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How do you know if your organisational culture is effective? The truth is in the data

People teams have been breaking their backs over the last 18 months to ensure organisational culture hasn’t gone down the drain. But what’s been the point if you don’t know if you’ve succeeded or not?

The pandemic has thrust People teams into centre stage and more is being demanded of People professionals than ever before. People teams also believe they’re sitting on a wealth of data; with the development of more sophisticated tools that measure employee behaviour, we may no longer have to make assumptions. Now’s the time to ask the right questions of the data which is in front of us.

So how do you accurately measure organisational culture in your business? While pulse surveys have been widely adopted, and are a significant improvement on the annual ‘engagement survey’ of old, are you getting a true read on your organisation, business unit or team’s culture?

What’s next in measuring organisational culture?

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article about the “new analytics” of organisational culture makes clear that the popular employee survey has shortcomings.

Employee self-reporting can be unreliable, and sometimes, what people say they value might not be reflected in how they behave. For example, if the scores are attributed to the person that determines pay rises and promotions, the incentives aren’t always set for honesty. As well, surveys are a static capture of something that could be constantly evolving. When they’re kept short or use multiple choice, they can really limit the opportunity for a more varied response.

An exciting new method for measuring culture involves using big-data processing to mine employee communications through email, chat and even company reviews. Gathering the language used on those channels can give you a much clearer picture of your colleagues’ behaviour.

For example, as a part of the same HBR study, Slack messages between team members were analysed, looking at things like diversity of thought and ideas, and then measured against performance. They also looked at Glassdoor to get a view of how employees discussed the organisation in an anonymous setting.

Can you measure cultural adaptability?

The possibilities associated with digitally tracking this kind of data could mean a much more thorough approach to measuring culture. It’s a combination of computing and linguistics, and it can challenge previous assumptions about organisational culture’s potential as a strategic resource.

Employee privacy and trust are, of course, important considerations here. But, if you’re able to safeguard and protect these, these new tools could offer a huge advantage for managers and HR professionals.

Hiring is a great example. If you’re a manager looking for a new employee, you’re likely interested in cultural fit. You might consider a candidate’s values and behaviours, and whether they’ll align with your current team. But, it’s also important to think about cultural adaptability, which is someone’s ability to evolve as an organisation’s culture evolves.

In the HBR study, they used the same linguistic tools to measure an individual employee’s use of things like personal pronouns against the way her colleagues used them. They also measured how that changed over time to capture that cultural adaptability. They found that, although cultural fit was important, adaptability was an even bigger indicator of success. Over time, adaptable employees showed more success in a fast-moving, dynamic environment, and they stayed with the business longer.

Can this new approach make better leaders?

It’s clear that this data-driven approach has the potential to improve various aspects of organisational culture, most notably hiring and retention. There are three key things to know here:

  1. Sophisticated People teams measure organisational culture with more than pulse and annual surveys. Big data processing and advanced analytics can mine a myriad of channels to present much more objective insights on culture and adaptability.
  2. Collecting the data is not enough. Focusing in on specific areas, indicated by the data, can lead to over emphasis and a shift in an unintended direction for the organisation’s culture. Data needs to be considered and used respectfully.
  3. If leaders can ask better questions of data teams, richer insight can unlock understanding of true cultural norms. People Analytics teams add most value when they are proactive and predictive, not solely reactive to problems.

Ask better questions to get better insights

Taking this new approach to gathering employee data might not be the easiest thing for People or even BI teams. However, as we move ahead into a more digital, data-driven world, it’s never been more important to stay on top of these trends.

We, at Avado, know this to be all too true and it is why we have adopted an approach of embedding the right data behaviours and mindsets. The leaders we work with have moved from just knowing what they need to do, to prioritising that action and making data central, and not just when there’s a problem. They’ve seen the positive impact this approach can have within their organisations, and we’ve seen it in ours too.

By asking better questions, our clients have been able to get to the heart of their problems and extract better insights from seemingly disparate data. We use real-life examples from the organisations we work with, demonstrating real change, and we provide the tools and experiences to make that change happen.

The desire to keep changing and evolving is integral to a successful organisational culture, and in turn, a successful organisation. A combination of that kind of attitude with the most up-to-date, data-driven methods can get you there.

About Avado

As learning partners to our clients, our mission at Avado is to support global organisations to drive behavioural change at scale through the design and delivery of immersive, thought-provoking learning experiences in data, marketing, people and agility. Our award-winning programmes go beyond just technical skills; they have a stronger emphasis on the behavioural and mindset shifts needed to really embed the capabilities required for success in an ever-changing world.

Tara MacInnis

Posted September 13, 2021