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"Culture" is one of the hottest buzzwords in the modern workplace. A company's culture can have a significant impact on everything—from hiring the best talent to decreasing employee turnover to improving overall productivity. But culture is also a nebulous concept that can prove hard to measure or control.

Fortunately, new HR services and technologies are emerging to offer ways to do just that. One such service is CultureIQ, a SaaS provider that helps companies of all sizes measure, analyze and improve their workplace culture.

“Human capital is the biggest investment that most companies make," says Greg Besner, founder of CultureIQ. At the same time, most companies don't have metrics in place to evaluate employee satisfaction beyond an annual employee engagement survey. What's the alternative? We caught up with Besner to learn more about what cultural metrics HR professionals should track, how to use these metrics to improve company culture, and what "great culture" really looks like.

Annual Engagement Surveys Are Obsolete

According to Besner, the annual employee satisfaction survey is "too little, too late" for the fast pace of today's workplace. “We've realized that the one-and-done engagement survey is not really an active measurement, and it falls short in many ways," Besner says. “Today's workforce is more vocal, open to change and will have many more jobs during their career. If you're only doing annual surveys, you're missing out on a tremendous amount of useful information."

So how do you measure culture in the workplace? Besner says communication is the key. That means regularly contacting employees with questions about various factors of the company's culture. Once that information is collected, the import next step is communicating with employees about the result and talking through any changes that the company will make in response. “It's not just collecting information, but sharing it back to employees that delivers the most value from a human capital perspective," Besner says. “Employees get frustrated if they're giving feedback but not seeing change."

Data Analytics Leads the Way

When companies use CultureIQ's service, they start out with a template that measures employee satisfaction in 10 key categories (e.g., work environment, collaboration and communication). Each category includes a series of questions related to employee satisfaction and performance. HR professionals looking to address specific needs can customize questions to address them within the template. It's an always-running, always-evolving employee satisfaction survey that creates a steady stream of data to analyze and provide an overall culture "score."

“Measuring culture as it exists is just one step. We also meet with the company's leadership to help them define their ideal culture," Besner says. “We offer gap analysis for improving those qualities, not only measuring where they'd like to be, but also doing analysis to see which qualities have the greatest impact."

What's a Great Culture?

CultureIQ currently has more than 1,000 companies using its platform and has administered core culture assessments to nearly 500. Recently, CultureIQ partnered with Entrepreneur to create a "Top Company Cultures" list for 2015; digital marketing agency EliteSEM topped the list of large companies (more than 100 employees).

In a profile of EliteSEM, Entrepreneur describes the company as “built around the idea that employees should be able to determine their own schedules, workloads and ultimately, pay." Work-life balance is highlighted as a priority for the company. Their employees are allowed to work from any of their seven offices around the country and reduce or increase their hours at will. EliteSEM employees' compensation is also tied to their performance, and the overall profitability of the company.

Does that mean EliteSEM's approach is right for all companies? Definitely not. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a great company culture. Superficial changes like providing beer and snacks at the office or unlimited vacation time won't automatically improve a company's culture on their own. They can, however, contribute to the overall values leading to great culture.

“We have treasure trove of data, and everyone is trying to determine which areas can transform their businesses." Besner says. “One interesting thing we've found: Compensation is not at the top of the list of employee company culture priorities. Our data indicates that it's professional development and opportunities to learn that have the greatest impact."

Photo: Creative Commons