It’s safe to say that every business wants to do their best to promote their company culture in a positive light. And for those focused on culture (HR, business owners, C-suite, recruiters), you may be working hard to create a culture employees love.
Or, at least, you think employees love it.
Company culture is more than putting up aspirational words, throwing company get-togethers, and finding the coolest perks. Different people make up your organization, which means the things people value might differ from person to person. Without doing a gut check and getting your employees’ insights, you might unintentionally ignore the fact that you’ve got on rose-colored glasses.
Why You Should Gut Check Your Culture
A great example of why you need to make sure you’re on the same page as your employees was an experience I had more than a decade ago. I had just moved from my small hometown in New Jersey to Charleston and was on the hunt for an admin job. I’d landed an interview with a small company—might have been around 30 people—and met with the owner.
He was a direct man who seemed very confident and proud about the company he was running. He’d talked about how selective the company was about their employees and how candidates need to go through different assessments to make sure they’re the right fit—both skills wise and culture fit—to be privileged to work there.
After our initial chat, he’d welcomed me to sit down with different members of his team to learn more. That’s how confident he was in assuming his staff would confirm that working there was the greatest job ever.
That was his biggest mistake.
I’d talked to five different people in varying roles, all of who had said working there was horrible. Even his own sister (who also worked there) had said he was a terrible boss and not to take the role. I had wondered if maybe it was a test or a joke, because I couldn’t believe these people would truly say all of this so candidly. But by the looks on their faces, I knew it was the truth.
Although I desperately needed a job, I declined their job offer. Even to this day, I wonder how many candidates they lost because of experiences like that.
Ways to Gut Check your Company Culture
My example happened before things like Glassdoor and LinkedIn had become popular. I could only imagine what the interview reviews and ratings would look like for that company had Glassdoor been more widely used. The damage to their reputation wouldn’t have been just based on word of mouth, it would have been more widely spread.
With the digital world making it easier for people to freely share information, paying attention to employee and candidate experience is more important than ever. If you’re going to proudly promote your culture, then you need to make sure that’s the true experience for the majority of your employees (not everyone will have a consistent experience, but at least make sure most of them do). Otherwise, you risk losing their trust.
So, how can you make sure you’re accurately describing your culture? Here are a few suggestions:
Send out surveys: Ensure you add open-ended response options too. This can help you see if there’s consistent feedback trending throughout the organization.
Set up focus groups: Include people in different roles, tenure, levels, and so on. More importantly, make sure you’re bringing your diverse employees to the table. As more employers work to improve diversity and inclusion, their voice matters and will help you see issues you might be blind to.
Interview individual employees: Work with your HR team to figure out which employees you should tap. This could include people who have been at the company for a while, have a big stake in projects, have visibility with leadership, and more.
Check your online reputation: Regularly check review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed to see if anything pops up. For example, if you suddenly get concerning posts about interviews in the last month, then you need to work with your recruiters to see what’s happening with candidate experience. Also, see what the external market says. How are you stacking up against competitors?
Survey interviewees (both successful and unsuccessful): Find out what stood out to them during the interview process. For new hires, ask if their initial experience matched what was pitched to them during the interviews.
Add culture-based questions for exit interviews: If your employees are leaving, there might be a reason. At this point, they may be more candid in their responses, so ask them directly. Their insight could be valuable in helping you retain your employees.
Compare to your corporate values: Work with leadership to understand the mission and values and see how your company culture aligns with and supports this.
Consider what you offer: Of course benefits and perks are enticing, but culture is more than flexible PTO and bringing dogs to the office. Are employees challenged and empowered? Are they supported in career growth? Do they feel safe at work? At the end of the day, a cool office with cold brew on tap won’t matter if they feel like they’re underappreciated.
Pay attention to the day-to-day: Make note of internal behaviors, recognition, cues, and so on to see if it stays consistent over time. Not sure what to pay attention to? Check out Great Mondays for examples.
How to Build Your Company Culture and Messaging
Fix your issues: After gathering information, look at the trends. Do they align with what you’re promoting or is there a gap? If there’s disconnect, then figure out what you need to do to fix it. For example, if your employees seem happy with how they perceive the culture, then maybe it’s a matter of simply fixing the messaging. However, if they’re not happy, then it’s time to do the work to fix the issues before you continue to promote it.
Find common wording: To make your company culture messaging feel more authentic, consider using language your employees use. If you’re seeing consistent themes or wording used by employees throughout the organization, there’s a chance your target audience will use them too. So, nix the corporate jargon or HR speak and craft your message in an engaging, real way.
Show, don’t tell: Saying you have a great culture is nice, but doesn’t hold much weight. When you’re crafting content to promote your employer brand, break your culture down into themes and then find stories or examples to back up what you’re saying. Be specific. Be unique. Cut out the buzzwords in favor for things that help you stand out from everyone else. Need examples? Check out Culture Decks Decoded to see how other companies talk about their culture. You can also reference this blog on Built In for additional research.
Reinforce your message internally: When companies create employer branding content, they usually focus on sharing it externally. However, it’s your employees who are going to be the ones to maintain your company culture. Be sure to share your messaging internally so everyone can rally behind it. This can also keep the messaging top of mind for when employees interview candidates.
Be open to evolving: Going through this exercise isn’t a one and done deal. Your company is ever-changing, with a lot of factors affecting it. Because of that, your culture will evolve too. Audit your culture regularly and get a pulse check from your employees to make sure you’re on track or to see if the culture is organically moving in a new direction. You want to reevaluate and adjust if needed so new hires coming on board don’t feel like you’ve done a bait and switch.
When it comes to promoting your culture, you need to make sure that you can back up your claims. By getting perspectives from both employees and interviewees, you’ll confirm whether what you’re pitching is accurate or if you need to do the work to fix it.
Need help building your company culture messaging? Harlow can help. Check out our services here and reach out for more information.
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