The Culture Pulse Test - Proteus Leadership | Workplace Culture
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The Culture Pulse Test

Life hacks,’ as they are known, are all about eliminating life’s manifold frustrations in simple and deliciously clever ways. The best involve tricks that are free, efficient and stunningly obvious in retrospect…”

Michael Koziol


How to hack your workplace culture to get real insights and actions for positive change

Workplace culture is going to happen with or without you, and because it is not linear, your culture will do one of two things. When proactively worked on to become great it will either spiral successfully upwards or, if left unchecked it will spiral downwards and quickly unravel. As Michael Henderson, culture guru and author of ‘Above the Line’ says “every organisation has a culture, whether it knows it or not. The trick is to know it and act accordingly.”

At Proteus Leadership, we have always strongly believed it is critical that culture is something which is constantly worked on, by design, rather than left to happen by default. In this article, I am going to show you how you can discover the true essence of workplace culture. How you and your organisation can get real insights into what your current culture looks like, learning how to ‘hack it’ (finding a better way), creating positive change to make your culture great. All for free!

For over two decades, Proteus Leadership has been working with individual leaders, teams and organisations to consciously work on creating positive and robust cultures. We have shared many of our design strategies including; employing and keeping only highly functional adults that are emotionally intelligent, establishing a culture of fighting clean, destroying dysfunction and killing off toxic influences and saboteurs. We provide the tools and templates to help organisations create the space where positive people can shine and get on with delivering great products and exceptional services to your clients.


The Cultural Engagement Survey Trend

In recent years, we have seen an increase in our clients putting a great deal of money and resources into ‘cultural engagement surveys’, in an attempt to understand the science behind how engaged their staff are and to gather some metrics on how well staff rate their workplace culture.

The intent behind this culture survey approach is great. It is designed to improve workplace engagement, which in turn, will improve performance and achieve the magic of ‘discretionary effort’. That is where people bring not just their physical self to work, but their innovative minds and their passionate hearts.

Cultural engagement surveys however have some flaws. They are often poorly designed, providing a snapshot into a single point in time, are very expensive and resource intensive, and often leave managers confused as to what specific action to take to improve their culture and future scores.

The great news is that at Proteus, we have created a way to hack your cultural engagement approach and provide you with a way of discovering where your workplace culture is sitting at any given time. This culture hack costs nothing! It is continuous, and you can do this with your team anywhere, anytime. Most importantly, unlike labour intensive cultural engagement surveys, it provides you with real and live insights into your current workplace culture, along with simple actions that can be put in place for positive change.


Firstly – What Is Workplace Culture?

Before we hack your culture, it is important that we all have a clear understanding of what Workplace Culture actually is. Daniel Coyle, the global best-selling author of ‘The Culture Code’, describes culture as a,“set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

In simple terms, culture is ‘what you do’ and that is displayed through your behaviours and the behaviours of others in a workplace. Put another way, it is ‘the way we do things around here’.


So, What’s The Hack?

We believe it can be as simple as putting culture on your agenda. Add culture to your regular team meeting agenda and use the time to check your cultural health and fitness. This is what we call checking your cultural pulse.


The Culture Pulse Test

(Go Broad and then Go Specific)

Now that we know that culture is what you do, we can now ‘hack’ into your culture by doing the Culture Pulse Test. Here’s how it works.

Firstly, go broad by taking a moment to ask your team members to reflect on the health of your current workplace culture (you can also do this solo for your own leadership insights). You then ask each team member to rate your team out of 10, (0 = being tragic, and 10 = being world class). You do not need to disclose your rating – it is OK
to keep this private.

Now that the team’s culture has been rated, discuss the questions below as a team:

  1. Why did you not give our team’s culture a rating of 0? (What’s currently working well?)
  2. Why did you not give our team’s culture a rating of 10? (What can we work on to become better?)


The Rating Is Not Important – It Is The Conversations And Actions You Take

The most important thing to note here is that the rating is not the important part! The real insights are held within the team discussions. ‘Why not a 0’ gives you a positive platform on what is already working well within your team’s culture, and ‘why not a 10’ gives you a call to action for areas to work on, to become world’s best.


Now, Go Specific

Once you have embraced having team culture conversations and collectively agree to work towards being world’s best, you can go specific. A powerful way to test some of your current culture specifics, is by asking yourself and your team; “what happens around here when…”, followed by a theme or topic you really want to work on and improve for the future.

For example, to find out your real culture for ‘team meetings’ (what you actually do through behaviours), you need to ask: “What happens around here when we have meetings?”

If your meeting behaviours are typically displayed by people being late, unprepared, passive and distracted – that is your meeting culture. To change that meeting culture, as a team, you can make an agreement that you will collectively work on your meetings becoming great, by ensuring people are early, prepared, proactive and fully present.

Moving forward your team will agree to self-regulate this by calling anyone on poor meeting behaviours. E.g. “Can you please stop using your devices in our meetings?” Included in this new approach, is an agreement to celebrate and reward people who do the right thing in future meetings. E.g. “Hey, thanks for coming early and being fully prepared – really appreciate it.”  Through improved behaviours, this then becomes your new meeting culture.

Below are a few more examples of the questions you can ask if you want to improve your culture, where robust, honest feedback and dealing with conflict early, becomes the new norm. You could ask your team members, what happens around here when:

• People do the wrong thing?
• One person has conflict with another?
• You ask someone who continually complains to stop and offer solutions?
• We give people feedback?

Then, like the meeting example above, you can go ahead and collectively put things in place to improve those specific areas of robust honest feedback through team self-regulation. This will call people on the old negative behaviours that you want to stop and it celebrates the positive new behavioural changes you want to start.


Radical Feedback And Honesty

The only way to create a world-class culture, with people who are emotionally engaged, positive and robust, all while being technically competent and capable, is to embrace radical feedback and honesty.

Remember, when you sign up for work, you also sign up to be a fully paid professional. As Patty McCord, author of the 2018 book ‘Powerful’ and co-writer of the Netflix Culture Deck describes, transforming culture ‘is an evolutionary process’, but it can only be achieved if you, as their motto states, “Treat People Like Adults.”  As McCord beautifully describes in her book, “great teams are not created with incentives, procedures and perks”, they are “created by hiring talented people who are adults and want nothing more than to tackle a challenge.”

Radical feedback and honesty are part of being an adult and are required if you want a culture that is healthy and robust. This is what the Culture Pulse Test is all about – radical feedback and honesty.

Except for a very small minority of people who are your ‘toxic few’ (these are your psychopaths, narcissists and all-round miserable people), everyone else wants to work in a great workplace, where fully functional adults get to work on great products and services for great client outcomes. If you focus on the majority and put your efforts into always striving ‘to be world class’ your culture will flourish.

So, start putting culture on your agenda, hack the system and gain real insights and actions for positive change by regularly using the Culture Pulse Test. When you start making this your new way of doing things, you will enjoy the benefits ‘that are free, efficient and stunningly obvious in retrospect’.  So, enjoy the challenge of hacking into your workplace culture and the transformational positive changes that come with it.

Richard Dore is the Managing Director of Proteus Leadership.


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”