Measuring company culture

Some claim their company culture is 'young, vibrant and fun'. Others call it 'casual, yet professional and ethical', and there are even those whose culture is 'characterised by open doors and open minds';. But what actually is company culture and can it be measured? How can you ensure your projected company image corresponds with the actual workplace?

Firstly, company culture is dependent on the mission, values and direction of the business, and, as Steve Izzard, managing consultant of culture change specialist BML, iterates, 75 per cent of what drives company culture should come from management.

‘The values must be demonstrated by the leadership team,’ he says, ‘and they need to set an example to the rest of the company. It must never be a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” That can seriously damage the morale and efficiency of your workforce.’

Calculating culture

Company culture is not new management rhetoric – businesses have been making conscious efforts to identify, quantify or improve it for more than a decade. But it’s only in the last few years that a reliable means of measuring it has been established. This is based mainly on benchmarking, using surveys of all staff in the company compared against surveys by other companies in similar sectors. These surveys should reveal which opposing qualities exist in the workplace and why. Any prevailing negative issues should then be addressed.

The most commonly used measurement tool is the nine factors model, run by diagnostics firm Hemsley Fraser. Employees undergo a range of assessments to ascertain where the company falls within the positive and negative values relating to the nine factors, as set out on the left.

Empowering staff

Paul Turner, general manager of people at the West Bromwich building society, has been using the nine factors model since 1999, a period that has seen the business increase turnover and market share and pick up several awards for staff satisfaction.

‘We visualised a coaching style of management ‘that is more about allowing employees to be creative and come up with solutions themselves,’ he explains.

Turner finds the use of an external survey of the nine factors invaluable because, he says, ‘It allows us to put a number on our culture and compare it to our peers.’ Also helpful is the ability to analyse culture within individual departments.

However, he warns that action must be taken on the back of the survey, as simply asking staff what they think can be demotivating if they never see anything change as a result.

‘You have to create a dialogue with employees after the survey, firstly to show that you did listen and secondly, to get more detail on what they told you.’ This is the point at which action can be taken to change culture.

‘The majority of the impetus comes from management behaviour,’ Turner explains. ‘It can’t be a “command and control” leadership style, there must be some flexibility.’

Izzard agrees. ‘It is like the crew on an airline. During take-off and landing everything must be tightly controlled, but while in the air there is some leeway to be more laid-back and less constrained.’

Stick with it

Turner warns that benchmarking company culture is no quick-fix solution and improved results are unlikely to materialise for at least nine months, so it requires commitment.

‘Running the same process at regular intervals, using exactly the same core survey, means we can keep track of trends and accurately measure our progress,’ concludes Turner. ‘It is a long-term investment but it pays off in productivity.’

The Nine Factors Model of culture measurement

Factor Positive
Identification with vision & values Loyalty Alienation
Equity – balance between expectations vs actions Fairness Injustice
Treating others equally Respect Prejudice
Consensus among staff Understanding Discord
Commitment to achieving goals Confidence Failure
Rational approach to problem-solving Honesty Deception
Process of mutual development Growth Regression
Group dynamic Harmony Conflict
Internal alignment with organisation’s beliefs Trust Suspicion

Related: Building a positive workplace culture – Mark Scanlon, chief executive of Personal Group, discusses how to create a great working environment for every single employee in your business.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for our sister website when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence...

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