Measuring culture: moving beyond the quick fix to help your organisation become ‘beach body ready’

3 minute read

The ability to measure and manage culture effectively has become a cornerstone of sustainable success. Adrian Walcott from culture and values company Brands with Values highlights the need to move beyond traditional methods and embrace innovative approaches that truly capture the essence of organisational culture

Sian Harrington

Worker on beach looking at laptop with cultural health scores

Traditional methods of measuring culture are quick fixes that don't necessarily offer deep insights into the real lived culture. So says Adrian Walcott, managing director of Brands with Values, who declares that most available technology for measuring culture is merely enabling organisations to “create faster horses”. 

Conventional methods such as engagement surveys and psychometric profiling, despite their widespread use, often fail to capture the deeper dynamics at play within an organisation. These tools provide immediate data but do not necessarily reflect the underlying values and behaviours that constitute the true essence of culture. 

“These tools have allowed us to have greater immediacy, greater autonomy and give us the ability to slice and dice. And that is great. But these don't actually tell you what your culture's like. In many ways, what they do, as valuable as they are, they always give you an ultimate illusion around what your culture is,” Walcott says.

Instead, he believes, we can draw a parallel between the use of modern technology in personal health and its application in measuring business culture. Just as we rely on data from fitness trackers to make informed decisions about our health, so organisations must utilise advanced tools and algorithms to more deeply measure cultural health. 

“Technology allows us to be able to look at all these indicators around data that we use to make smarter decisions so that we can perform better and deliver greater productivity,” he says, adding that such technology can be used to help organisations to be “beach body ready” or “do the equivalent of the ultra-marathons.”

But today culture is under immense pressure from various sources, including economic challenges, technological advancements and the evolving expectations of newer generations like Millennials and Gen Z. This pressure can exacerbate cultural dysfunction, leading to decreased performance and productivity. To navigate this complexity organisations need this more nuanced approach to measuring culture.

At the heart of Walcott's argument is the intrinsic link between values and culture. He says that personal values significantly influence organisational culture, shaping behaviours, communication and overall organisational dynamics. The alignment between personal and organisational values is crucial for achieving cultural harmony and high performance.

HR, therefore, should look to address the gaps in traditional methods by measuring culture through the lens of values, introducing concepts like cultural health scores and algorithms that assess the sense of belonging, alignment with personal values, toxicity and shared future visions among employees. These tools aim to provide more nuanced insights into the health of the organisational culture beyond surface-level engagement metrics. 

Middle management plays a crucial role in translating cultural values into everyday practices, but Walcott highlights the "middle management crisis," where the success of cultural initiatives often hinges on the ability of middle managers to interpret and act on cultural data. Equipping these managers with robust tools and data is essential for bridging the gap between strategic goals and operational execution.

By understanding the values that drive behaviour leaders can better navigate the complexities of managing people and fostering a positive culture. This approach enables a shift from anecdotal evidence to data-driven insights, enhancing the effectiveness of cultural initiatives.

Lessons learned

  1. Embrace advanced tools: Move beyond traditional engagement surveys and psychometric tests to utilise tools that provide deeper insights into organisational culture
  2. Focus on values: Understand that personal and organisational values are the foundation of culture and crucial for achieving alignment and harmony
  3. Measure cultural health: Use metrics like cultural health scores and sense of belonging to identify and address areas of cultural toxicity
  4. Provide actionable data: Equip leaders with data-driven insights to make informed decisions about cultural initiatives
  5. Empower middle management: Ensure middle managers have the tools and understanding necessary to implement cultural values effectively
  6. Align future vision: Evaluate how well the organisation’s vision aligns with the values and mindsets of its employees to foster innovation and adaptability.

Adrian Walcott will be speaking at a webinar with Brand With Values and PwC on 28 June analysing productivity data from the largest ever study of UK corporate culture. Engaging with more than 6,400 individuals, spanning more than 30 industries and encompassing all age groups the study captures a panoramic view of the nation's sentiments and insights. You can register to join here

Published 12 June 2024
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