It’s often easy to identify the tangible things that influence your company culture, but can you identify the intangibles? We give you step-by-step ways that you can analyze your company and uncover your CULTURE!

Episode 53 | Uncovering Your Culture

[00:01] Welcome to The Epic Company Culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals, and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Josh Sweeney: [00:16] Hello, my name is Josh Sweeney and welcome to The Epic Company Culture podcast. Before I get started, I would like to thank Prototype Prime for this amazing podcast space. We talk endlessly about culture here on The Epic Company Culture Podcast, and today I want to share a little bit about how you can uncover your company culture.

How to Uncover the Culture

[00:35] I get questions on this all the time. What are the processes you go through to really uncover that culture, because it’s not necessarily things that you can feel or see sometimes, you know they’re the intangibles, their the intangibles and the tangibles in a lot of ways, depending on who you ask, and so we want to give you some tips and tricks for uncovering your culture. I’m going to break this down into four sections that should be helpful for you. The first one’s going to be feel, how you feel. The next one’s going to be what you see or observe. The third one’s going to be how people act, and the last one’s going to be the tangibles.F

How You Feel

[01:10] To start off with how you feel, when you’re uncovering culture one of the things we do when we’re uncovering culture is we really like to go in and get the feeling of the space. Like when we walk into the office, what is the immediate vibe that we get? Is it kind of a home like vibe where it’s literally in a house? Is it a home vibe and there’s lots of desks and lots of clutter, and very tight quarters and just the way the office space is, it’s a smaller space? What does that look like? The other thing is how does it feel when I look at the people. Are they heads down, are they heads down and working? Are they focused, does it feel like a dead zone in the area?

[01:52] If you sit in there for eight hours, is everybody so heads down that it doesn’t feel like anything’s going on, but everybody’s really getting a lot done, because they’re highly focused. Or the opposite. Are people always clustering up and collaborating. Do you see people moving chairs and working around certain sets of desks, and you see a lot of cross collaboration within a department or other people coming from other departments? What’s the perspective that each person has, and how do you feel when you walk in the space?

[02:20] Another way to uncover the culture around how people feel is to come up with a set of questions that just straight out ask them how do they feel when they come into the office? Do they feel like it’s collaborative or heads down, do they feel like they have the work environment they need? What are those other things that they get a feeling of?

What do you See?

[02:39] The second thing that I mentioned was, what do you see? What do you observe and how does that get ingrained in the culture? One of the ones that come up a lot lately is I see a lot of water bottles, so I’ll go into certain environments and everybody has water bottles on their desk and when we go into a meeting, everybody has  water or water bottle, versus, I’ve worked in other organizations where I saw a that everybody made Red Bull towers, and they had a fridge of Red Bull, and everybody drank vast quantities of it and they would stack them in towers and eventually they would get thrown away. Sometimes it didn’t seem like they ever got thrown away. That tower just got bigger. But that tells you a lot about the organization and the culture.

The Impression

[03:20] If I see a lot of water bottles, I’m starting to think health conscious. They’re always finding other drinks. You look in their fridge and you see that maybe they supply drinks for the team and it’s a lot of water and low sugar drinks, and Kombucha, and who knows what else is in there, but healthier items versus it’s filled with soda and you don’t see water anywhere but, in the bathroom coming out of the tap. That’s something we can get an observation of the environment and determine what we see.

The Office Layout

[03:56] Same thing with the personal, the layout of the office. Is it personal offices? Does everybody have a personal office, maybe with the door open, the door closed most of the time? Is it a very open office space? Is it half and half? What is the orientation? How do things work in that perspective?

How they Eat

Another element of company culture and what we see when we go into an organization is a maybe how they eat. Do they break bread together? Did they eat as a team? Do they eat as a whole department as a company? Or does everybody eat lunch at their desk? And a lot of these items that I’ve mentioned are, the only way to uncover them is to observe them over a period of time.

[04:35] You might have to look over a day or two or three to start to notice some of the trends, some of those underlying culture tones that are ingrained into the organization. That gives you the ability to then go ask somebody, tell me about the water bottles. I see lots of water, and then that’s going to be a brainstorm where somebody goes, “Oh yeah, well we started being more health conscious and we also have this program that we pay for and here’s other ways that we’ve built this into the organization.’ You can take what you see and what you observe, start to turn that into questions and then you’re going to uncover more information about the culture from other employees and people that are in the organization. B

Office Behavior

[05:14] The third one I mentioned is how people act. How do they act in general? What is their method for going about working? An example of one of these is meetings. There’s a lot of people that are always late for meetings, I go into, I generally find this more, it seems to be more in creative environments, very creative people, time is a little less of the essence and maybe that’s a bad little group to put them in.

It’s not always consistent. But I feel like that’s the case sometimes. But is everybody always late for meetings. Are we talking, are they generally strolling in, is the culture to see the notification go off on the calendar and then walk to the meeting? Is it that it starts promptly on time and ends on time, and needs to be highly productive? What are those meetings like? How does everybody act? How do they get there?

In the Meetings

[06:05] Another one in meetings because everybody likes to bash on meetings, is that does somebody always walk in late and then make everybody recap a meeting? Do you even put up with that in your organization? Is that something where it’s like, “Oh, well, you know, this is the manager and they always make us recap and they’re always late” so that’s just part of how we act in and the culture of our organization. Or is it that you have to listen in if you’re late? There’s lots of different things you can see around how people act.

Hacker Play

Another thing that we came across and I’ve observed is, when I worked at Spy Dynamics, one of the ways that we act was maybe could be looked at as somewhat immaturely, but as a security company and web application security company, we had a bunch of hackers in the organization and we pretty much hacked everything. The coffee maker had 404 errors, which if you’re not technical, that won’t mean anything to you. But a 404 error is for like a web page is not found. So, the coffee maker had all these errors on it. The kiosk at the entry of our building, not even in our space, but the kiosk ended up with, I think our logo on it and some other things that were happening to it.

[07:14] Pretty much anything in the environment that could be played with or hacked or changed or modified got hacked, changed or modified. And that was just part of who we were. It was a culture that encouraged exploration and that was part of who we were and what we did as a business. That was gaining how we acted.


[07:36] The last one I’d like to share is more of the tangibles. Now, some people say that the tangibles aren’t really part of culture. I would tend to disagree. It is part of my culture. If I, for example, I’m a car guy, I think you’re going to get a different vibe and a different culture if I come in in a Prius versus a Ferrari, right? It’s tangible, but it is also part of the culture, maybe part of who I am or what’s been done, whatever it might be. I think a lot of the tangible things are really part of the culture, as well as in, I’m going to use tangibles and perks a little interchangeably here because some of them are correlated and they just go hand in hand. One doesn’t really exist without the other.

[08:18] When we go in, we also ask about the tangible items. Are you doing quarterly events? Are they off site? Or are you eating together? When you do those quarterly or annual or yearly events, are you going off site or are they team building? Do you bring in the person’s spouse or significant other or their family members, as a family day? What are all those other perks that come into play that are part of the organization’s culture?


[08:46] We can use all of those things to uncover people’s culture amongst lots of other ways that we like to do it, but we wanted to just give you the four ways again, that you can uncover your culture, which is how do people feel when they come in? How do you feel when you come into the office and throughout the day? What do you observe or what do you see in the environment? Third one was how do people act in general?

What is their general mentality, the overarching theme and the vibe that you get from the people and how they act. And then lastly, what are the tangibles, what are the perks, what are the other things that are ingrained in that mesh well with other the actions and what they see and what you feel across the organization. Hopefully this has been helpful, and you can use this to uncover your company culture.

[09:34] Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of The Epic Company Culture podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoy this content, please subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit epicculture.co. If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us @epicculture1, or email at podcast@epicculture.co.