We recently had a question in our Members Forum about how to go about measuring company culture: one of our members had read up quite a bit about how having a strong company culture could help him and was keen to take it seriously and show his team that he wanted to focus on it this year, but didn’t really know how he could start to measure it. After three drafts of an answer, I wrote a summary and then arranged a follow up call with him to discuss it further, as I felt there was no easy way to cram into a short post, what is in essence a very complex task.

I have heard numerous answers out of the mouths of SMEs to the question “How would you describe your culture?”, most of which rarely sum up what I would describe the culture of the company to actually be. The reason? Because if the definition of culture is the norms, practices and common held beliefs that are perpetuated within a given group of people and which give them (in these terms),  a competitive advantage), then many business leaders may be loathed to admit the fact that their particular one doesn’t really have something entirely unique or one which many people would willingly sign up to. Or both.

So start by being honest about defining “how we actually do things around here”

It’s a rare leader indeed who will say to their newly hired graduate, “ I value people who give every waking minute to our company and I like nothing better than to see all my team nailed to their desks when I look out on the floor at midnight. We pay you so well because we want you to be available 24*7 and to sacrifice any film/ date/ games night for our greater good. But don’t expect to get much of a soul from working with us…..” , even if that is actually the case. But it might be quite refreshing if this kind of honesty really did play out on the recruitment videos and posters instead of a list of trotting out values which are so far removed from reality that many struggle to verbalise them during an interview whilst keeping a straight face. And if that were the case, the companies in question would probably have less issues with employee turnover or hiring too.

Because the thing about culture is that if you’re honest about your own - whatever it may be - you’ll stand a better chance of finding those who are right for your business and who have a better alignment with it.

But back to the measurement of it. So how do you know when you have a strong Culture, as Culture is often referred to but little measured

Even those companies who in public wax lyrical about their own have a hard job measuring it. That’s because it’s not easy. And there is no one single measure which is universally accepted to show you what your culture is. Let alone how strong it is.

So start by thinking like a marketer when trying to do so

As businesses grow, many start to put more effort and money behind improving their brand. They realise that although the word is invisible on a P&L, it can either add or detract from their company value significantly. Of course, measuring the value of your brand is really quite difficult, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it via all manner of routes. From public perception, external surveys, anonymous focus groups: all these different types are out there.

So the same rationale goes for looking at your culture. Look at what you care about and measure that.

Balance both the internal and external measures

You might care particularly about how you are perceived in the market or when you are recruiting. And if this is the case, look to start tracking measures which can include answers from questions asked from applicants as to what words describe their experience or resonate during the interview process, right through to scoring how many hits you get on your website, your following on your LinkedIn Page, sign ups to your latest career event, ratio of acceptances to job offers, your glassdoor score, % of approaches made via direct channels etc

Or alternatively it might be more important to you that internal perceptions and behaviours are key. In which case you’d be looking at how your own team act: do they recognise, articulate and reinforce your values in the work that they do. These can then be measured by way of anonymous survey, referral rates, peer review scores over demonstration of values and acknowledgement of values.

The truth is that there are tonnes of measures out there which you can use beyond the 10 or so listed above, however if it’s something more qualitative that you were after in terms of measuring your culture, then my advice is this: ask your team to do something which is beyond the scope of their normal role. Will they jump at the chance? Challenge you on the validity of your request? Or merely do it but sulk and moan whilst doing so. That would be your true test of how strong your Culture really is.

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Photo Credit: Smenon

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