Why Culture Assessments are Failing our Leaders

Workplace Cultural Assessment Results“What’s your biggest problem in business these days?” I’ve been asking leaders this question at every opportunity. My research shows the responses come down to three areas: changing demographic expectations, disruption, and managing profitable growth.

And the follow up questions almost all lead back to culture. More and more leaders are jumping on the culture assessment bandwagon – yay! But many are falling into the same trap that previous employee engagement or customer surveys led them into. We’ve become so enamored dissecting the data that we fail to act in a way that sustainably moves our organizations forward. We fail to look beyond the numbers, to uncover the narratives that are at play.

At the Culture Connection, we’re passionate about our cultural values tools, but we’re even more passionate about using them to go deep into our clients’ organizations. That’s where we find the stories – the unique combinations of behavior, process and technology the each workplace is telling. And the best stories are not the ones that CEO’s or Executive Directors believe are being told, it’s the stories coming from within the hearts and minds of the people doing the work.

Seek to Understand

We all have stories. Our interpretation of events can create multiple stories even though we experience the same thing. One of my clients was excited to see his employees asking for more mentoring/coaching in his culture assessment. He LOVES mentoring. He jumped right in and passionately set up an internal mentoring program.

We did a follow up assessment and mentoring/coaching did not make the top 10 values in the current culture. This time we went out and listened to the stories about what mentoring and coaching meant to the employees. Their description was one of more immediate and frequent feedback from their managers.  With the right script in hand, the organization was able to respond and make a meaningful difference in their culture.

I’m doing all the right things

Sometimes a cultural assessment is run to confirm all the good things going on. Clarifying roles and responsibilities, streamlining processes, and aligning policies: my client was working hard. Surely his assessment would highlight the fruits of his efforts. What showed up? Confusion.

While he was running with his well-meaning list of improvements, his staff were struggling under the rate of change. Not only was the volume of change difficult to assimilate, it was coming at different rates through varying parts of the organization. The twist in this tale was the need to upskill the leadership team on change management and to build a more cohesive leadership team. What good time story might you be telling yourself about your culture?

If only our employees cared

I recently worked with a health care organization where leadership agreed they had very good people and things were going well. However, they did see an opportunity to bring more fun and community into their workplace. People seemed stuck in their silos and there was a group who insisted on working behind closed doors. One route was to rewrite the story by creating the often used mandatory team building occasion which, in my opinion, is a true oxymoron. Or mandate an open door policy.

However, the sequel to this story was the employee focus groups based on their culture assessment results. Once the employees got together and started describing the workplace, they found out they all had the same desire to be more connected. Within days of the focus groups, the employees started job shadowing either other, dropping in for collaborative chats and even posting invites on their doors for people to come on in! It’s not the data that makes the transformation, it’s the stories that write the new chapter.

Numbers are not the answer

No matter what the data collection exercise is in your business, numbers are only a starting point. The best tools provide opportunities for conversations and storytelling. In today’s world we need to find fresh ways of servicing the new generations in our workforce and customer base. We need to be innovative to rise above disruption. We need to adapt to new business models to grow our businesses. And we need to be curious about our culture.

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