Culture. It is the great indefinable of management. As more and more aspects of business life can be measured and tracked, the culture is murky and elusive. You recognize good (and bad) organizational cultures when you meet them – the joint parliamentary committee that examined the Carillion collapse forcefully described the service company’s culture of short-termism and nonchalant executive control as ” rotten “- but what exactly is it that makes an organization have a positive or negative culture? This is when things get complicated.
At a recent CMI Companions roundtable, a group of leading thinkers from business and the public sector came together to discuss the possibility of measuring culture. Participants included: Adam Marshall, Managing Director of the British Chambers of Commerce; Professor Sue Vinnicombe of the Cranfield School of Management; Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Services; and Thomas Lawson, CEO of Turn2Us. The conversation was started by Bharat Shah, president of iPsychTec, whose company uses “people analysis” for the purpose of (as he puts it) “cracking the code of culture”.
IPsychTec’s core tool, CultureScope, measures 15 “behavioral dimensions” (30 in dichotomy) within an organization. In doing so, he can draw the contours of an organization’s culture (see image 1).
Is your organization an organization where people are expected to comply? Is this a place where you are just expected to learn on the job? Is yours a culture where you are encouraged to express yourself? Do long-time employees behave differently from new hires? These are the kinds of ideas Shah and his chief behavior scientist Hani Nabeel think CultureScope can come up with. And they’ve worked with companies like HSBC to assess how the bank’s employees feel and behave in the workplace.
Why is it important to try to measure culture? Well, cultural factors can be directly related to the business well-being of an organization. Financial institutions, for example, must have a culture where people feel free to express themselves, in order to mitigate any risk of financial crime.
More often than not, the culture of an organization can prevent it from changing. Hani Nabeel spoke of an organization where CultureScope detected only a 20% chance of change. However, upon closer examination, they identified a group of people within the organization who were likely to increase the change success rate to 69%. By focusing change messages on these people, the organization was able to build momentum around the change.
Likewise, you could devote enormous resources to making your organization an inclusive culture, only to find that there are pockets within your organization that will always be resilient. Or there could be mismatches between male and female staff; or between departments … Drawing on its work around inclusion, the CultureScope team has identified seven behaviors that generally lead to inclusion (see image). They are: collectives; team concentration; active learning; compliance; success; empower; expressive.
In a particularly striking radar graph, Shah and Habeel illustrated an organization where many very innovative people were recruited, but most only lasted a few months (maximum tenure of 16 months!). As they delved into the problem, they discovered that there was a clear tension between the culture of the organization and the expectations of its hired employees to drive innovation:
In this real-life case study, Shah and Habeel illustrated an organization where attitudes towards innovation were much more closely aligned:
The presentation sparked a lively conversation. A few guests asked about individual privacy concerns when an organization regularly and systematically surveys employee sentiment. Certainly, many organizations are moving away from the traditional annual employee survey towards more frequent and scientific controls. This will keep privacy and data issues the center of attention as organizations try to become more analytical about their culture.
In a particularly interesting intervention, the CEO of a social enterprise pointed out that many organizations actively aspire to foster contrasting behaviors. After all, you don’t want your accounting departments to behave the same as the business development team. “You need your values to create friction and make people think,” he said. The trick is to make sure that the tools that attempt to measure culture do not inadvertently allow group thinking and differentiate between teams / functions / geographies etc.
The debate around organizational culture will certainly continue, and CMI will be at the center …