Team Culture and Brand Culture are intrinsic to success in business today.

Gary Swart gives great advice regarding corporate culture and the opportunity that exists if you build the right internal culture in your organization.

TPGBrandStrategy also believes in this strategy as it relates to your marketing and brand story.   We feel that it is critical for everyone in the organization to live and breath the brand story when they connect with your consumers.   The Page Group actively seeks to integrate the entire brand message into the organization.  We want the organization to reflect all of the Brand DNA everywhere they interact with the consumer whether in customer service, sales, marketing, reception, accounting, etc.   Why?  Because presenting a consistent brand message to everyone that the company is engaged in business with supports the values of the brand and builds brand confidence that has far reaching affects.

Check out this great article…you will walk away with some valuable insights on how to build a team that has impact and creates success in your organization.


Eliciting the Truth: Team Culture Surveys

November 15, 2013

Gary Swart, CEO, oDesk

Managers are responsible for creating an environment where every employee can do his or her best. I recently discussed how good managers provide four things: clarity as to where their team is going, how they will get there, clear responsibility and standards to measure progress. But how do we know whether we’ve done these things and are creating an environment where everyone is in fact set up to succeed? If only there were a way to measure whether your organization’s climate is good, and if not, whether it’s improving.

A few years ago, our former VP of Marketing, Brian Goler, suggested that we ask our employees. Imagine asking your team members if they are in an environment where they are set up to succeed. Brilliant, right? We took Brian’s suggestion and started surveying employees once at the beginning of the year and again toward the end to measure how much we improved. I was shocked at our results the first time, and we continue to learn new insights each time we do what I call our “ Culture Survey ”.

In the event that you’d like to try doing a “ Culture Survey ” with your team, I share our survey questions below, along with context on each. Before I dive in though, here are a few other things to know:

  • Make responses anonymous so that people are comfortable participating without fearing consequences of sharing honest opinions.
  • Ask for a bit of basic information that can help isolate pockets of cultural strength or weakness. We ask for department and tenure (less than or greater than one year). This way we can look for patterns by department and amongst new vs. older cohorts.
  • Find an easy survey tool. We use the Google survey tool to gather feedback, and then further analyze results using Excel.
  • Establish a consistent rating system to track results year-over-year. We asked for a rating from 1 to 5, from weak to strong, on each question.

Here are oDesk’s “Culture Survey” questions along with a bit of context on each…

Question 1: I feel proud to work at oDesk

This question gives a good overall net-promoter score of your company culture. Although our overall scores were quite high, we noticed that one department scored significantly lower than the others, indicating an issue with the leader or with the nature of this function. We were able to correct the situation once it was revealed, and after doing so, our overall culture score improved by 25%.

Question 2: The company has a clear and inspiring vision

Without clarity as to where you are going, it may be difficult to rally the team behind you. First, you have to ensure that you indeed have your vision in place. Once you do, do not underestimate the amount of communication required to make your vision clear. I was shocked to see that some people did not think we had a vision. We did… they just did not actually know what it was. Our problem was we were not sharing it enough.

Question 3: I have confidence in top leadership

Warning: It could be a humbling experience for managers to see the results of this question. Despite the fact that they may be painful to hear, it is better to know what shortcomings exist (we all have them) so that you can address them. Digging into the root causes also helps create a culture of open and honest communication and shows that you are open to feedback. There is always room to improve, and in receiving results on this question leaders should also bear in mind that their goal is not to be liked (though if you’re a good manager hopefully you will be), but first and foremost to be respected.

Question 4: I understand what is expected of me and how my work serves the company’s larger goals

This question gives you the confidence that managers are clearly communicating responsibilities. Any departments which score lower should be given the guidance that better goal setting needs to be shared. Gauging this ensures that the organization is functioning well overall.

Question 5: Individual roles and responsibilities at the company are clear to me

People often know what they are responsible for, but do not have a good understanding of what others are responsible for. We forget that what each team member does is somewhat of a black box to others. Educating people on roles helps open up effective cross-functional channels and head off inefficiencies. After seeing our results on this question, we started better communicating the responsibility and standards by department at our company meetings.

Question 6: My manager provides feedback for me and cares about my professional growth and development

Many people are never trained to be managers, but simply land in this role. Well-run organizations place priority on strong management and guide team leaders to provide the growth and development their team deserves. We ask this question to ensure our teams are running effectively and that we are giving each employee what they need to thrive.

Question 7: oDesk holds its employees to the highest standards and takes prompt action when those high standards are not met

This helps to ensure that you have established and are maintaining healthy standards. A lack of standards can erode morale if people see that the organization is not holding under-performers accountable. I have worked in companies where managers did not deal with non-performing employees in a timely manner, and it was disastrous to our culture. No one wants to give it his or her all while seeing someone else slowing down a team’s impact.

Question 8: I have the authority to do my job without being micro-managed

Are we empowering employees to make decisions and execute? It is best to give each person the latitude to do their jobs and to make an impact without having to check everything with their boss. Team members are happier, more gets done, and people learn more. A manager’s job is really to be a teacher who lets his or her “students” graduate early at every opportunity. Your employees’ success is the ultimate sign of your success.

Question 9: There are no unnecessary rules or procedures, so it is easy for me to do my job

This is a great way to ensure that you are not stifling employees with too much bureaucracy or overhead. Some structure and process is necessary and helpful, but too many hurdles can create an inefficient environment. This balance shifts depending on an organization’s size, and companies should make sure their level is stage appropriate.

Question 10: I feel I am fairly compensated for my work

Although our team scores well on this typically, we do sometimes identify isolated issues within specific departments. What we’ve learned is that while you establish your overall pay scales, the market will always shift for some roles more than others. This question arms you to fine-tune where warranted. In our case, asking this question also helped us better establish how and when we compensate for performance.

Question 11: oDesk fosters a culture of transparency and honest communication

Each team has a different level of honest communication. It’s a manager’s responsibility to lead by example on this front, by being transparent in what’s happening, how progress is tracking, and how any developments will impact employees. Companies vary widely on this ability, and I’m extremely proud of the environment we’ve established at oDesk because we typically perform very well here. As a leader, your perception that open communication is happening may not be reality, so it’s very important to measure this one.

Question 12: oDesk is a customer-centric company

This is a good guidepost to make sure that you are focused on the people who matter most, your customers! It’s easy for companies to become too inward-focused. A real danger exists in not listening to your customers, so managers need to place a strong emphasis on investing time with your community. If you are not leading by example, you can’t expect your team to follow.

Question 13: oDesk has a high-performance work environment

This one speaks for itself. Is your team getting the job done? Are people taking action making things happen quickly? Or are you in analysis-paralysis? Perhaps people are risk-averse, if that’s the case. Reassure them that failure is an option. A key to a high-performance culture is making sure that each person feels supported to try things and dream big. We recognize that rewards require taking risks.

Question 14: Creativity and innovation are encouraged

This helps check whether you have created an environment where people feel believe their ideas are being encouraged and heard. Without this environment, your team might function effectively, but it will be difficult to ever push the envelope and take efforts to the next level. Eventually, in situations where this is pervasive in an organization, lack of creativity and innovation allow competitors to gain a foothold against you.

Question 15: Exceptional performance is recognized and rewarded

Make sure you have a handle on whether fear and criticism outweigh recognition and rewards. We celebrate achievements and try to encourage team members as often as possible. This fuels the feeling that we’re all in together, making things happen.

Question 16: I am part of a collaborative team that shares a common goal and works well together

Just as many companies are tempted to turn inward, many employees are tempted to focus on their urgent to-do’s list and forget to involve others. It’s best to check in early and often on whether people are working together as teams. If you’re recognizing individual achievements and successfully creating a collaborative dynamic as well, that’s when you reach the magic zone of a truly high-functioning culture where everyone’s in it together and making things happen.

Do you have a good handle on your team’s culture, and whether it is getting better or worse? Start by asking your team members, and good luck!

Gary Swart is the CEO of ODesk, the world’s largest online workplace.

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