How to measure culture in an organization

Employees will experience your culture in different ways and even describe it differently. With all the other challenges your business faces, We can see why culture takes a back seat. 

As Rita Gunther McGrath wrote in Harvard Business Review, the landscape has shifted from looking for that long- term, sustainable competitive advantage to managing more of a portfolio of “ transient advantages,” moving from one short-lived advantage to the next.

Sounds tough, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. But this is where culture comes in. Most organizations have been focusing on strategy and operations (understandably), and culture simply became a luxury that they would get to once they achieved some success.

We have boiled down our definition of culture to make it as clear and actionable as possible:

Workplace culture is the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and “stuff” that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued inside an organization.

To explain, we’ll start with one of the most important words: valued. Culture is ultimately about what is valued. That can include flowery “values statements” if you like, but to be honest, those statements aren’t where the power lies. Enron had nice statements in their lobby about things like integrity and honesty, but that wasn’t really valued at the end of the day, was it? 

And that means it’s complex. We listed four things in the definition that create your culture: words, actions, thoughts, and stuff. The first three are brought to life by you and your people. 

As you might expect, those three areas are often inconsistent, which is one reason why culture can be so messy. It becomes something that you have to piece together, recognizing you’ll find some contradictions along the way. For example, we’ll say we value customer service, but we’ll also say we value being strategic and focused on the long term. 

It’s the combination of what people say and what they do that will ultimately determine how those two values are balanced.

Additionally, you have to factor in the “stuff.” Forgive the technical jargon here, but “stuff” just means the non-human parts of culture.

There are more eloquent definitions out there, and there are definitions that either go deeper or broader, but we use this one because it facilitates action. 

How to measure culture in your organization

Well, it is one thing to collect data and another to something meaningful with it. Most organizations successfully create a culture survey to collect feedback from their employees to understand their perception of organizational culture. 

Merely deploying employee survey is not going to serve any purpose, if you asking for feedback make sure you are ready with actionable insights. If you fail to do so, your employees will stop giving you honest feedback. 

To measure culture in your organizations you need to first understand every organization has a different set of core values, mission, vision and goals. How most successful organizations measure culture is not by making it objective or measuring it against any other organization. Here is how they do it:

  1. Focus on cultural consistency

The challenging part with organizational culture is not if it’s good or bad, but if it is consistent or not across the organization. The bigger challenge here is to achieve that consistency along with coherence. Culture is not just behavior, it all aspects of your business. It doesn’t matter if your employees work in an office space or remotely, culture should translate identical with all of them, right from the mailroom to C-suite. 

Consistency is a major attribute to measure culture. Focus on the fact if everyone in the organization feels they are in an environment where they can contribute their best to the workplace.  If their answer is a straight, “Yes”, there certainly is consistency and if not, you know you need to revisit problem areas and take corrective measures. 

  1. Align culture and behavior

Do individual behaviors support culture? If not its time to align culture and behavior. The best organizations out there observe other organizations, they don’t replicate but they know what others are doing. But these organizations have a deeper understanding of how certain attributes are connected to their employees. 

Walmart is a very good example of aligning culture with behavior. Walmart encourages its employees to take ownership of the expenses and control anything expenditure they can at an individual level. 

  1. Culture measurement is an ongoing process

For the longest time measuring culture would be done once or twice in a year by deploying employee engagement surveys. It’s high time organizations start differentiating between engagement and culture.  

Most employee engagement surveys will give you data on engagement levels in your organization but they will rarely give you accurate data about your employees’ perception of organizational culture. 

One unsaid risk here is vague data, data that is not going to help you in any way! More successful organizations understand culture measurement is an ongoing activity and not just once a year project. 

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