Measuring Culture: 5 attributes and questions that help you define Strong and weak culturesThere is growing evidence that organizational culture matters more than it ever has, hence why you should be measuring culture. It might just be one of the last remaining places where you company can derive a true competitive advantage. Competitors can quickly copy your products, your processes, and even your cool new business model—but it’s harder to copy a culture.

Once organizations realize this, they turn and face their culture with a sense of almost embarrassed urgency. They can’t believe they were just letting that mediocre culture sit there without doing anything for all these years, but that’s going to change. Quick, get a culture assessment, run an employee engagement survey—someone tell us what we need to do to make our culture better!

But before you subject your people to one more survey, I want you to answer one question first: what will make your culture strong?

Most of the surveys out there tell you one of two things: (a) how “good” your culture is, based on whatever criteria the consultants think will impress you; or (b) how happy your employees are with the way you run things. Those data can be useful, but they will never tell you what makes your culture strong.

To get that, you need to start with what is. Not good, or happy, or unfavorable—just what is. What is it REALLY like to work there, based on criteria that your employees will intuitively understand and connect to as human beings.

That’s what we measure in our Workplace Genome assessment. For example, take the ever-popular topic of innovation. We all want a “culture of innovation,” right? Well, it’s not that simple. Our assessment gives you data on 8 different building blocks related to innovation, including:

  • Experimentation
  • Permission to hack
  • Creativity
  • Risk taking

Your employees know your culture. They know if this is a place where you can really take risks or not. They know if creativity is truly valued. They know if hacking something for a new purpose is the kind of thing that gets you in trouble or not. And you can put “innovation” on posters on your wall until you’re blue in the face, but you’re not going to get the innovation you need, unless (a) you figure out how to support the right behaviors, down to this building-block level, to make innovation happen, and (b) you understand how much innovation you actually need.

And that’s the sound of the second shoe dropping. Maybe you don’t need as much innovation as you thought you did. Or maybe you need more. The point is, you don’t really know. But here’s the good news: knowing what you have is a fabulous way to figure out what you need, because you will start to see the patterns. Those patterns will frame the conversations you need to have about what truly drives your success. And aligning your culture with what drives success is what makes it strong.

So stop trying to pick the perfect measurements ahead of time. Measure it all, and then take action on what truly matters.

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