How to Effectively Measure Organizational Culture and Culture Change

Do you know the difference between engagement and culture?

Countless studies have shown that a healthy organizational culture gives companies a competitive advantage. And we know that over 86% of C-Suite executives agree it’s a priority.

So why is it that less than half of those surveyed think their company culture is managed effectively? What is the gap between knowing it’s the right thing to do, and doing the right thing?

Part of the answer lies in our inability to accurately measure corporate culture…and our tendency to confuse it with employee engagement. Leaders don’t lack the will to improve their organizations…they just don’t know where to start.

Employee engagement: measuring “me”.

We’ve all taken part in surveys that measure employee engagement. During my years as a senior executive in the telecommunications sector, I’ve taken part in dozens of them.

 Do you know the difference between engagement and culture?

They all ask questions about me…

  • Do I know what’s expected of me in my role?
  • Do I have the tools and equipment I need to do my job properly?
  • Do I have a best friend at work?

Questions like these tell an organization about the day-to-day functioning of an employee within their work environment. They establish whether or not the HR department is onboarding properly, the facility is equipped with the right tools, supervisors are communicating clearly, staff meetings are productive, and there aren’t any arguments at the watercooler.

These surveys are a valuable tool, within limits. They don’t tell us whether or not employees understand the goals and values of the company. So while many companies tout their high employee engagement rates, many of them still suffer from systemic, underlying problems that result in poor corporate performance, despite all the employees feeling “engaged” at their desks.

That’s because the company lacks a cohesive corporate culture…and doesn’t know how to identify it.

Organizational culture: measuring “us”.

Engagement surveys ask about “me”. Organizational culture surveys ask about “us”…they tell leadership whether or not the individuals are working towards a common goal, despite their different roles and responsibilities.

Developing a comprehensive, culture-specific survey is vital to the health of your organization. You know the old adage: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s organizational culture in a nutshell.

A key element of a good survey tool? Demographics. You know how hard it is to maintain consistency across departments, across locations…and this is critical to the success of your company because it’s how your customers and suppliers experience your brand. What message are they taking away during their interactions with your employees?

Engagement surveys tell us whether or not everyone knows the where, what, when and how of their job. Do they know the “why”?

The symptom, the cause…and finding the cure.

Learning the difference between engagement and culture can change the way you look at your company’s success, and how to achieve it.

Think of it this way. Poor employee engagement is a symptom, not the cause, of poor corporate performance. It’s a measure of the degree to which your people have run out of gas.

So how do you fuel their productivity? You identify and explore the root cause – the poor culture. But you can’t measure anything if you don’t have a gauge that everyone understands.

There are two critical outcomes of measuring organizational culture. First, you establish a benchmark for your gauge, against which you measure future success. Think of it as a baseline to identify factors like:

  • The pockets in your business that are misaligned.
  • The amount of energy spent on unproductive work as a result of negative factors like bureaucracy, information hoarding or lack of accountability.
  • Whether or not your leadership team authentically and consistently walks the talk when it comes to the company values.
  • Ultimately, the possibility that your desired culture and the actual culture don’t match.

With that baseline or benchmark, you can measure cultural change over time in a meaningful way. You can track shifts in your culture, find the areas where your employees are running out of gas again, and address them rather than allowing them to drift off the road.

If you don’t have a dashboard to report on the progress of your various initiatives and the progress – or lack thereof – you’ll be drifting. You’ll only know if you’re making an impact if you keep monitoring the dashboard to track your performance.

It’s time to move your measurement into action.

Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.

H. James Harrington

If you’re struggling to bring your strategic plan to life, it’s time to examine the impact your organizational culture is having on your bottom line. This is particularly vital for companies that operate satellite offices…do all your remote teams understand your company culture?

We can help you demystify culture, develop dashboards and project management tools that will keep you on course – whether your team is in one office, or spread around the country. Contact us and we’ll show you how.

Did you enjoy this article? Here are three more:

Three Exercises to Strengthen Your Workplace Culture
Could Canada’s Culture Be In Crisis?
Transforming Workplace Culture: Three difficult Decisions Successful Leaders Make

This article was originally published in 2018, and has been updated.

One Comment

  • Great post Carol. You present a clear lens for demystifying the corporate culture question and visualizing real progress. Kudos.

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