Finding a company culture consultant that fits your organization takes more consideration than simply knowing where to look for a consultant. This article lays out those considerations and provides steps for your company to ensure the collaboration between the culture consultancy and your organization is set up for success.
Why Should a Company Hire a Culture Consultant?
Enlightened companies realize a great organizational culture is a competitive advantage. Work culture helps recruiting, reduces turnover, and — most importantly — ensures high performance across the organization. Yet most organizations are not sure where to start when it comes to improving their culture.
Enter the culture management consultant. A great culture consultancy learns every aspect of a company’s culture and knows how to lead the cultivation planning and process for driving a healthy, positive organizational culture.
Leveraging outside expertise to guide your organization in cultivating its culture is the most effective path to creating a high performing work culture. Culture consultants are like trained pilots sitting in a cockpit: they know what data and information to concentrate on for each specific situation, along with the experience to inform effective actions based on the data. Additionally, organizational leadership typically respects outside eyes using a data-driven decision making approach to solve problems and demonstrate ROI.
Culture consultancy also provides a safety buffer for employees to share honest opinions. Often employees stress about their candor getting them in trouble with a manager or boss. Consultants will ensure that they mask identity so there’s no risk of retribution. This means consultants will be better equipped to provide a realistic analysis of the culture as employees share their honest sentiment.
What Expectations Should a Company Have Using a Culture Consultant?
Typically a consultant works like this: to start, the consultant gathers quantitative insights by assessing the sentiment of the employees inside the organization. This data is then paired with qualitative information gained through interviews and focus groups. At this point, the culture consultant will explain findings and insights. This will include recommendations about where to start improving the culture. The best consultants will leverage employees to generate ideas on workplace changes so that they develop a sense of ownership with the overall approach.
Be warned: if your organization hires a culture consultant who runs assessments and interviews but then nothing changes (likely because leadership failed to commit to changes), the whole process likely to damage the work culture. Employees will feel like they are not being heard and not respected. So make sure leadership is fully committed to hiring a culture consultant, being open minded about findings, and budgeting time and money to create and commit to changes.
8 Steps To Ensure You Hire the Best Culture Consultancy for Your Organization
The more your company prepares, the more surface area you give your organization to land the right culture consultant. These 7 steps help you prepare and find the best corporate culture consulting practice for your organization.
Step1: Start by defining the outcomes.
These goals can be broad or specific. Not every outcome has to be determined. Your organization likely isn’t aware of all of the underlying matters preventing your organizational culture from performing at its best. The culture consultant’s job is to help identify the areas that need improving. Yet knowing what success should look or feel like is critical, as this will set expectations for the investment in your organization’s culture.
Pro-tip: here are some ideas of outcomes to consider: our organization should be the workplace anyone in our industry hopes to work at; everyone, regardless of diverse background, should feel invited and completely comfortable collaborating inside our organization; our organization’s performance improves 10% in the year after changes were implemented.
Step 2: Define who is going to be the internal owner.
Someone inside the organization must serve as the project lead and point of communication for the culture consultant. The consultant will need help navigating the company, setting meetings, driving participation, and communicating broadly. Internal support is crucial for the success of any company culture project.
More importantly, the project lead needs to be the ambassador to internal leadership. This means maintaining buy-in and leveraging leadership’s voice to raise company-wide interest. Step 3 addresses this critical piece.
Step 3: Get buy-in from leadership, including a set budget.
Step 3 on the journey, before any external culture consultancy is contacted, is to become an ambassador for the initiative.
The bigger the organization, the more likely there will be some voices of dissent. These are people who view efforts to cultivate culture as wasteful “kumbaya” sessions. Good culture consultants are equipped to mitigate or change these opinions. But it’s not a good use of their time. The internal owner should attempt to discover and neutralize this sentiment before bringing in the consultant.
When there is only a single executive talking about improving culture, the organization has a chicken and egg problem: if not many people are invested in cultivating the culture then clearly the culture needs changing, but if not many people are invested in cultivating the culture then nothing is going to change. Do not hire a consultant until the executive team is fully onboard with the idea that improving culture is important and worth investing energy and money into.
Pro-tip: an effective means of garnering organizational-wide embrace of the initiative to improve the culture is to have the leader explain why this is important through the lens of empathy. From there, encourage leadership to echo messages of “we care about you, we are investing in our culture, this is important, we want everyone to feel they belong, and we want to know what you think.”
Step 4: Do proper research.
Learn the lingo, if you’re new to this. We recommend reading The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, and our post on What is Culture Management? — a primer on all things work culture cultivation. Understanding the basics of cultivating culture will help you articulate your culture’s needs and help set expectations with the consultant.
Step 5: Perform outreach for recommendations.
Corporate culture consulting is a relatively new field. Those practicing culture consulting are likely coming from a different field, like HR consulting, change management consulting, leadership training, business management consulting, etc. Good culture consultants might come by many different titles.
Using your professional networks, such ass LinkedIn, are a great place to start the hunt for the right culture consultant. Post a message that you are looking for recommendations. You can phrase this in a way to suggest there’s nothing toxic about your organization’s culture, rather your organization continues to put the needs of your people first and in that regard, the company is investing in the culture and the future of your organization.
If posting a message proves fruitless, or you simply don’t find the right fit, search Twitter for similar conversations and see if any recommendations surfaced in the threads.
If you are short of recommendations, here are some great places to search for corporate culture consultants:
Step 6: Interview consultants to understand their process.
Find a practice that understands your organization’s desired outcomes and learn how they plan to achieve these. Listen to see if they recommend a balanced approach between a quantitative, data-driven approach with assessments and a qualitative approach, mixing interviews and focus groups. Challenge them to provide stories of tricky client engagements and how they achieved success. Make sure you get details about how they price themselves.
Rapport and trust are critical to the relationship, so ask about how long they have been in practice and gather references from previous or current clients, assuming this consultancy didn’t come recommended. There are a lot of people entering the culture consulting space without adequate experience.
The most important question to ask a culture consultant is about how they will assess the culture and use that data to inform actions (which ultimately influence the bottom line). A worrying sign is when a culture consultant only speaks to items like employee engagement, core values and morale. Also be cautious if the consultancy uses a generic system like SurveyMonkey that’s not built for-purpose, as this means you’ll be paying for the bulk of their time to be used for writing assessments, exporting data to spreadsheets and designing visualizations for presentations.
Pro-tip: culture consultants using for-purpose assessment systems like OrgVitals will work much faster and smarter, which should give you confidence that their time is being spent on the most important factor in consulting: engaging your people.
Step 7: Negotiate the initial scope of work.
Find a practice that understands your organization’s desired outcomes and learn how they plan to achieve these. It’s recommended to start with a limited scope, in terms of outcomes, budget and scope of work. This way your organization can ensure there’s a good fit between the culture consultancy and the company. Culture management consultants will understand this. Their practice will be prepared to propose a scope of work that runs approximately 3 months.
Typically, a culture consultant will run a baseline assessment out of the gate. Employees will set aside a half-hour to respond to this baseline assessment. From this culture survey, the culture consultant will have a rich set of quantitative data to understand the workplace culture. Hopefully some quick wins are identified where immediate improvements can be made. These typically revolve around communication effectiveness, process removal, and decision making efficiency.
Some culture consultants will offer employee engagement and other people analytics that look at each individual. Sometimes these take the form of talent management systems, like personality tests, to understand cultural fit for hiring. Your organization will need to decide if this fits in your scope of work. Great cultures track elements like employee engagement, employee stress, employee connectedness, and employee capacity on an ongoing basis. This better informs if there are divisions in the culture that are lagging. Data gathering should be a process that occurs overtime rather than in a snapshot, one-time fits all strategy.
Pro-tip: sitting in between individual people analytics and aggregated culture analytics is collaboration assessment. Unique to the OrgVitals assessment system is the ability to map who works with whom, paired with data around the benefits or determinants of each person’s performance as a collaborator. OrgVitals is made for culture consultants to leverage and your organization should inquire if assessing collaboration with OrgVitals is an option.
Step 8: Set the vision.
No one can transform culture overnight. In fact, the consultancy cannot change the culture by themselves. Culture improves when team members in the organization put effort into changing behaviors that influence how it feels to work. As much energy is placed into how work is getting done, not just how much work is getting done. Turning a ship of this size takes thousands of waves. Culture consulting takes time to analyze and apply initiatives with leadership. Getting employees to adapt can be a slow process, depending on the nature of the activity.
In this light, just before you hire the culture consultant, ask about how they imagine the long term engagement, should the initial work prove effective. Culture consultants will recommend a roadmap to plan the many phases of cultivating culture to match your organization’s vision.
Once there’s a clear return on investment (ROI) for the corporate culture consultant after the initial phase, you’ll want to be on the same page about what comes next. A long term plan must include ongoing assessments (pulse surveys) of employee sentiment. These assessments are important because they will track if the culture is indeed improving over time. Your organization will need to inform the consultant to the cadence and manner for these perpetual surveys.
Lastly, make sure expectations are set if you intend to bring the full cultivation effort in-house at a later date. This is important if there needs to be a system handoff when it comes to the assessments and people analytics.
Once you feel comfortable that the culture consultant is proposing a scope and calendar for the consulting engagement that feels right to the immediate needs of your organization — and acknowledging long term goals — then you should feel confident about accepting their offer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hiring a Culture Consultant:
What is a culture consultancy?
A culture consultancy is a practice, sometimes run by an individual and sometimes a team, that leverages quantitative and qualitative feedback to instruct an organization on what needs improving and assisting with planning actions to ensure that behaviors are introduced to improve the overall company culture.
What does a culture consultant do?
The culture consultant’s role is to navigate a path for the organization to cultivate its culture. Corporate culture consultants collect employee sentiment about the state of the work culture. From there they assist with planning actions, based on the data and information, to create a high performing culture with high retention of its people.
How do you find a culture consultant?
There are three typical paths to finding a culture consultant: leverage your professional network for a recommendation, search public networks like your chamber of commerce or SHRM, or use a search engine like Google. See Step 5 above for more insight on finding a good organizational culture consultant.
How does a culture consultant analyze a company’s culture?
Organizational culture consultants use assessments to gather employee sentiment and typically follow-up with interviews and focus groups to gather deeper insights through meaningful conversations. Company culture analysis should balance qualitative and quantitative feedback. This ensures balanced data-driven approach to track the work culture’s performance over time, but uses anthropological investigation to appreciate team dynamics and interpersonal relationships.
How much does a corporate work culture consultant cost?
Culture consultant pricing is based on geography, company size, and scope of the engagement. Having relationships with culture consultants all over the world at OrgVitals, we are happy to provide feedback to organizations that are considering hiring a consultant (note: OrgVitals does not provide consulting services).
Can a culture consultant fix a toxic culture?
Culture management consultants can address the underlying issues present in a toxic culture. Fixing those issues depends on the people and behavior behind those issues. If trust in the workplace is depleted because of the toxic culture, the organization likely needs HR working with lawyers to safely remove troubled parties from the organization. Toxic culture typically stems from toxic personalities and behaviors.
Can a work culture consultant help an organization work remotely?
There are many culture consultants that place an emphasis on helping organizations develop best practices for remote work and flexible work arrangements. We know a bunch at OrgVitals.
What do consultants who manage culture call themselves?
Culture management is a nascent and growing market. Consultants call themselves many things, as they hail from different areas of organizational management. Many culture consultants call themselves HR consultants, and they offer great services to help organizations cultivate culture. Meanwhile other consultants come from change management and business management consulting. Their focus stems from operations and operational planning. Enlighten organizations appreciate culture is the platform operations run on top of.
Do culture analytics understand or measure collaboration?
Methodology may differ between consulting firms, but improving work culture needs to include looking closely at collaboration to understand the collaborative performance inside an organization. Teamwork is often overlooked by organizational culture assessment systems. A critical aspect of work culture is understanding who is working closely with whom, which team members influences the culture the most, what volume and benefit their communication provides. From this data, you should know who are the “transfer helpers” that raise the performance of those around them and set a tone for the culture. Current culture analytic systems do not provide this outside of OrgVitals.
What is the difference between talent management and culture management?
Talent management aims to understand culture fit as part of the hiring process. Culture management aims to understand how employees feel about their work and collaborations. Leadership teams have learned that one way to cultivate culture is to have hiring managers look for candidates in the interview process with personalities that will blend well with the current team members. Unfortunately this approach risks creating a workforce that lacks diversity.