10 culture questions you should ask in your business today

Some people love answers, some questions. Just like there are those that are more interested in the journey, and others the destination. One can't exist without the other. In today's businesses, the art and science of questioning is critical. There are a number of theories used in teaching such as the Socratic method and Blooms Taxonomy. The Socratic method is a rigorous and disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning that enables someone to examine ideas logically and to be able to determine their validity. Blooms is a framework to focus on higher order thinking. Specifically in business, there are coaching and problem solving frameworks, specific approaches used in sales, and product development. There are those adapted from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for individuals, but I've never come across a questioning framework specifically focused on people as a collective.

On a recent call with a General Manager, I was trying to uncover what their people priorities were. It ended up becoming a cathartic experience for them and an illuminating one for me. Just asking the questions helped start to frame an action plan. Without no prior planning other than an inquisitive mind and a notepad, these were some of the questions we went through:

1. How well does your purpose and your values stand up in the world today?

2. How much are you operating with your values and purpose in mind?

3. How do your people feel about their life, their work, and your organisation? How has that changed?

4. How are you evaluating consequences of the economic and social environment for your people as well as for your business performance?

5. What are your people and culture objectives right now? How have they changed? What plans are you putting in place? How are you planning to make those decisions? What data are you going to need in order to monitor progress?

6. How are you prioritising the human, financial and societal impact of your decisions?

7. Culturally and operationally, what things have changed that you want to revert back to, and what new things do you want to keep? What do your people think? Are these two things consistent?

8. How do you evaluate the impact of changing morale on organisational performance?

9. How are you measuring the value your employees have had, are having and will have in the future?

10. How are you planning to engage your people in their daily work and your company?

Some of the questions were easier to answer than others. Many couldn't be answered at all. Virtually all relied on gut feeling and some specific examples, but very little if any evidence. This was an interesting process - not only was it novel to ask the questions and try to work out how to answer them, but also there was no clarity on the problems they were trying to solve. What was the exam question they needed to answer? It amazes me that in virtually every function other than HR, there are a standard set of problems to solve; How can we become more profitable? How do we increase revenue? How can we better manage our cash flow? How can we make our processes more efficient? How can we increase our speed to market? How can we raise more funds? How can we have a shorter sales cycle? How can we convert more leads? How should we increase customer satisfaction and loyalty? How do we improve our product? How do we make the workplace safer? How can we communicate with our customers more effectively? How do we increase brand awareness? Most departmental strategies are based on answering some of these questions. In trying to simplify this as much as possible, we've come up with just two questions every organisation should answer about it's people. These should be the first questions that an HR / People team should get to:

  • How do we improve the employee experience?

  • How can we improve performance?

Beneath these are a multitude of questions that will include cultural, behavioural, processes, well-being, engagement, safety, and cost topics. To do this requires a thorough process of planning, tracking, monitoring, interrogating, and evaluating your action plans. However detailed, complicated and multi-layered you want to make it, this should provide a good starting point. What is universally true is that your people and your business will thank you for asking these questions.