Mapping a More Measurable Approach to Culture Crafting

By Akeela Davis

“Corporate culture” as a construct is almost 40 years old and is in ever greater demand by organizations. Study after study is proving that when done right, this attractive, somewhat mysterious element is a proven star. Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey reports that 82 per cent of respondents feels that culture is a competitive advantage. Greater focus on culture creates a greater demand for more reliable measurement of culture, but is it actually measurable?

The Culture Conundrum
Measurability is essential in the managerial equation. Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” The challenges of benchmarking, and measuring changes in culture becomes apparent as organizations use traditional surveys in which they have little confidence. What is really being measured? The corporate whole? The human parts? Which parts? Does it focus on performance? Engagement? Cultural components?

Traditional surveys, feedback boxes and open-door policies go a long way to answering at least some of the questions in part. However, their limitations are revealing. In a European study for Board Agenda, 65 per cent of board respondents admitted that they were not only aware of data gaps, but did not have much culture data at all and were “unclear on the alignment between the desired and actual cultures.” Moreover, common measures often fail to address either the bigger picture or finer points in a timely manner and rarely lead to long term satisfaction, engagement and growth.

What then is culture and how might we approach the opportunity differently within our organizations? Culture is the sum total of the supported beliefs of the people who make up a collective group. It reflects their values, attitudes, tolerance, inclusiveness, language, heroes, myths, history and expectations. Culture and employee engagement are intricately intertwined. Culture defines the rules of engagement, the underlying “why” of “how” things are done.

The goal of workplace culture is traditionally geared towards productivity. As such, while strong cultures thrive throughout an organization, the impact of leadership is indisputable in defining, guiding and growing that culture in line with key growth measures.

Crux of the Culture Opportunity
While culture is touted as eating strategy for breakfast, in order for culture to take its rightful place as an equal to strategy at the proverbial table, the importance of underlying motivators must be embraced. The truth is humans are feeling-beings. The truth is that our motivations, work and non-work related, which drive us most, certainly affect our “work life”—as well as those around us.

That said, and often overlooked, a key link between culture and motivation resides at each and every point on the organizational chart, alluding to a vastly greater potential. And this is where culture investments often end, as the means of measuring motivation have been mostly diffuse or heavily invested in overly-complex mathematical models.

Case in point, U.S. companies spend approximately $720 million per year on employee engagement. In 2015, it bought them a half of one per cent increase in engagement (31.5 to 32 per cent). It 2016 it purchased a one per cent increase (32 to 33 per cent). This is the clearest indicator of a culture’s health. Traditional ways do not seem to be working.

The Heart and the Brain
To create a more measurable approach to culture, perhaps we should look at how human health measurement has evolved and still evolving. Cultural health is akin to human health in its complexity. To make test results meaningful, the medical field first had to agree on what systems, if compromised, would most likely result in the shut down of the human body.

The brain and heart were identified as the most crucial. The next step was to find other systems which, if a disorder existed, would impact the heart and brain the most negatively. Resultantly, standards of health were set and tests were developed to report and diagnose on contributing factors to system vitality—with the aim being to sustain longer life and greater involvement of the human being.

A Measure of Motivation
Taking the heart and brain metaphor into the workplace, I believe motivation and environment are of respective importance in sustaining a healthy corporate culture. Motivation makes visible the attitude, beliefs and desires driving the collective. In turn, the environment is shaped to satisfy their most important needs, along with the organization’s vision, so it may grow and be sustained.

However, while many measures have been taken to address the environmental factors of the workplace, what has been lacking, until now, is an easy, reliable measure for motivation which feeds back to organizational goals.

In this light, a little bit of math proved to go a long way in the hands of U.K. author and educator James Sale, whose “Motivational Maps” launched in 2006. It has received both ISO certification, as well as the attention of over 500 organizations in 13 countries.

Self-admittedly coming from “outside the field,” what makes Sales’ approach effective is its ability to quantify the motivation of individuals, teams and organizations—and to do so based on a relatively simple 12-minute affective, not psychometric, assessment. Targeting nine motivational dimensions, it provides powerful and applicable insight rooted in feelings, emotions and the rational mind alike.

Charting a Motivational Map
Most poignantly, Motivational Maps capture a snapshot of the living values of an organization, the levels of alignment and engagement and the degree to which expectations are being communicated and met across all nine motivational dimensions.

This holistic and practical capture defines the traditional challenge Sales originally sought to address; as such Motivational Maps allow individuals and companies to identify, benchmark and then set ongoing, measurable goals aligned to their corresponding motivational system and the desired business outcome.

An “I” on Culture: Ten Important Tips
Apart from any particular program, here are ten tips to connect best intentions with positive outcomes and keep the pulse of company culture:

  • Involve and evolve an informed, dynamic leadership;
  • Inspire all employees to live their values;
  • Instigate responsibility, accountability and recognition;
  • Institute “failure as a mechanism for growth” belief;
  • Invite motivational awareness;
  • Introduce engagement targets;
  • Implement rational engagement monitoring tools/measures;
  • Inaugurate programs to foster connections across organization;
  • Infuse trust with transparency and consistency; and
  • Initiate alignment monitoring for vision, values, mission and expectation.

Of Pulses and Knee-Jerks
Anchoring even a few of the above, is a powerful process. Measuring motivations provides insights into engagement. Engagement measured, provides the pulse check on culture and its alignment with employees’ needs. Results of the pulse check allows leadership to decide what, if anything, needs to be adjusted so that both their strategy and culture works together.

One final thought. While monitoring is important, daily or weekly monitoring must guard against knee-jerk reactions similar to those experienced by stock-market followers. That reactive, short-term thinking can be harmful to companies and impact long-term results.

Akeela Davis is a productivity, engagement and cultural strategist at Courageous Business Culture). Using Motivational Map diagnostic surveys, she co-creates solutions for optimal outcomes.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2017)

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