Doing the maths: Why culture can be quantified

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Surely what you're doing is measuring a substitute for culture, ie behaviours, by conducting a gap analysis against intended behaviours. You're still not measuring culture unless you define culture ...


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Not only is it possible to quantify culture, it's essential to building a profitable business

Knowing what culture is and how it can be measured are challenging hurdles to overcome. Quite often culture is mistaken for the organisation’s values or levels of engagement. While these factors are a powerful force for driving organisational performance, metrics such as employee engagement tend to rise and fall in response to transient business choices, which affect employee sentiment.

In reality it is all down to how the people and place behave. If companies are unable to see, describe or measure behaviours it becomes incredibly difficult to measure culture. Only by taking a step back to identify the behaviours aligned to the company values and business strategy can the company begin to place a number on its culture.

Achieving a significant shift in performance and organisational health requires businesses to move beyond structures, processes and systems to address individual and organisational behaviours at their core. Understanding culture can help unlock the full potential of an organisation and improve its impact on consumers, employee experience and the wider community.

How can companies put a number on their culture?

Unsurprisingly, a firm’s culture is influenced by a number of factors. Identifying these variables is part of the battle, but a good place to start is recognising the relationship between employee perception (the people) and how the organisation views itself (the place). For example, take a subject like escalating internal issues. A firm may genuinely believe that it’s encouraging this kind of behaviour within the team, but if staff don’t feel able to escalate challenges to the senior level then something is going wrong.

Whether it is due to fear of being criticised or a poor relationship with senior management, recognising this disparity can help businesses to identify areas for improvement – both company-wide and on an individual level. However, to achieve this goal firms will need to look at how well their values align with how their employees and organisation behave.

By looking closely at these discrepancies businesses will be able to measure how successful they are at marrying the needs of the business with the expectations of their employees – and actually quantify their findings in the process. How close together – or far apart – these two variables (the people and place) are will produce statistics that determine the company’s culture. There are scientifically-validated approaches to securing this level of data and it can be generated very quickly, but organisations need to prioritise the insights to address the business challenges that will drive their business forward, e.g. behaviours that prevent customer-centricity, inhibit performance, hinder digital transformation, restrict agile working or increase critical risks. Driving this culture change may be a long process, but it is one that pays off.

What are the benefits?

Historically very few firms have taken the time to analyse their business culture, yet the benefits can be substantial. If organisations are able to uncover the factors that influence their culture – what is successful and what needs improvement – they can begin to make informed changes that will improve the entire business.

And not just for the present. Understanding a firm’s culture can help to shape its future as well. Putting a number on culture can help firms identify what drives staff and also anticipate their responses to challenges and opportunities that the business may face, such as promoting inclusivity, encouraging innovative thinking and understanding different attitudes to risk. This can help the company add more support to teams where needed or allow individuals the opportunity to grow unhindered.

Culture isn’t an easy concept to define, but it can be quantified. Understanding the variables and drivers behind a firm’s culture can help create pinpointed interventions to drive the desired cultural changes. As such, if a firm can remove its preconceptions of culture and be willing to quantify it, the outcome will be a more successful, productive business.

In essence, leading with culture may be among the few sources of sustainable competitive advantage left to organisations today. And if you can measure it, you can manage it.

Hani Nabeel is head of people analytics at Alderbrooke

Comments

Surely what you're doing is measuring a substitute for culture, ie behaviours, by conducting a gap analysis against intended behaviours. You're still not measuring culture unless you define culture simply as behaviours, in which case why bother calling it culture? So, no, if you can't define it you can't measure it. I'd also suggest that as long as you can define it, you can manage it without measuring it. Eg if you have an intended behaviour around escalating internal issues you can just ask people whether they can do this. You don't really need scientifically-validated approaches in order to be able to do that! However that still doesn't help you manage culture if you can't define what it is.


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