Do You Measure Culture?

January 24, 2023

by John O. Burdett

Culture plays a key role in change no matter the degree of change envisaged. It’s tough to manage what we don’t measure.

Four Levels of Change

The disruptive dynamic currently battering business negates the naïve notion that change can be managed, translated into a series of workshops or framed as a program. To lead is to learn to ride the waves of change. Change thus has to become a way to think … a mindset grounded in a resilient and adaptable approach to interruption and ambiguity.

There are four 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; and
  4. Exponential – a tsunami that is merely an introduction to the next and greater tidal wave.

Culture plays a key role in change no matter the degree of change envisaged. Both transformational and exponential change are literally about reinventing the culture. The engine of culture change? A leader who knows how to successfully introduce the culture conversation.

Ongoing and unprecedented uncertainty, meanwhile, demands a culture that is both strong and agile (StrAgility). Strong enough … to build commitment to the organisation’s mission. Agile enough … to “enable” the right strategic scenario to unfold. As to the future, the only thing you can count on is that it will be different.

Culture Measurement

If you don’t know where you’re going … don’t be surprised if you don’t get there. What we don’t know we can’t address. It’s difficult to raise the bar if you don’t know how high it is. It’s essential, however, that the culture measurement express, in business terms, where the organisation’s culture is (roots) and where the organisation’s culture needs to be (wings).

Here we face the reality that if you don’t measure culture, you can’t manage it. Intellectually appealing as many of the sociological approaches and those 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. If the language employed to assess the organisation’s culture sounds as if it were drawn from a psychology textbook, then that’s where it belongs. No less important, culture is strategic. We need to understand both where we are and where we need to be.

It’s not a matter of one-size-fits-all. An interactive conversation with the Board on culture invariably demands a different way to present – and thus measure – the organisation’s culture. Similarly, transactional versus transformational change are different challenges … a difference that has to be reflected in how the culture journey is presented to those whose support is needed.

Culture Imperative: It’s tough to manage what we don’t measure.

This article is an extract from “The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture“, © Orxestra® Inc.

John O. Burdett is founder of Orxestra® Inc. He has extensive international experience as a senior executive. As a consultant he has worked in more than 40 countries for organisations that are household names. John has worked on organisation culture for some of the world's largest organisations. His ongoing partnership with TRANSEARCH International means that his thought leading intellectual property, in any one year, supports talent management in many hundreds of organisations around the world. Get in touch with John O. Burdett »

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