6 Tips for Writing A Great Culture Audit

6 Tips for Writing A Great Culture Audit

If you’re interested in being named a Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For® next year, you probably already know about a key step of our evaluation process: The Culture Audit.

One of the most common questions we get from 100 Best Companies list applicants is: “How do I write a great Culture Audit?”

The Culture Audit asks questions about your people practices, policies, and other data related to how both HR and leadership alike work to build a strong culture. Sometimes knowing exactly what to include is challenging for newcomers. You might wonder:

  • What exactly does Great Place To Work and its team of Culture Audit evaluators need to know?
  • How long do the responses to each Culture Audit open-ended question need to be?
  • What differentiates a “good” application from a “great” application?
  • We’re here to set the record straight. Whether you’re a new applicant or a returning contender, these tips should help you write a stellar Culture Audit that helps us better understand your company’s culture.

1. Paint a vivid picture of your workplace.

When writing about your company’s programs, what we’re looking for is an understanding of what it is, how frequently it’s practiced, who it serves, how it benefits employees, and why your company thinks the practice is important.
You don’t need to take up too much space describing your philosophy behind every practice/program – just summarize your overall approach.

What helps us get clear insight into your workplace?

  • Don’t just list out your key programs and practices. Tell us how those programs are unique and illustrate your company’s culture.
  • Tell us how each program impacts employees.
  • If you want to provide several examples of a practice in action, include them in your supplemental materials. (This includes employee stories, copies of emails, etc.)

2. Know our scoring methodology.

This is a competition – and many wonder how they can get ahead of the pack. What exactly is Great Place To Work looking for in your responses?

We have a methodology that allows us to score your responses. The best applications will show us that your company’s philosophy and people practices have the following qualities:

  • Variety: There is a breadth of programs, policies, and methods for implementation.
  • Originality: Programs, policies, and practices are unique and creative, and “bear the mark of the company.”
  • All-inclusiveness: Programs, policies, and practices are for everyone – not just for managers and above.
  • Human Touch: There is a sense of appreciation, generosity, and warmth in programs and policies.
  • Integration: Programs and policies linked by a central theme, an overarching framework in which the programs are delivered.

Great applications will show us how your company and your programs possess all of these characteristics.

3. Focus on quality over quantity.

While we love enthusiasm, we don’t award extra points for a novel-length Culture Audit. The best Culture Audits are usually concise and focused on substance over fluff, but still convey warmth.

The maximum page length of a Culture Audit is now 225 pages (approximately 15 single-spaced pages per Culture Audit open-ended question). But some of the best we’ve seen range between 50-100 pages.

There’s no minimum length for a Culture Audit, but we do recommend you provide enough information so that we clearly understand what it’s like to work at your company and why your practices are unique. Keep in mind that this is a competition: a very short, bulleted list of programs with no context is not very helpful to us, and might make your workplace practices sound uninspired.

Some space-saving tips:

  • If you’re writing about the same program twice, you can describe it with details once, then quickly refer back to it in other responses (i.e. “See ‘Hiring: Hiring Process’ response for more details about the university recruiting program.”).
  • Employee quotes and anecdotes are not always necessary to describe each of your programs in action – use them when you think they’re needed to add color to the practice.
  • If you have offices that have many individualized cultural practices, try to limit the number of these “local” examples in your application. We’re aiming to understand your culture as a whole (with some local examples thrown in to illustrate how your culture is practiced in action).
  • Avoid pasting in text from HR/employee handbooks – we don’t need to know the technical legal nuts and bolts of each program.
  • It's not necessary to go into great detail for “standard” practices – you don’t need to thoroughly describe things like regular team meetings, open-door policies, EAPs, etc. The evaluators reviewing your submission are very knowledgeable about HR topics and will already know what these practices are.

4. Stay organized.

Keep in mind that there’s a person on the other end of your application reading through your entire Culture Audit. A clear narrative will help us easily see how your workplace practices are integrated, without having to search through your application.

How can you structure your application to be more easily read?

  • Call out distinct programs and practices using bullet points and/or bold, colored formatting (or ALL CAPS). You may find it useful to list the names of programs at the top of the response, then describe the programs in separate sections following the list.
  • Our evaluators love hearing about new programs – clearly label any new programs that were included since your last year’s application, but even for first-timers, it helps us to see things clearly labeled as “new/updated” so we can tell that you are constantly innovating in improving your workplace. Clearly label these practices by writing “NEW” or “UPDATED” in front of them.
  • If you have multiple people filling out your Culture Audit, review it at the end of the process to make sure it seems cohesive and the formatting/organization is consistent throughout the application.

5. Use supplemental materials to tell your story.

Sometimes, you might feel your written response doesn’t do your company’s unique program justice. You might consider uploading or linking to supplemental materials that accompany your application and provide more detail that can’t easily be captured in your text responses.

Many companies choose to submit photos, videos, and samples of materials that will aid our evaluators in getting a feel for your unique company culture. Some additional examples include:

  • Annual reports, proxy reports, news articles, press releases
  • Employee communications: newsletters, videos, executive emails or phone messages, intranet pages, etc.
  • Recruiting and orientation materials
  • Values/mission statements, corporate slogans, corporate philosophy
  • Layoff and severance communications and materials
  • Company history, profiles of founders and/or influential leaders, executive speeches
  • Photos and/or videos of employees at work or participating in company activities
  • Samples of training materials
  • Letters related to your company’s recognition programs
  • Anything else that you feel will help us to gain a clear picture of your unique workplace culture!

Some companies create websites to house this information. If it’s well-organized, it can be helpful, but it’s absolutely not required and doesn’t mean you’ll get a better score.

Providing an overabundance of supplemental materials will also not increase your score. Use materials when necessary: avoid submitting hundreds of photos or hours of videos.

Please note that Great Place To Work is no longer accepting physical supplemental materials.

6. Summing it all up.

Stay focused on writing thoughtful responses that reflect the “flavor” of your company. Write like you’re trying to convince your friend or family member that they should work there. Avoid sending too much information so your message isn’t lost on us, but enough information that Great Place To Work knows exactly WHY your workplace is better than the rest.

We’re looking forward to seeing your application for the 2018 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For List. Good luck!

Tabitha Russell Wilhelmsen