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".

Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis

"Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" is a complementary book series, specifically aimed at enhancing how leaders respond to times of crisis.

The books cover concepts such as how to come out of this crisis stronger, culture, leadership agility and learning, what makes great teams. Also included are essential skills to enable us to start having conversations about moving forward while taking appropriate actions.

Read on for more information about the book series:

Or, Download Now

Coming Down the Mountain

Part One, Coming Down the Mountain, looks at how to come out of this crisis stronger:

  • The Three Stages of Crisis
  • Letting Go of Our Past
  • Following a Script From a Different Century
  • The New Normal
  • Coming Down the Mountain
  • Why Culture Matters
  • Next Steps
  • Appendix one: 3 X 3: Crisis, Culture and Change
  • Mindset Assessment: Will You come Out of This Crisis Stronger?

The Culture Conversation

Recognising, as we move forward, how important organisation culture is, Part Two outlines the Culture Conversation:

  • The Culture Carriers
  • Look, Listen, Learn
  • The Building Blocks
  • Culture Is A System
  • Is the Organisation Managing Its Culture?
  • What Makes the Business Special?
  • One Culture or Many?
  • Measurement
  • Strategy Versus Culture
  • A Team of Teams
  • Without Leadership You Ain't Got Much
  • The Orxestra Change Model
  • Culture Assessment

Leadership, Learning and Agility: The Way Of The Dolphin

Part Three explores the need for leadership agility and what that implies: Leadership Agility and Learning - The Way of the Dolphin:

  • Agility is a Way to Think
  • Bass and the Shark
  • Agility and Speed of Learning
  • The Way of the Dolphin
  • Conclusion
  • Assessment: How Good a Coach Are You?

Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams

Drawing on the reality that tomorrow's organisation will be a team of teams, Part Four examines what it means to be an outstanding team - Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams:

  • Who We Were is Who We Are
  • It's All About Culture
  • Organisational Lessons from Nature
  • The Organisation of Tomorrow
  • Building a Great Team
  • Team Assessment

When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper - It's Time To Sharpen Your Saw

Part Five moves beyond leadership as a philosophy and drills down into essential skills - When the Trees Get Bigger and the Forest Gets Deeper, It's Time to Sharpen Your Saw:

  • Are You The Leader They Need?
  • Assessing Your Organisation's Leadership Balance
  • If Ever There Was a Time to Listen - It’s Now
  • The Listening Tree
  • To Lead Is To Care
  • 50 Ways To Say You Care - In a Covid World
  • If You Are Not Living Your Own Story, You Are Living Someone Else's
  • Resilience Assessment

Download your complementary copy of "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis" from TRANSEARCH Downloads.

Do You Measure Culture?

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.
  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. 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.

The tools that TRANSEARCH International (powered by Orxestra®) uses provide a unique perspective regarding culture, performance, leadership and team 'fit'.

The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture
transearch.com (PDF)

For a great organisation, culture isn't an abstract or vague concept … it's real … it speaks to people. It's not a competitive advantage … it's a competitive imperative.

To survive is to adapt. "Are you managing your culture?" If any of the seven questions that follow receives a negative response, the answer is, almost certainly, "not so much."

Read "The 7 Questions Every CEO Should Ask About Culture" leadership insights