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More than a feeling: How do you measure culture?

Simple metrics that demonstrate momentum are key to turning good intentions into replicable business results.

Organizational culture — the set of values, beliefs, and behaviors that determine “how things get done” in an organization — evolves slowly. With a commitment to changing a culture, new ways of working start to become the new normal. People begin to say, “Hey, things feel different around here.” But what’s the key to moving from that ephemeral feeling that things are shifting, to real and sustainable traction that informs business results? The answer is measurement.

It’s a Herculean effort to get a group of people to change their normative ways working together. Skepticism that a culture effort will make any difference is a natural, human response, so finding ways to measure, document, and broadcast how culture shifts is imperative. When done with clarity and coherence, measurement builds emotional energy and shows people across the company that leaders’ focus on culture isn’t just lip service but a real effort to move in the right direction. And it can help individuals see a connection between the ways they’re asked to act — which initially might feel uncomfortable — and overall business success.

How to track culture

Every company is different, and the same should be true for every smart plan for cultural transformation and the ways of measuring its success (we have provided some guideposts below to help you get started). To find an organization’s unique metrics, you need to pay close attention to what’s happening around you. Notice where the energy and motion are, and find ways to track positive outcomes that will encourage others to pay attention and join in. This would be an impossibility with an external, one-size-fits-all culture yardstick.

To find your organization’s unique metrics, you need to pay close attention to what’s happening around you.

It’s useful to think about measurement not as one magical score, but as a convergence of multiple data points. Some of these look like traditional change-management metrics, but others are more closely tied to the specific behaviors and business results you’re trying to achieve. Also, showing significant and positive change in a cadre within a short timeframe is more impactful than reporting small change across the whole organization.

To ensure that a broad view of the organization is considered, it’s useful for culture program leaders and other employees to cocreate the metrics. Look to include authentic informal leaders — people in an organization who influence and energize others without relying on a title or formal position in the hierarchy. When designing the initiatives to encourage behavior change, keep asking the question, “And how would that be measured?”

It’s important to avoid getting caught up in finding the perfect, universally applicable metric. Instead, choose something “good enough” and get going. Begin with a handful of small pilots and trumpet the positive results. Take lessons from these projects into broader initiatives, and adjust the metrics as needed.

Measurement guideposts

Here are four types of customizable measurements you can use to get started on tracking cultural-change momentum.

• Program/rollout KPIs: These help assess the level of participation in culture and behavior-change efforts, starting at kickoff. These metrics should be easy to identify and tally. Their purpose is simply to demonstrate momentum.
Examples: The number of volunteers actively involved in a culture initiative is one measure. Another is the number of culture-related articles published on the company intranet, along with metrics regarding their views and shares.

• Anecdotes: Personal observations of people doing something outside the norm, big or small, should be recorded and shared across the organization. Storytelling is a strong tool. The more powerful stories an organization has to share about one of the critical behaviors, the more people talk about them and retell them to their coworkers. Make a note of and collect stories, perhaps on an intranet site or through periodic emails.
Example: A senior executive with one of our recent clients participated in a company football game to show his commitment to teamwork and reducing the organization’s steep hierarchy. He wanted to be seen as more approachable. He got so involved in the game that his enthusiasm took over and he broke his leg while attempting to score a goal. We’re not saying you need to end up in the emergency room to change your company’s culture — but it certainly made for a good, viral story!

• Behavioral KPIs: These are periodic pulse surveys that track how behaviors spread over time. Behavioral KPIs are useful because they represent a metric that comes directly from employees. The entire organization should be encouraged to participate so companies can gain a broad understanding of the culture landscape.
Example: Asking participants to rate certain statements on a scale of “I completely disagree” to “I very much agree” can track progress on the cultural-change journey. Questions should measure your particular initiatives, but can include: “My leaders and colleagues encourage working with other departments as one team to reach shared goals,” which measures cross-team collaboration; and “Decision-making time has been reduced in my department” or “My team has cut the number of handoffs in a particular process,” which track efficiency.

• Business KPIs: These are relevant business KPIs that may be affected as a direct or indirect result of the spread of behaviors.
Example: A client focused on spreading behaviors that drive customer-centricity implemented a “rate my service” tool in its call center and encouraged customers to provide feedback on their service. The overall rating was shared daily and gave the call-center employees and their leaders a sense of pride as the ratings increased over time. Other measurements can include cost efficiencies, number of returns or faulty products, and turnaround times.

A thoughtful evolution

Measuring the impact of a cultural transformation is complex and multifaceted, but it’s also achievable and necessary. Culture can and should be measured, and the designing of those metrics is a part of the overall journey of a thoughtful, sustainable evolution.

With the help of the above guideposts, any organization can jump-start that journey and stoke cultural momentum. Use the measurements as clear evidence that things are changing and that the organization is moving toward a culture that supports employees and business goals. Then people can say quickly and confidently, “Hey, things really are different around here!”

Gretchen Anderson

Gretchen Anderson is a director at the Katzenbach Center, PwC’s global institute on organizational culture and leadership. Based in New York, she is coauthor, with Jon Katzenbach, of The Critical Few.

Caroline Smit

Caroline Smit is a senior manager at the Katzenbach Center. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, she specializes in helping organizations transform behavior and culture.

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