What Gets Measured…Gets Done
- Culture has three levels – Artifacts, Personal Values, Assumed Values
- The behaviors that comprise a culture can be quantified – As can an organization’s ideal
- The gap between ideal and current provides measurable opportunities for growth
- Improved cultures result in enhanced outcomes
Organizational Culture has begun to get its due in recent years. Organizations have begun to realize that their brand, the promise of what the customer should expect, is inextricably tied to its culture, what the customer actually experiences. Brand and Culture are the new “power couple” in organizational performance.
Marketers, relentless consumers and users of data, have spent billions of dollars and millions of man-hours gathering information about how an enterprise’s brand is perceived. They have reams of information that help them understand what gets the customer to the first trial. After that, though, many organizations are flying, if not blind, in the clouds with limited visibility as to what creates continuous performance. There are a host of lagging indicators: Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter Scores, ongoing sales figures. But what about the culture?
HR departments have access to any number of employee satisfaction diagnostics. Gallup has done extensive survey work on employee engagement. All of these efforts nibble at the periphery of culture but do not address it directly, because they cannot. The kinds of things these surveys measure are actually outcomes of culture.
Gallup suggests an “audit” of an organization’s culture, but does not get at a measurable model, only bespoke descriptions of some of the expectations that culture produces.
So, what is the definition of organizational culture? Many, including Gallup, would say that it boils down to “how we do things around here.” While that is certainly a component of it, Edgar Schein, Emeritus Professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, would argue that it is more complex than that. He would suggest that like a lily pond, there is much more going on than what can be seen on the surface.
A dynamic, living thing, culture is more like the way in which people are implicitly expected to think, act and behave in order to fit in. It is reflected in the shared beliefs and values that guide the thinking and behavior styles of the members.
Culture rests on three pillars: Artifacts, visible identifiers that provide us clear signals about the culture such as dress codes, attendance requirements, mission, vision and values statements, furniture and office environments; Members’ Values, the way the members act in concert with their values and how they tackle problems; and Assumed Values, which typically are hidden beliefs, attitudes and expectations and observed values that control certain behaviors.
Culture does not respond to just one person and is slow to change. People and their values influence the culture and are influenced by it. Leaders, by their position of authority, do have a disproportionate influence on the culture. A new CEO can, over time and with great effort, assemble a team that, through continuous, repeated actions, can help a culture to shift. By contrast, one individual coming in and instituting a host of procedural changes may succeed in a temporary shift in the climate within that person’s span of control; however, absent support from others, the culture will assert itself, and that person’s efforts, whether for good or ill, will be nullified in time.
The behaviors that are expected can be measured and can be normed against others in an effort to institute best practices and enhance performance. More importantly, the organization can engage in defining, articulating and quantifying its ideal set of behaviors, and that ideal can be measured against what currently exists. Much of that ideal definition can also be derived by examining the values that underpin the branding efforts ongoing in external communication.
Once the gap between the current and ideal cultures have been measured quantitatively, the organization can plan ways in which it can tackle projects that will assist in closing that gap. One of the more effective strategies is to examine the impact that leaders have on the existence of the behaviors identified in these diagnostics. By providing leaders with insight into their accountability in the existence of the behaviors that the members believe they need to exhibit, they can decide whether or not they wish to continue in the style they currently display or to change how they lead.
The effectiveness of this internal messaging ultimately connects to traditional outcomes. There is a strong correlation between constructive, adaptive cultures and higher organizational performance. It has been my privilege to assist in these efforts, and it is truly rewarding to see what happens when the leaders of an organization commit to adapting their behaviors to move toward the ideal. It reflects in the pride of its execution by the members. The meeting of effective internal messaging (culture) in support of the external (brand) results in sterling performance.