We all know culture is important. That is why we invest the time and resources to focus on improving it. Yet, how does an organization really know if the organization is making progress? It makes me think back to car trips when my kids were young and they were always asking me, “are we there yet”? I was armed with maps (yes, paper maps as well as several map apps), a watch, and a math word problem to help my kids understand the answer to that question. Metrics and insights, even if not fully grasped, helped to make a long trip feel shorter.
It’s no wonder that this question persists when it comes to culture work. After all, it’s unlike many of the more quantifiable questions we often ask: have we reached our financial goal? Have we launched our new product on time? Those answers are knowable: we have metrics and we can see the progress. But, the “are we there yet?” question for a culture initiative can be elusive for executives and HR leaders alike.
Progress Pulse Surveys Offer Insight
One of the best ways to measure progress on culture initiatives is to ask employees for their feedback. This can be done using a pulse survey. However, the term “pulse survey” can mean different things to different companies which leads to lots of questions on how to execute the survey. Do we ask a few questions to all employees, all questions to some employees, some questions to some employees? Do we repeat the same key questions quarterly? Focusing heavily on the timing, the number of questions, and key questions can lead an organization down a path of asking “are we doing the pulse this month?” instead of the key question: “are we there yet?”
To effectively assess progress on a culture initiative, the pulse survey should be thought of as a ‘progress pulse’. A progress pulse is designed to gauge perceptions of the actions being taken to achieve a culture transformation objective. This specific type of pulse is a check-in to see if the culture initiatives that have been started within the organization are having the intended outcomes.
In structuring a progress pulse program, lets consider the following:
- Timing: The progress pulse should be taken when enough culture transformation efforts have been initiated within the organization and that some progress would be expected by leadership. The best time to have a progress pulse is when you’re ready to ask the question “are we there yet?” or even “are we getting closer?” if you want to assess intermediate progress.
- Survey Audience: In terms of who should be invited to provide feedback – that depends upon where in the organization progress is expected. If the sales organization has been the main function that is part of the culture actioning initially, then focus on the sales organization to participate. However, if the full organization has been involved in the culture work, then all employees may be invited or a random sample across all employees. It should be driven by the original goals identified at the onset of the culture work.
- Survey Content: The questions on your progress pulse should be designed to provide maximum value to business leaders. One approach is to ask the same questions over time on each progress pulse. This will provide trend data and can answer questions such as “is engagement improving over time?”. Our recommended approach is to use progress pulses as opportunities to uncover more of the culture transformation story. This will provide you with information on where problems are occurring most often, what the potential causes may be, and what barriers are impeding progress. For example, an organization might ask a trend question about seeing cooperation across different departments and groups. In addition, they might also ask open ended questions relating to progress such as ‘what are the current obstacles to cooperation across groups?’ and a question to determine where collaboration is improving within the organization. By combining these types of trending questions and progress questions, business leaders can determine what is going well, what is not going well, and where to focus their efforts.
At times, the question of “are we there yet?” will be answered with a ‘not yet’. That was true of my kids in the car. If we’re cruising down the highway, we’re still not there yet. The same is true with culture work. A progress pulse can provide more information about how close we are to the destination, where we may need to adjust our path, and what we can do differently to get there faster.