(This blog posting features excerpts from Chapter 12 in my recent book; LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture.)
“I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” ~US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
Corporate culture is also difficult to define. In fact there are hundreds of definitions of culture and over 70+ different corporate culture audits or surveys on the market to define your specific culture. I wonder if they all measure the same thing?
NOT. And that’s just one of the big problems with the current business interest in corporate culture. There is no doubt that corporate culture (the habitual work behaviours employees use to deal with each other, customers and business issues) impacts performance. That fact has been well established. But what is not clear at all is HOW culture impacts performance and just which of the many components that make up corporate culture are the real performance drivers and which are secondary or even tertiary.
The many different corporate culture audits, surveys, assessments and profiles available give you a nice visual (and even statistically significant) snapshot, but is that really measuring your culture, or some academic or consultant’s model of culture?
“Not everything that can be measured counts, and not everything that counts can be measured.” ~Albert Einstein
It’s a very important question since the decision to embark on a culture survey often leads to a “culture change program”. And the reality is, most culture change programs fail. The current estimate is about 80% failure to bring about the new culture desired.
“Would you schedule yourself for elective surgery with an 80% failure rate?”
Let’s Think This Through Together
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much
~ Helen Keller
I am frequently asked by CEOs and business leaders for my suggestions on how to decide whether or not to conduct a culture audit. Here is the list I usually bring out and together we discuss the pros and cons.
- Be very clear on your purpose. What specifically about how your organization behaves do you want to know? Is there a recurring problem or issue that is behind your desire to learn more about your culture?
- Don’t assess your company culture just for the sake of curiosity. All assessments and surveys disrupt the ‘psyche’ and normal workflow of people and often raise more questions than answers.
- Start with the end result. What specifically do you want to achieve at the end of the process? What, besides information, do you need to have from a culture assessment?
- Match Instrument with the Purpose. The instrument and approach chosen should be determined by your purpose.
- Use the survey for information and ideas to fix a specific problem, not the culture. Employees understand fixing specific problems in order to improve how work gets done, but few of us at any level can get our mind around culture change.
- Culture or Complaints? In most organizations employees aren’t often asked to give input on the business and in many cases employees use a culture audit to air their grievances, pet issues and to complain. That’s not necessarily culture but more often a sign of morale problems, poor management or work constraints.
- Culture or Climate? Be clear you are getting a culture assessment and not a ‘climate’ assessment. Climate survey (how people feel at the moment) is like the current weather report. Culture on the other hand should be more like a geological survey to determine the real underpinnings of the organization.
- Trial Run. You and your senior team should take the survey first and get a debrief so you can fully understand the process, the methodology, the cultural interpretations and the quality of the consultants. If it doesn’t feel right (and you, the CEO, should ultimately make that call), then don’t continue. If the consulting firm balks at a senior team trial, ditch the firm and find another.
And my final words on Culture Assessments:
Remember, not every business issue, or culture issue for that matter, shows up on a culture profile.
John R Childress
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.
John also writes thriller novels: novels.johnrchildress.com