Written by Andrew Cocks
According to research by Deloitte, 87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement amongst their top challenges. A key part of addressing these challenges, and creating a high-performance culture driven by engaged employees, is to disentangle the two. But this is something that many companies struggle with, particularly when it comes to measurement.
Both culture and engagement deliver major benefits. A high-performing culture helps organizations stay agile, customer-focused, and deliver on their strategic objectives in line with their company values. Engaged employees are more productive and are less likely to leave.
While both are important and closely connected, each is very different in nature and needs to be measured using specific methodologies. The problem is that companies often use the same tools to monitor both. For example, surveys that are supposed to be measuring aspects of culture are actually engagement surveys in disguise. If you aren’t clear on what you are measuring, then both your cultural change and employee engagement programs will fail to deliver to their potential.
The best way to understand the differences between the two is to think of employee engagement as focusing on the ‘I’ and culture as about the ‘We.’ So engagement is related to the personal views and opinions of employees about their employer and place of work. Thus engagement surveys might indicate how likely someone is to remain at a company for the long term and can take in factors such as advocacy and productivity. Engagement can be damaged or even destroyed quickly by the actions of a manager or other factors, for example.
Culture, on the other hand, rests on core values that can be buried deep within an organization and can be difficult to quantify or assess objectively. At a basic level, it is about “the way we do things around here.” Changing culture is tough and time-consuming because it’s often self-reinforcing. To make a difference in company culture, you need a sustained culture change program or experience a major external factor, such as a merger or acquisition.
Measuring employee engagement is important because there is a direct link between engaged staff and retention, productivity, and the bottom line. As this basic premise is the same across all organizations there are standard methodologies for measuring engagement that you can adopt.
Culture is different. Measuring culture is important because organizations want their culture to support their strategic objectives without conflicting with company values. You need to start by understanding where the culture is now, to help you plan what needs to change to create a high-performing culture. Unlike employee engagement, culture is more focused on an organization’s specific priorities and vision, so off-the-shelf surveys won’t work.
Not only are culture and engagement measured for different reasons, but they have to be assessed differently. For example, to monitor engagement levels you can look at the results of your engagement survey and see the extent to which employees are engaged or not based on the scores you receive. You can then look at how to make improvements. Essentially it is simple to see how you are doing and to make comparisons with previous years or similar organizations.
With culture, on the other hand, there are no right or wrong answers. The organization has to define what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, based on its values and business strategy. These perspectives on culture will vary greatly between organizations. The culture that a bank is looking for is going to be very different to that of a start-up, for example.
To measure (and change) culture the first step is to develop a self-awareness of what your prevailing culture actually is and then assess the gap between this and the ideal future state. An initial step is to explore leadership and management behaviors, as these are key to defining and reinforcing culture.
Next, measure the current experience of employees. While this step will build on existing employee engagement measures, it should be treated as a separate exercise to traditional engagement surveys. For example, staff should be free to describe how their current experience compares with what they perceive to be the future ideal. In particular, you need to understand how closely aligned this future ideal is to the culture goals defined by your corporate strategy, values, and vision. Is it a controlling, creative, competitive, or cooperative environment, and how does this vary between subsidiaries or departments? Categorizing your culture provides an essential common vocabulary for how you discuss current and target culture and the changes you need to make.
To drive culture change focus on the management actions that can encourage the behaviors you want. To develop a high-performance culture the organization needs to consistently reinforce these behaviors rather than those that maintain the status quo. Ensure you continue to measure these behaviors alongside traditional engagement metrics such as attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions, but use separate tools that recognize the difference between the two.
If you want to create a high-performance culture driven by engaged employees you need to disentangle the two and understand where your culture currently sits. Use the right methodologies for measuring each area – as there is no one size fits all process or tool that covers both.
Learn more about the Tivian’s Culture Quest toolkit and how it can help you move to a high-performing culture here.