Connections for Success



How To Strengthen Staff Culture After a Challenging Few Years
Beth Napleton

Is your organizational culture thriving? In a recent market research survey I conducted, not one respondent said yes. To reiterate: Zero people said their culture was thriving. ZERO! The most popular responses were their organizational culture was either “riding the struggle bus” or “getting better.”

With all that has been going on in the world, it is no wonder that employee engagement and staff culture has taken a beating. In many cases, peoples’ work has come into their homes, blurring boundaries and taking away transition times like commuting, which turns out actually helped separate work and home. In the case of folks like health care workers and educators, going to work exposes more health risks than it ever felt like before and brings a plethora of pandemic-related challenges. Nearly every industry and workplace has been touched by the Great Resignation and the She-cession, with talent challenges like high turnover and vacancies that are difficult to fill.

No matter where the organizational culture starts, the best time to work on improving it is now. As the proverb says, “the journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step”— and the three simple steps outlined below will help you on the journey to a thriving culture.

  1. First: Ask your people what they think (but the trick is, you have to want to know what they have to say!)
    Gathering both quantitative and qualitative data is always a helpful place to start with staff culture. This will give you a starting place, helpful data and direct feedback on where things are going well and where they could be improved. A simple survey with two prompts: “On a scale of 1-10, where would you put our staff culture now?” “Please give a few examples of why you picked that number.” will yield a lot of useful information.

    Let me be clear — you need to want to know what their perceptions are. If you ask and do not care or never respond, that will weaken staff culture. You have to be curious — even if you take the feedback with a grain (or a shaker) of salt. After all, a person’s perception is a person’s reality – even if their perception differs wildly from yours.

    If you are afraid people will not be honest, anonymize it — and ensure robust participation by asking people to take out their laptops in a meeting and spend three minutes answering it.

  2. Next: Respond to what the people say — and be quick about it!
    If a survey is given and no one responded, did it even happen? Employees get frustrated when leaders ask questions and they never receive feedback. You need to look at this data and turn it around quickly — ideally within a week. If you give the survey in a weekly staff meeting, review what it says in the next weekly meeting. You do not need to go into exhaustive detail or share all the dirty laundry, but reviewing it says: We hear what you are saying and we value your input.

    One helpful way to share the data is in four simple slides:

    • What Are The Key Takeaways 
      This includes overall headlines and trends. For example, ”[P]eople like their colleagues and our work, but are feeling stretched.”
    • What is Already in the Works
      Describe what is happening now, whether because of the feedback or because you recognized the need previously: “About six weeks ago, we saw this coming and partnered with Terrific Temp Agency to clear some of the more administrative tasks out of your way. As a result of this survey, we increased our contract to include more time.”
    • What We are Working On
      What people will not see right away, but what is happening behind the scenes: “A lot of you mentioned a desire to integrate summer Fridays or partial days off. We like the idea too, but it is complicated from a client-facing side, so we have a group working on this and what it could look like. Stay tuned.”
    • What We are Thinking About
      Areas that you are mulling over: “We also noticed a trend in comments suggesting more flexible arrangements like job-sharing, or going part-time for periods. We are exploring these options and how they would work, but also want to make sure that we think about any unintended consequences.”

    People often ask if it is important to respond to every comment. Not necessarily. If it is a one-off comment, you can mention it if is helpful to you. If there are clear patterns or trends, though, it is important to respond in some way, even if it is mentioned during the “thinking about” section of the debrief.

  3. Finally, take action!
    Now, it is important to do whatever you said you would do. Include information on accessing new resources on the staff hub or refilling the water cooler more consistently if that was requested.

    If possible, start with some highly-visible actions where people can see that you are making moves. To do this, bring in an assistant or a trusted operations associate when you are reviewing the survey data. Have them participate by thinking about: “What would it take to operationalize this?” and knowing that they can start right away.

    Taking these steps will help you move your organization through the “getting better” stage all the way to “thriving”— where we all want to be, leaders very much included.

    Beth Napleton is a consultant who works with leaders to remove the obstacles inherent to the leadership, including initiatives to improve staff culture over the short, medium and long term. For more information visit Visit to learn more about our Not-For-Profit Group.

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