Culture trumps strategy, every time.

Countless studies have proven the benefits that great workplace culture can have on staff retention, productivity, and even revenue.

Every leader aspires to drive a positive culture. But how do you know if you have one?

For established organisations that have not paid enough attention to culture in the past, gaining a true understanding of what your culture is like – and where issues may lie – is often easier said than done.

Some leaders only hit the culture roadblock for the first time when they discover new plans are being met with strong resistance.

Even if you have great processes and controls in place, it’s important to recognise that culture can (and very often does) override them.

Where culture does not align with your strategy this makes it very difficult to meet your business goals. Managing behavioural issues and practices that don’t align with your values, distracts from the effective achievement of organisational goals.Countless studies have proven the benefits that a great workplace culture can have on staff retention, productivity, and even revenue..

What is a cultural audit?

Your workplace culture is the sum of the values and behavioural traits of your people, which may or may not match the desired culture for your organisation.

For example, you may value honesty, integrity, and safety above all else.  But if your current leaders and staff have a philosophy to “win at all costs”, then its unlikely values like honesty and integrity will place first in each key business decision.

A cultural audit seeks to unearth the values and behavioural traits of your people. This allows you to uncover potential problems that could have a substantial impact on achieving your objectives.

In one culture audit, a small group of staff flagged concerns about safety equipment, and that “management didn’t care”.  The senior leaders of that organisation proved them wrong, demonstrating their leadership and positive safety culture by quickly adding additional safety equipment to the site.

The key to cultural audits is to focus on the behaviours that are most important to your business. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach because the values you have selected for your business are unique to your goals and aspirations.

While it’s likely that your HR department already runs employee surveys, it’s worthwhile engaging a third party to independently conduct your cultural audit. In addition to expertise on how to develop and deliver a successful survey, the impartiality of a third party often results in more honest and insightful outcomes as employees feel safe sharing their true feelings.  

Case Study - Integrity Culture

The outcomes of a hypothetical culture audit concerning an organisation’s integrity are shown below. The responses highlighted in green indicate an issue at the supervisory level that may need attention.


What leaders can expect to gain with a cultural audit

A cultural audit provides insight to the board or executive team; enabling a deeper understanding of how the workplace typically operates with respect to values and behaviours. These audits can be designed to cover all levels from management to frontline staff.

The audit can be delivered in multiple ways, but typically will include an employee survey.

Survey questions must be carefully formulated to elicit honest, thoughtful answers with consideration given to the survey length to maximise uptake and engagement.

It’s typical to narrow the scope to ensure the participants are not overwhelmed. For instance, a consideration of integrity in the workplace might be considered rather than trying to cover all of your organisation’s values. This would apply if integrity is considered a critical enabler of your success.

While the survey provides useful insights, supplementing it with one-to-one interviews enables deeper consideration of cultural issues uncovered by the survey. With permission from the board or committees, we regularly invite participants, who have shared concerns, to engage in a one-on-one session to explore their responses more deeply.A cultural audit empowers a board or committee to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening in a workplace – from management to the frontline.

The comprehensive results of a cultural audit aim to provide insights for critical questions, such as:

  • Do people understand our organisational values (culture) and are they aligned with them?
  • Is there cultural/value misalignment within our teams? 
  • Where was the biggest gap between actual and desired culture/values?
  • Are there areas which raise concerns with respect to risk to the business?
  • What is the potential cost of these issues (in terms of strategic achievement, reputation, retention, and compliance)?
  • Which values should the organisation focus on to provide the best outcome for the organisation and its stakeholders?

All too often our clients get a surprise – real insights that they weren’t always expecting. For example, they may have doubts about the integrity of management only to find that it’s very strong in many areas of the business, e.g.: it may only be a single business unit experiencing issues. This new knowledge empowers action and improved focus - ultimately leading to better performance and improved governance.Cultural audits are an excellent way to identify a wide range of risks – including those that could impact your reputation, revenue, and strategic achievement.

Engage RSM for your cultural audit

Cultural audits are an excellent way to identify a wide range of risks – including those that could impact your performance, risk management and reputation.

RSM Australia’s risk advisory teams have a strong track record in delivering cultural audits in relation to key values such as integrity and safety.  We have also delivered cultural audits on key enabling behaviours, such as change management and risk management. 

Our extensive experience ensures that we provide an approach that is designed specifically to meet your needs. We focus on the tools needed to measure the health of your organisation’s culture - be this through surveys, workshops, interviews or review of company materials (i.e. complaints). We can be engaged on a one-off basis or as part of a cyclical health check to ensure your board and executive obtain meaningful and insightful results to support the achievement of your goals.

For more information 

To learn more about cultural audits, contact your local RSM office.