Culture Change: The Messy Process of Measuring the Unmeasurable

Your corporate culture is the collective pattern of values, behaviours, and the unwritten rules of your organization.  It is how your organization truly operates and it is critical to your success. There has been a lot of literature over the years focused on helping companies define or harness their corporate culture but have we determined how to truly measure, and subsequently change an organization’s culture?

Ron Askkenas, in the Harvard Business Review, talks about the challenges of measuring cultural change:

(1) Culture is a soft concept. If there’s no concrete way of defining or measuring culture, then how can you change it? And (2) culture represents collective norms and behaviors. It’s hard enough to change one person’s behavior — how can you change the behavior of an entire organization?”

What we do know, however, is that leadership is a key driver in shaping the culture of your organization.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that to measure (and change) culture, we need to focus on the behaviours and values of the leaders that run it.

I had a colleague who recently experienced an attempted cultural change in his organization with the arrival of a new CEO.  The new CEO valued collaboration and thought it was important that all the plant managers across the country come together, with a common mission and training that inspired new ways to work together.  The CEO valued and behaved in a way that supported collaboration.  However, in returning back to work, ready to implement similar practices with his team, my colleague quickly discovered that the conversation with his own VP stayed the same.  It was still all about the results and how his plant compared to other plants.  It was not about collaboration.  Despite the best intentions of the new CEO, the senior leadership continued to reinforce the existing culture of competitiveness. The attempts to build a more collaborative culture failed.  Though this is a common story, culture change does not need to end this way.

We know that senior leaders will be inclined to reinforce the culture that made them successful in the first place.  Consequently, you can expect a lot of resistance from the leaders themselves who have the highest investment in things remaining the same.  This is where measuring culture change by focusing on the leader’s values and behaviours becomes so important.  When you define a new behaviour and measure success against that new behaviour, you will begin to create the change in culture you are seeking.

We believe that the best way to measure leader’s behaviour is by measuring the front line perceptions of leaders against the expectations of the new culture. By understanding any gaps, we can define actions and hold our leaders accountable for behaviours that shape the organization.  To truly ‘walk the talk’, these expectations must be linked to how you value, recognize and reward behaviour in the organization with a clear link to business success.

If you believe the notion that “you can’t improve what you can’t measure”, then now is the time to embrace the measurement of your leader’s behaviour and make your desired culture change a reality.

To find out how Lighthouse NINE Group can help with your organization’s change challenges, please call.

Christi Scarrow
Lighthouse NINE Group
One Eva Road, Suite 209 | Etobicoke, ON M9C 4Z5
Office: 416-607-5923

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