Culture Is Squishy
Culture is one of, if not the most, important aspects of business. It’s also one of the more difficult things to describe and change in an organization.
Designing and managing culture initiatives can be challenging but the truly difficult, and often overlooked, part is developing meaningful measures for auditing and tracking the progress of something as ‘soft’ as culture. Yet that is exactly what we need to do if we are to evaluate an organizations state of social business readiness and track the impact over time.
An organizations culture is felt at a very personal level, as such it can be entirely subjective when asking someone to describe it. It’s like asking to try and describe a color. Is your yellow perceived the same as my yellow? While we both may associate a lemon as being ‘yellow’ we have no way of knowing whether our two *perceptions* are the same.
This is also where the real challenge comes in. This is business. We have traits of our culture that we are trying to change, yet it’s not enough to ‘think’ that you are improving your culture, you need to prove it. The failure to be able to demonstrate progress effectively is by far the biggest downfall of most culture and adoption initiatives. Executives will quickly let these efforts drop by the wayside over time if there isn’t some tangible way to demonstrate progress towards the objective, even if that objective is something as ephemeral as culture.
SideraWorks decided to tackle this issue head on since our clients success was dependent upon it, and laid out a set of criteria as the challenges our solution (Culture Mapping) would need to overcome. (those are included below for reference in case you find them helpful)
- Problem #1: How to develop a common vocabulary and context so that all parties have a clear understanding of what it is they’re trying to achieve or become?
- Problem #2: How to ‘audit’ something like culture to the degree that you can provide a meaningful representation of its current attributes at individual, group, and organization-wide levels?
- Problem #3: How do you represent the objective in a way that is easily understood in relation to the audit?
- Problem #4: How do you demonstrate progress (or lack thereof) against that objective?
- Problem #5: It must be relatively easy and timely to do these measures and must be able to scale exponentially, not linearly
- Problem #6: It must be repeatable and consistent
- Problem #7: The measures must always be relative to past measures
- Problem #8: It must be based in proven principles, not marketing jargon that has little foundation in science.
- Problem #9: It must be able to be integrated into other seemingly disparate, yet interrelated, audit measures tied to social business such as our technology and resource audits. These integrated measures must then be meaningful as a ‘social business readiness’ report.
- Problem #10: It should use a visual system that represents real business characteristics and their diversity of traits, unlike those commonly used in the industry (maturity models for example)
Good Initiative Design Is Not Enough
Each challenge eventually had an answer. They were harder to overcome than I care to admit, but I’m also incredibly proud of what we’ve produced. I’d love to further wax poetic about those details but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that it’s not enough to simply design an organizational initiative that involves culture change. Even if it’s the best initiative ever conceived, it’s still not enough.
The only way to make change work is to accurately know where you’re starting from. That requires a meaningful audit. In addition, these things take time to evolve, and anything that takes time to evolve is at risk of being cast aside during its evolution if you cannot prove that you are making progress at any moment in time.
Difficult, But Necessary
If you’re dependent upon simply hoping that everyone can ‘feel’ the benefit of your change efforts then you’ve put your initiative at risk. The effort has to be broken down into smaller chunks and you must demonstrate progress (or lack thereof) at each point. That requires the ability to effectively measure these seemingly soft criteria.
You cannot afford to wait until 3 years down the road to see if you made the right decision. It’s not sexy, and it may seem cold and dispassionate to approach something as personal and dynamic as culture this way…but it is a necessary component.
You certainly don’t have to go to the lengths that we have, but you do need to attempt to:
- establish a baseline of the state of your culture today
- define the desired changes that represent the ‘future state’ of the organization and ensure that all parties have a common understanding and language in regards to those changes and the traits impacted
- agree upon how you will demonstrate progress towards that future state in tangible, meaningful ways
Lay The Groundwork
Designing and instituting change is hard. Proving that you’re making progress when that change involves culture is even harder. If you want to succeed however, don’t ignore the latter. It’s not something you can ‘take care of later’. Culture may be more difficult to measure, its traits may be more nuanced and challenging to communicate, but culture initiatives have the same requirements as any other business objective.
Measure effectively, measure regularly, adjust the plan when and where needed. Rinse, and repeat. Establishing a baseline up front and putting basic groundwork in place can save you an incredible amount of wasted time later (I can personally attest to that), and in many cases save the entire initiative.
Matt Ridings – @techguerilla
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