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by Jim Hemmer | June 24, 2016
As someone who has stepped into multiple organizations as CEO, I know how overwhelming it can be. No matter how well the company is doing, there are always fires to put out, things to organize, processes to improve, and -- if you're lucky -- wins to celebrate. It can be hard to know where to start. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out how to fix embedded problems, but you'll likely find that many of them can be traced back to culture and the policies that created that culture. 

Many people think that company culture is all about fun, games, snacks, and vacation policies. In fact, it encompasses far more -- it dictates everything about the way work gets done in the organization. Do employees truly work together or do they compete against each other for the spotlight? Do they take the time to do things right or cut corners? Does the customer really come first in all endeavors, or just in your mission statement?

Poor company culture can not only lead to bad business practices, but also to low employee engagement. In fact, the questions in most engagement surveys relate to culture, whether they explicitly state it or not. For example, Gallup asks, "In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?" and "At work, do your opinions seem to count?" If your employees are answering "no" to one or both of these questions, that's a strong indicator that employees do not feel as highly valued as they should, which will reflect in the work that they produce, and ultimately, the results your business enjoys.

How Can You Measure Culture?

It is difficult to quantitatively measure an all-encompassing force like company culture, but what you can measure is employee engagement. The tools are not perfect, but they are there. By using a combination of complementary tools, you can get a good sense of how your employees feel about working for your company. The weaknesses can be addressed by changing policies and culture.

In 2014, Marcelo Claure took over as CEO of a struggling Sprint. He quickly sent out a survey to see how employees felt about the company and found that only 43 percent of them felt positively about working there. After taking several measures to turn the business and culture around, including competitive pricing techniques, transparent communications, changes to the management team, and a newly invigorated competitive spirit, a second survey found that the number had increased to 86 percent. 

Although Sprint still has its challenges, it's clear to see that the employees feel they are moving in the right direction. It's important to measure before you start any initiatives, no matter how painful the results, to see which actions you take truly have an effect on engagement. Here are a few ways you can measure how employees are feeling about working for your organization:

Annual engagement surveys: The trusty annual engagement survey is a good way to benchmark your organization from year-to-year. Organizations like Gallup, Quantum, and SHRM offer survey tools and services that will make administering the survey and analyzing the results easy. 

Weekly pulse surveys: Pulse surveys administered weekly through your intranet or other tools such as TINYPulse or Culture Amp can be a good way to gauge your employees' attitudes in a more real-time fashion. You can customize the questions to line up with events that are currently going on in your company such as mergers or big product launches to see how they are affecting your workforce.

Social monitoring/big data: While still in its infancy, measurement techniques that do not require asking employees specifically how they feel about your organization or their jobs are emerging. Monitoring employee behavior through activity on internal social networks, within recognition programs, and even by analyzing performance numbers can paint a more objective picture of how engaged your workforce is.

Interviews or focus groups: Surveys and analysis can only go so far -- sometimes you need to simply ask people how they're feeling. One-on-one meetings or small focus groups led by a third party in which employees feel more comfortable about being honest are a good way to get qualitative feedback that can be used alongside survey data to make necessary improvements.

Once you have benchmark results, you'll want to set reasonable goals for improvement in each area and revisit your progress regularly. 

Read part 2 of this column here.

Jim Hemmer has more than 25 years of experience in the high-tech and software industries, and has been a senior executive at companies in all stages of development from early stage to Fortune 500. For the past two years Jim has been CEO of WorkStride, a company dramatically changing the world of employee recognition, incentive and engagement. The WorkStride platform is positively impacting employee behavior in leading companies around the world. He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University and an MBA degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Connect with him on LinkedIn (jhemmer) or Twitter (@jimhemmer).