Culture is a term that is tossed around quite a lot and used many different ways. While culture can mean a lot of things, it is often considered “squishy” and not measurable. Companies set goals to change their culture and then struggle to determine if they have been successful.
As we struggle to define culture, as well as the culture we want to implement in our firms, many qualitative factors come to mind. We think of a work environment where employees are engaged, happy to come to work and committed. But we also want a team that is responsible and has a “do whatever it takes” attitude.
We all believe having a better culture will be good for our firms but measuring the results and knowing if we have succeeded can be difficult. We will first look at some of the current culture challenges we face as well as some ideas for how to measure culture and get employees on board with needed changes.
The Pandemic Has Changed Everything
Preserving culture has been extremely challenging through the pandemic. Instead of having a professional office environment, many employees have been working in their pajamas, walking the dog between meetings and often sharing workspace with kids, spouses and the dinner table. Add to this the stress of the pandemic, having to stay locked down for months and unable to travel and visit loved ones – the mental health of employees is in question.
Many leaders now fear that their once stable cultures are dissipating. They struggle to understand how to keep employees engaged and retained and fear that hybrid work environments will cause further erosion of their culture. Employees are leaving for new careers, in some cases leaving their chosen career paths for more esoteric and satisfying work ventures. The term “work/life balance” is taking on new meaning.
The Labor Shortage
We are also facing a severe shortage of experienced, talented employees. There are many more job openings than qualified staff. This is driving up salaries and causing employees to demand more money, benefits and flexible working conditions including remote work options.
This leaves businesses in a state of dismay, not sure what levers to pull to get things stable again.
Understanding Your Culture
Most business leaders want to change their culture because they believe something isn’t working as well as it could. They look at a result they are getting and want to improve it. Some typical reasons for wanting to improve culture include poor employee performance, failure to hit revenue or profit goals, increasing turnover, difficulty recruiting, and a lack of accountability affecting the quality of projects and client retention.
When considering an initiative to improve culture, focusing on a primary goal to start with can get faster results. Each of the situations listed above has one or more metrics you can use to measure it. Determining which metric would have the biggest impact on financial results is one way to determine your focus.
For example, turnover may be the best place to start and the possible reason for some of the other issues you are experiencing. High turnover erodes employee and client trust in firm leadership. It leads to poor performance and quality control problems, and eventually to losing more employees and clients.
But determining the cause of the turnover is the real challenge, and the key to building a better culture. In the example of employee turnover, more work needs to be done to understand why employees are leaving. Do they love or hate working at your firm? Are they looking for more money, better benefits or more flexible work conditions? Getting to the root of the problem takes diligence and a willingness to listen without getting defensive or insulted.
In the case of turnover, asking for anonymous feedback is a good way to start to understand the issue. The key to employee surveys is making sure you follow up with a summary of what you heard, and the plan for addressing any concerns your employees were brave enough to share.
Measure With Metrics
Culture is measurable. You can see if it is working by the results you are getting. Those results could be financial results such as increased revenue or profit, reduced turnover rates of employees, improved recruiting success or even client satisfaction and retention.
The best way to measure if your culture is succeeding is the same way you measure any new process. First, understand what your goals are. Your goals should have a metric attached to them as well as a timeframe. For example, a goal may be to reduce employee turnover by 5 percent in one year. Regular measurement and monitoring of key metrics will drive attention to important issues and results.
Other Criteria For Measuring Culture
In addition to financial goals and metrics, another way to measure culture is by establishing baseline scores for different workplace criteria and evaluating if it is improving or declining. This can be done by making a list of key questions and scoring each on a scale of 1 to 10. Each quarter the scores should be re-evaluated to see if they are moving in the right direction. The questions you choose should be based on your firm’s individual values and goals.
Some questions you can use to rank your culture against your ideals might include:
- How does our perceived culture rank against our competitors?
- How committed is our team to getting work done on time and budget?
- How well do we collaborate?
- Do we operate with purpose?
- Do our employees / clients / projects align with our values?
- Are we differentiated from other firms?
- Are we moving forward or fighting change?
- Are our growth and financial results ahead of the market or behind?
- Are we technology focused?
- Do we manage from top down or bottom up?
- Is our workplace / work interaction fun or serious?
- Do we have a business savvy culture?
How To Get Your Team On Board
Many employees don’t have an ear for financial goals. They often reject pleas for adherence to policies and processes that are necessary to reduce risk and ensure financial success. It is important to tie your need for profit back to something your staff cares about – higher compensation including bonuses, your firm’s mission and purpose (that requires profit to achieve), and your ability to offer better opportunities for career growth and leadership roles. Approaching change with a “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM) focus can help reduce resistance and turn employees towards a more positive attitude.
When getting employee feedback, working in groups can be a very effective way to get them engaged and develop a collaborative approach to overall firm improvement. Rather than rolling out new plans to get employees engaged, have them develop the plan and decide how to implement it. Just the fact that you are asking for their help will show many employees that things are changing for the better.
Culture Is Evolving
Culture is not something you create and put in place. It is always moving and changing depending on who is on your team and how they align with your values.
There is little acceptance today of “old-school” business operations where employee feedback is not valued. Ensuring that employees are at the core of your firm values and your planning process will ensure greater success and a more engaged team.
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