Is Your Company Culture More Than Just Words on a Wall?

Motivational posters don’t work — and demotivational posters don’t work even better.

With those words, satirical front man E.L. Kersten, Ph.D. founded Despair, Inc. to pitch a hilarious set of posters making fun of the greatest workplace joke ever. And it seems that joke never gets old. Now almost 30 years later, Despair, Inc. has grown its poster business to include custom-made calendars, glassware, notecards, t-shirts, and books.

It’s funny because you and I both know that no employee wants a poster — they want a voice. The thing is, how do we get people to openly share their experiences? And do it in ways that feel safe and meaningful?

Any old company can give their employees a survey. Heck, lots of ‘em do. According to Workify co-founder Dustin Wells, those surveys generally get about a 40-60% response rate and they’re done once a year. And then what? Usually, not a whole lot.

I’m a firm believer that employees, especially millennials, want to have purpose and impact. If you’re not motivating them, they’re not living up to their full potential — and neither is your company.

That’s why last year we got serious about employee feedback — with help from our friends at Workify — and starting using people-friendly tools like short online surveys and digital suggestion boxes to gather our team’s input anonymously,.

It’s pretty simple: to understand your company, you need to listen to your employees

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be. — Scottish physicist Lord Kelvin, 1883

How often are YOU measuring whether your culture works?

According to Dustin, while many companies say their people are their biggest asset, most tend to measure their operational data daily and weekly — and their people, maybe once a year. That’s no good.

In the oft-quoted words of management expert Peter Drucker: What gets measured, gets managed.”

For Stephen Huerta, Workify CEO and co-founder, there’s power in just asking the right questions. “We use the word culture and employee engagement somewhat synonymously,” he says.

It’s really your employees that bring your culture to life. It’s their actions day in and day out that define your culture. Otherwise, your culture is just words on a wall.

Employees teach us what’s motivating and — as importantly, what’s demotivating

As companies give employees more of a voice, they uncover hidden trends that reveal where employees are particularly unhappy, how that unhappiness affects their customers, and where they can work on improvement. Workify sees this with their clients all the time.

There was the restaurant who surveyed their team and found that their least-satisfied employees were the ones serving the customers. With follow-up employee engagement surveys, they learned that servers were demotivated because they frequently had to comp meals when their orders came out late. They dove deeper and discovered that the problems were due to changes in logistics and kitchen management. With that information they could then create a plan for happier employees — and happier customers.

Then there was the time when a media company quickly doubled in size through acquisitions and mergers. Workify’s surveys revealed which key departments had not integrated well and which legacy systems weren’t working. They also discovered that employees at outpost offices felt alienated by the way events at the home office were publicized. All things the company could take steps to fix.

If you don’t know about problems, you can’t fix them.

“There’s no right or wrong — or good or bad culture,” Stephen points out.

“Culture just is. Sometimes it’s intended and sometimes it’s not. You’ve got these core values, you’ve got these words, and you’ve got this mission. All these say very happy, positive things — but if that’s not who you are, there’s a misalignment.”

We learned that the hard way at Far West Capital.

It’s not just blowing smoke to say our team is like family. Far West Capital was even named one of the best places to work in Texas this year (!) which is a humbling honor when I think about everything we went through to earn it.

Our team celebrating in 2016 when we won Best Places to Work in Austin

 I’m pretty proud of the culture we’ve built here, but I can’t lie. It wasn’t always as good as it could have been. In the beginning, we worked hard and enjoyed success. Then we failed big.

That was a big wake up call. We learned a lot of things, mainly that we had stopped communicating effectively — with our customers and each other. So we redefined our mission, and backed it up with solid core values. We set goals, and put support structures in place so we can “fail forward” in a safe place and keep on growing.

But I never knew how much better we could be doing things until I met the guys at Workify.

The results of our baseline survey were pretty positive; Stephen even admitted that they were a bit concerned that we didn’t need Workify. Exactly the opposite, I said. We need MORE Workify. If we’d had this data before, imagine what we could have done! Gathering it on a regular basis can only have a multiplier effect.

So, we continue asking our employees for input in this intentional way — and the payoffs are huge.

“Cole definitely had goals at a very high level,” Stephen says, “but he didn’t have metrics around these goals and how to track them all. So we helped provide him with the means not to just talk about culture, but to actually act on it. We help him focus on feedback about the motivating and demotivating factors in play at Far West Capital.”

Now, when we gather employee feedback, I can easily see what’s working and what’s not. Employees have given me great ideas without it — but sometimes just asking the right question helps produce interesting feedback.

For example, this year, we asked “What one thing would help you work more effectively with colleagues in other teams?”  (Keep in mind, we have 9 offices in 6 states!)

Someone suggested using Skype or Slack every day, and pointed out that there’s no official “chat” app at FWC. That’s something I’d have never thought of — and now I’ll need to consider it.

And if you, like me, believe in measuring your culture, Workify’s “Measure” product is just $4 per employee per month. Ask them for a demo here, and I guarantee you’ll get more than you bargained for.

Here’s some examples of the kinds of questions you could ask and the types of reports you could get:

+ Click to Enlarge

Or, if you want to try this on your own, you can download Workify’s latest ebook, a 3-Step Guide for Taking Action on Employee Feedback. I’d love to hear if it’s useful to you.

How have you’ve used employee feedback to make a more awesome company culture? Comment below — or Tweet me — and let me know.

Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.


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