness a persistent priority, not just a one-off effort following an audit.

To make progress here, Seymour suggests creative, yet tried-and-true methods to tracking employee contentment, like implementing a happiness index. “Employees can periodically rate their happiness, providing a tangible metric to work with.”

Leaders, armed with insights from those ratings, are then able to take a deeper dive into the effectiveness of change initiatives, identifying areas that might need further attention or adjustments. The process, when evergreen, helps organizations to better track progress and employee sentiment throughout the year.

In addition to ongoing quantitative measures, qualitative check-ins are of equal importance. Seymour recommends leaders facilitate regular happiness check-ins during one-on-one meetings, empowering employees to express and discuss their feelings, which fosters a holistic understanding of their wellbeing. She also says proactive engagement is more than just an evaluative tool—it’s an essential practice to enhance engagement, boost retention, and maintain high performance.

By embracing these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating a resilient and dynamic workplace where every person feels valued and inspired to contribute their best.

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