Editor’s Note: This blog is the second in a four-part series.
Long odds. No shot. A snowball’s chance in hell. All of these phrases connote something that has little chance of happening. When one hears them – especially when it pertains to a potentially positive outcome of work they’re doing – demoralization is sure to follow.
Organizations struggling to maximize their investment in culture often focus on shortcomings with action planning and actioning, without stopping to consider whether a lack of proper upstream work left them with long odds to begin with. CultureIQ defines strategy/pre-measurement missteps as those that occur prior to employee data gathering; in this blog, we take a deep dive into these missteps that dramatically reduce the chance that a culture initiative will drive meaningful impact.
Misstep #1: Isolation
When a culture initiative disappoints, one of the first areas to investigate is to what degree the CEO/leadership team aligned culture with the organization’s strategy and current environment. If they isolated it and viewed it as an HR-centric, standalone, check-the-box activity, there was little chance of success.
- Consequences. Companies that isolate culture work run a dramatically higher risk that culture is improperly defined, or not defined at all. In addition, less attention paid by the CEO, board and broader leadership team at the outset causes a lack of buy-in that almost always leads to lower enthusiasm for taking consistent, meaningful action down the road.
- CultureIQ’s view. Leadership teams that formally link the company’s desired growth paths (what we refer to as planned strategies) and current environment (emergent requirements) with defined elements of culture (a process we have developed called CultureTarget) not only drive early-stage alignment, they make what is often felt as hard to get one’s arms around or esoteric as real. This can drive even the most hardened of business leaders to see culture work as highly practical and worth their time.
Misstep #2: No Definition
A great question to ask a business leader is how he or she defines “good” culture in their organization. Those who struggle to answer in any meaningful way – which happens more than you might expect – are guilty of our second misstep: They start the work without a true end in mind.
- Consequences. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. Those leading culture journeys without an end destination will find it difficult – if not impossible – to assess if they’re on the right track, and are much more likely to put data gathering efforts into the field that will yield confusing and false signals, and obscure the most meaningful opportunities for improvement.
- CultureIQ’s view. Because there isn’t a singular version of what good culture is, every leadership team must gain an understanding of how their organization’s unique combination of planned strategies and emergent requirements prioritize which areas of culture are relatively more – and less – important. When this is known, it focuses data gathering on critical elements and avoids wasting time assessing areas that even if found to be strong will have less of an impact on achieving a specific set of end goals.
Misstep #3: Improper Definition
A related – but important to isolate – misstep with defining culture is confusing another term for it; the use of “values” and “engagement” are the two we see as most common.
- Consequences. Organizations that synonymize values with culture often think that because they’ve established values means that the strategic work previously mentioned doesn’t need to be done. Values and culture are different, however; while values can stay relatively stable as an organization grows, elements of culture that must be prioritized and deprioritized will constantly change (more on this in a bit). We believe that engagement, which is commonly used as a proxy for culture, isn’t in and of itself enough to measure, as it focuses only on an employee’s commitment and connection to an organization. Those organizations trying to make critical strategic shifts should likely want a portion of the population that cannot support the shift to exit – retaining them will likely be damaging in the long run.
- CultureIQ’s view. While values work is important to bind a leadership team together and to reinforce in everyday corporate life, a different set of work is required to define culture. When it comes to engagement, we see it as an outcome of culture, not equivalent to it; the elements of engagement should gain our attention when appropriate.
Misstep #4: Set It and Forget It
The final strategic misstep is the belief that once the elements of today’s “great” culture are established, that they don’t need to be revisited. This might be true if an organization never intended to enhance/alter its planned strategies or new emergent requirements never reared their heads. Both assumptions, however, are far from practical.
- Consequences. Companies that take a “set it and forget it” mentality often fall into the trap of asking the same questions of employees over and over and obsessing over driving better alignment to benchmarks in the same areas from year to year. This causes actioning to stagnate and often decrease in impact as strategic or market shifts now require different elements of culture to be prioritized and others that may have previously been important to be less so.
- CultureIQ’s view. Typically, we advise an organization to revisit its definition of ideal culture established through our CultureTarget process on an annual basis. By doing so, it allows a leadership team to communicate any major changes that have been made to the organization’s planned strategies and to understand any changes in culture priorities that result. Major emergent strategies (COVID-19, for example, that forced many employees to work from home and as a result drove up the need for collaboration, one of the seven dimensions of our Culture Framework) may cause reconvening at other intervals to be necessary.