Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success


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Culture – How Do You Measure and Manage Yours?

Culture is the sum of everyone’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviours and the traditions of the organisation. These are the things that make cultures good and bad.

Culture exists everywhere, not just at an organisation level. It’s the living, breathing thing that – when done well – creates the foundation for strong departmental, team and project performance. Creating vibrant sub-cultures is critical for continued success and they are built on two key components: emotionally intelligent staff and engagement.

I frequently blog on the former, so this week I want to talk about the latter, because a person having engagement (or care and interest) for the job that they do, is just as important. And the way that we measure engagement these days is through an Engagement Survey.

The engagement survey has become a thing over the last 10 years. It’s popular to call it things like heartbeat, pulse, culture matters, people matters or something similar and to use weightings to come up with a score. Sometimes these scores use established tools like NPS (Net Promoter Score) so that organisations can ‘benchmark’ themselves against competitors and sometimes they are a percentage. These numbers help organisations measure how much the culture has evolved (or not) against last year.

Now I’m not against engagement surveys, per se.

What I am against is organisations sending out a complicated survey once a year and compiling the results into a 40-page PowerPoint presentation that they then proceed to do nothing with. I’m definitely against that. Not only does it make providing feedback hard, but it also discards the findings that have taken an age for people to provide and others to compile, just so they can get to a number they can talk about.

The irony of this is that it further erodes trust, confidence and the courage that people had in bringing to the fore things that are broken and the opportunities for improvement. They are swept under the carpet like yesterday’s Australian Prime Minister and the issues or opportunities go unmanaged, unexplored. Hope fades, the status quo returns and organisations comfort themselves with the knowledge that they at least asked for feedback and (maybe) commissioned some consultants to come up with some recommended actions.

Patty McCord, former Head of Talent at Netflix, talked about this in her book Powerful. She said, “Most companies are clinging to the established command-and-control system of top-down decision making but are trying to jazz it up by fostering ‘employee engagement’ and by ‘empowering’ people.”

The engagement survey has become a generic symbol of how much organisations value the views of their people and yet, if that were really the case, they’d be looking for the signs every day, not once a year through SurveyMonkey. Often these signs are hiding in plain sight.

So what are some signs that people aren’t engaged that can be seen without the need for a survey?                                                                                                                                                

  • Missed deadlines

  • Over-reliance on email to communicate

  • Poor quality outputs

  • Frequent ineffective meetings

  • Poor behaviour

  • Poor performance

  • Blind optimism

  • Burying the truth

  • Constant escalation of decisions

  • Too many projects

  • Projects that never end

  • Quiet office environments

  • Change aversion

  • Hero mentality/single points of failure

  • Frequent restructures

  • Lack of/no clear vision

  • Persistent reports about the behaviours of individuals.

If your organisation runs an engagement survey it’s important that you take the opportunity to provide feedback, then get involved in the activity that can help address what you’ve pointed out.

If you’ve commissioned a survey, then please create a full-year action plan to deal with the issues that have been highlighted and introduce new thinking and energy to demonstrate how much you care about the feedback people have provided.

Engagement surveys can be a great way to measure culture, however, looking for signs every day and acting on them immediately gives you a much better chance of maintaining the vibrancy you’ve created.