Culture: You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure

Levels of change

Historically, there have been three levels of change:

  1. Transactional - do more of what we have always done, better.
  2. Transitional - significant change but we have time to evolve.
  3. Transformational - reinvention and do it now.

A fourth - exponential change - is knocking loudly on the door.

Exponential change is a series of continuous step changes, where each step is significantly greater in scope and intensity than the one that went before. Any successful change agenda that moves beyond being better at what you have always done is, literally, about changing the culture. The engine of that change? A leader who first knows how to successfully introduce the culture conversation.

How important is culture measurement?

You can't manage what you don't measure. If you don't know where you're going … don't be surprised if you don't get there. No less problematical, it's difficult to raise the bar if you don't know how high it is. Think of it this way - not measuring culture is to buy something online with the assumed belief that if you didn't choose the size it will, nevertheless, fit you when it arrives. Without measurement, culture drift can be assumed.

In the culture conversation, it's important to relatively quickly capture the culture the organisation has today (roots) and the culture that is needed (wings) for the firm to be successful in the future (two years out being a meaningful time-frame). A measure of culture that identifies today's culture but doesn't clearly capture where you need to be is just another way to say, "We know where we are, but other than that, we are pretty well lost."

Intellectually appealing as many of the sociological, linguistic and approaches focusing on values congruency may be, if the cultural journey isn't described in business terms, the top team - keeping in mind that most senior teams have a notoriously short attention span -will quickly move on to the next topic. To wit, language that sounds as if it belongs in a third-year psychology class belongs in a third-year psychology class.

StrAgility

Today's level of unprecedented uncertainty demands a culture that is both strong and agile (StrAgility). Strong enough to build commitment to the culture the organisation needs moving forward. Agile enough to "enable" the right change scenarios to unfold.

In addition to measurement, a "strong" culture draws on: a compelling purpose; the organisation's values; ensuring that "the customer" sits in every meeting; a sense of urgency; middle managers who connect strategy with action; tough-mindedness when demanded; and clear goals supported by the discipline of delivery.

"Agility," meanwhile, draws on: trust; diversity; inclusion; the right organisation design; an ethos of innovation; psychological safety of the team; ongoing coaching; appropriate freedom to act; a risk-orientation; and leaders who know how to work at the level of mindset.

As to the future, only an optimist standing on stilts would dare to even imagine that things are going to slow down any time soon. It's not a matter of one-size-fits-all.

Shaping the organisation's culture

A conversation with the Board benefits from its own way to shape the conversation - and thus measure - the organisation's culture. Working with the top team, similarly, must be approached differently. Assessing culture as central to talent acquisition? Here we are describing a third type of measurement. And when it comes to company-wide assessment of culture - again, its own measurement approach is necessary.

The challenge implicit in any approach to measurement is to steer the conversation away from a discussion/assessment around an aspirational culture (what those involved would like to see … an easy trap to fall into) to one where the future being described is both pragmatic and meaningful. We need to make this change. Is the change outlined attainable? Are the priorities clear? Are the timelines outlined practical? Do we have the team to do this?

Key question(s): Movement without measurement is momentum without meaning. How do you measure culture?

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis".