3 Questions We Hear Most Frequently About Managing Company Culture

Article | Accountability Insights

by | May 14, 2019

Many executives harbor misconceptions about what culture is, and how it can be changed to directly drive results. Here are three of the most frequently asked questions we hear about managing company culture.

Leaders often understand the importance of culture, but struggle to define exactly what it is and how it benefits their organization in concrete terms. Our primary challenges when consulting on culture include helping organizations understand how their work culture can be measured empirically, how it can be changed, and how it impacts their Key Results.

Here are three of the most frequently asked questions we receive regarding culture — and the answers that can help you transform your own workplace culture for the better.

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Can Managing Company Culture Really Be Measured?

This question stems from a lack of clarity surrounding exactly what workplace culture is. Here’s how we define it: culture is the way we think and act to get things done. Put simply, it’s “how we do things around here.”

Of course, you can’t establish a positive workplace culture without understanding Key Results. Unfortunately, this is actually a bigger issue than most realize: our experience is that nine out of ten executives cannot uniformly articulate what the Key Results of their company are! Imagine trying to hold people accountable for results when those results aren’t clearly defined or well understood.

Therefore, it’s crucial that leaders understand what their company needs to achieve, the steps necessary to get there, and how to measure progress along the way. Without concrete, empirical indicators of progress toward results, employees often lack the vision and commitment needed to direct performance or simply have no compass informing their choices regarding what to do next.

When developing your culture metrics, keep in mind the primary ways to identify a healthy culture: organizational performance (are we achieving our Key Results?), alignment (does feedback flow in a respectful, open, and candid way?), and accountability (is the Blame Game minimized and do people demonstrate ownership for results?). Use surveys, productivity metrics, and other hard data to take stock of these important qualities, and regularly discuss them with team members to keep them invested in the collective journey towards a better work culture.

Can Managing Company Culture Really Be Changed?

Since workplace culture is intrinsic to an organization’s brand, some believe that it cannot be changed. However, once culture has been defined as a measurable concept, it becomes far easier to understand how change can be mobilized.

None of this is to say that initiatives for changing workplace culture are easy. Every member of an organization must coordinate their efforts toward achieving both team goals and the overarching Key Results of the company. Key Results cannot be mere conceptual placeholders, but instead must drive the day-to-day actions of each individual. To be most effective, Key Results must be meaningful, measurable, and memorable.

Effective corporate leadership plays a very important role in making this happen. While every individual matters, employees tend to follow the example set by managers and executives — and if people sense that a leader doesn’t take Key Results seriously enough to change their own behavior, the needed change will never take root. The contradictions to the needed culture are loudest at the top of the organizational chart. To put it bluntly, A leader who is not bought-in to demonstrating genuine culture management is a cancer to the effort.

Does Managing Company Culture Really Impact Results?

The question of culture’s impact is perhaps the most important of all. Workplace culture is inherently tied to how individuals and teams achieve organizational goals. Therefore, cultural change goes hand-in-hand with the success of a company. If an organization does not believe a cultural initiative will affect actual business results, no one will be invested in making the shift.

If you need proof of the effect of culture on Key Results, consider the phenomenal success of companies with positive workplace cultures — companies like Apple, which is centered upon a culture of focus and accountability in the workplace.

If you still aren’t convinced, perhaps an examination of the effects of toxic workplace culture will convince you: employees in such environments often simply “vote with their feet” and seek employment elsewhere, resulting in high turnover. In fact, research shows that employees who are highly engaged — usually the result of a positive work culture — are 87% less likely to leave a company than those who feel disengaged. High turnover creates brain drain, or a loss of skills and knowledge, and makes it far more difficult to see long-term projects and initiatives through to completion.

Hopefully these workplace realities have helped clarify what work culture is, and provided some insight into how to activate change within your organization. By defining your Key Results, using tools to measure your progress towards them, and tying those results directly to employees’ day-to-day work, you can engage the entire company as you serve your own customers in a way that creates greater value in the marketplace.