Men play volleyball in a company outing.
PHOTO: Rich Moffitt

Company culture is one of the hardest things to define and measure, and one of the most talked-about challenges for organizations. Comparably took a shot at measuring company culture. Its report analyzed company culture at some billion-dollar-plus companies by measuring nine components: overall culture, CEO, gender, diversity, eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score), compensation, happiness, perks and benefits, and professional development.

Despite attempts to measure and improve company culture, not everyone gets it right. But there’s hope. Here are some insights on how companies can turn failing cultures around.

Ensure Decision-Making Remains Flat

Bethany Parker, vice president of operations at Xero, said her company believes that empowering its employees to make decisions is one of the best ways to ensure things are done in a “beautiful” and “human” way. 

“The reality for many large companies with thousands of employees,” she said, “is that decision-making becomes bureaucratic, with layers of approvals separating front-line workers from the people accountable for decisions. We work hard to eliminate these layers so that everyone is connected to customers and, therefore, feels the impact of company decisions.”

Related Article: 5 Ways to Constantly Evolve Your Company Culture

Leaders Must Be Authentic

At the core of cultures that struggle is a lack of authenticity, according to Patti Perez, vice president of workplace strategy at Emtrain. These companies give lip service to issues such as harassment prevention and a commitment to diversity. “Doing so,” Perez said, “breeds a sense of resentment since leaders and cultures are viewed as hypocritical rather than ones that promote cultural health and inclusion.”

Perez suggests making initiatives related to culture as top priorities. And avoid the typical HR-driven initiatives, which are a must, but should not be your company’s lone endeavors. Communicate about them broadly and often and make sure they are not only sponsored by leadership, but that line managers are also on board.

Establish Connections Beyond Work Expertise

Perez also supports the idea that strong connections throughout the entire company is a way to improve create and maintain a culture that thrives. “Some companies have done a good job connecting employees to the company mission,” she said, “but must work harder to create connections among the people at the company.” 

Perez said she finds it helpful to have “connections sessions,” which, she added, are best when done with a smaller group like a department or business unit. Each person attends the session prepared to share a few facts about themselves that aren’t work-related: favorite music, best vacation, most treasured family tradition. “And it’s most helpful when at least one of the things shared is unexpected,” Perez said. “A simple exercise like this creates incredible connections, and these go a long way towards eliminating workplace drama, and therefore make a huge improvement in company culture.”

Related Article: Why a Learning Culture Will Scale Your Company's Success

Think in Terms of ‘Acceptable’

Create a realistic vision of what acceptable looks like if your company culture is failing, said Phil La Duke, a culture transformation and change management specialist. It's easy to think in terms of excellence, but in general that is going to be too big a leap for a company on the verge of failure, or even seriously ailing, he said. “Sometimes dysfunction, while painful, is a source of comfort for the organization,” La Duke said. “This is why a compelling vision of what the culture could look like is important.”

The mistake many companies make? They grow impatient with the speed of change or frustrated that change is too hard. “Clear and measurable next steps are necessary to articulate the tasks everyone in the organization must take to achieve the improved state,” La Duke said. “Even then things may fail unless the organization also works to reduce the resistance to change.”

Look Internally for Solutions

Sure, this may seem like an obvious step, but too many organizations go without ever giving employees a voice. Pearlie Oni, senior manager of employee experience at RedPeg, said staff surveys are one of the most overlooked steps to turning around an ailing company culture. “Too often,” Onia said, “the higher-ups in an organization feel they know what’s best for the company they’re leading, but it’s easy to have blinders on or to misattribute employee unhappiness. Instead, go straight to the source. There are many tools, some free, that employers can use to anonymously survey their staff.”

Related Article: 4 Strategies to Create a Data-Driven Company Culture

Build a ‘Culture of Feedback’

If your company culture is falling short, you may need to ask yourself if you have the proper values, programs and systems in place to nurture it, according to Doug Dennerline, CEO at Betterworks. “The No. 1 characteristic of any successful team is trust, and if your employees don't feel that where they work is a safe space in which they can speak freely with peers and managers then they won't take the risks,” Dennerline said. They won’t invest the energy or offer the ideas that are so critical to growing any business. 

Critical to building this environment of trust is fostering a culture of feedback. A culture of feedback allows for open communication and continuous, transparent feedback at all levels of your organization, Dennerline said. “When employees and their managers are able to trust and partner with each other, a healthier culture is created in which everyone is motivated to achieve their goals and to develop themselves to meet tomorrow's challenges.”