Transforming and measuring culture change

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Written by Kate Pritchard

Every organisation has its own unique culture, based on its circumstances, history and location. That means that equally there is no one size fits all way to change culture – what will work in one company could fail spectacularly in another.

However, three things are clear:

Choosing the right organisational culture

Every culture fits one of four broad types – Cohesive, Creative, Control or Competitive. As the graphic below shows each has its own advantages and disadvantages which need to be recognised and understood.

Different types of business are more likely to match particular types. For example, traditional financial services firms will have a Control culture, while startup tech firms will fall into the Creative group. Additionally, different parts of an organisation might have their own sub-cultures. Sales is likely to have a Competitive culture, even if the overall business best fits one of the other three types.

This demonstrates that you need to choose the right culture for your overall business objectives, understanding any weaknesses that you need to address. For example a fintech startup may have a Creative culture but will still need to include a focus on compliance and strong processes to meet regulatory requirements.

“Look at what you want to achieve when creating a culture. For example, do you want to be more innovative, more inclusive or to encourage people to speak up? Define what you want to do and what area of culture you are looking at,” says Andrew Cocks, assessment psychologist.

The levers that can help shape your culture transformation

There are multiple levers that impact how culture develops – some are physical, some are behavioural and some are process driven.

Examples of these levers include:

1. Environment – the office/factory space itself. How is it laid out?

2. Structure – how the organisation is structured. Is it hierarchical or team-based for example?

3. Processes – looking at the policies that are in place, whether they are followed, and how they impact behaviour.

4. Communication – communication style and frequency. Is internal communication open or is information hoarded by people or departments

5. Recognition – what behaviour is rewarded (or punished)? Do people get promoted for bringing in new business at all costs, or for nurturing existing customers?

6. Leadership – how leaders behave sets the tone for what is allowed/expected of the wider workforce.

7. Hiring – is there a conscious plan to recruit for new skills and experiences? Is onboarding comprehensive and focused on helping new recruits settle in quickly?

8. Development – does the company focus on developing its people through tailored training. Or do employees have to develop themselves independently?

9. Rituals – what do everyday working practices look like? How does this translate into social activities – for example, does everyone go to the pub together on a Friday evening or just disappear off home?

10. Brand – what is the company’s reputation both externally and internally?

11. Wellbeing – how does the organisation treat its staff when it comes to their physical and mental wellbeing?

12. Empathy – do managers take the time to listen and understand their people, treating them as valued individuals?

13. Digital behaviour – what are the accepted norms around online behaviour and the use of technology?

Clearly, the switch to remote, and now hybrid, working has reduced the impact of some of these levers, such as the office environment. It has also increased the importance of areas such as wellbeing and digital behaviour. Start by looking at how these levers affect your culture – and how you can use them to drive changes in behaviour. For example, introducing a greater focus on wellbeing and strong, positive leadership behaviours can help move away from an overly Competitive culture.

Culture is not intangible – how to measure it

As this series of blogs have shown, culture is a real, tangible part of your organisation and how it operates. That means it can and should be measured, both to understand where your culture is now and also how to change it.

Start measuring by looking at the impact culture has on behaviour and attitudes, collecting feedback through practical surveys. Ask employees whether they agree with specific statements related to culture and use the findings to see where you currently are. From this you can create a gap analysis between the senior team’s vision for culture and current behaviours.

Understanding culture begins with behaviours. Find out what the assumptions are behind why people behave how they do – it normally relates to the consequences of their actions. For example, they may believe that if they speak up they will be viewed negatively. So define what you want your people to be doing in terms of behaviours – and find out what is stopping them. Changing that reality or perception is vital. For example, to build an innovative culture make sure that people are thanked for their ideas, and not punished if they don’t work.

Example statements for a culture survey, measured on a five point scale, could include:

As with all feedback simply collecting information is just the first step. You must then present the results in ways that are understandable to everyone and can lead to meaningful change – at all levels of the organisation. Using the cultural levers detailed above can help steer this change. And, finally collect more feedback to see if your actions have had the desired impact.

With thanks to Andrew Cocks, assessment psychologist, for his input.