Measuring workplace culture: Move beyond people watching

I’ve always thought that workplace culture is a business’s greatest differentiator and asset, because while competitors can copy what you do, they can’t copy who you are. Despite this, most businesses don’t give workplace culture the priority it deserves. Many business leaders realise that culture is important but don’t know where to start when it comes to measuring it. This is because workplace culture is complex and made up of many layers;

  • The ways we think about the world (core beliefs),
  • Our attitudes based on the way we think about the world, and;
  • How we represent our values and the ways we think about the world (e.g., behavior, slogans, creeds, mottos, and rituals).

So, how do we get to the core of a workplace’s culture? The answer is right in front of us every day. At it’s simplest, the measurement of culture starts with looking at behavior and then working backwards. Consistent patterns of group behavior reveal the true underlying beliefs of “what it takes to fit in”. For example, sales people who do not hesitate to recommend their competitors (where warranted) demonstrate an unwavering commitment to putting the customer’s needs first. Equally, white collar professionals who “horde” information rather than sharing it appropriately with colleagues demonstrate a commitment to personal, rather than team advancement.

The next time you are in your workplace take some time to simply sit, listen, and observe. Then ask yourself two questions:

  1. What are the types of behavior that I have witnessed today?
  2. What does this behavior suggest about the inner beliefs and values of staff?

Stepping it up

While all great leaders are “people watchers” the measurement of culture can and should be taken a step further by using a validated culture assessment (questionnaire). Four noteworthy advantages of using validated culture assessment include:

  1. Scalability and generalizability – Assessments provide an efficient way of capturing culture across the workforce.
  2. Reduction of bias – The use of data allows us to check in on the assumptions that we all make.
  3. Repeatable over time – Assessing and reassessing culture using the same measure allows us to more clearly and accurately gauge changes over the long term.
  4. Inclusiveness – Ultimately, we measure workplace culture because we want to understand it and improve it - this involves change. Assessments allow staff to contribute to the change conversation by providing their input on how things really are in the workplace.

Workplace culture is a business’s greatest differentiator and asset. If you’ve never given much thought to measuring culture you should start now, and if you’re a leader who is adept at people watching it’s time to take take your measurement of workplace culture to the next level. As Arthur C. Nielsen, founder of AC Nielsen put it “The price of light is less than the cost of darkness”.

If you are a leader looking to take charge of your workplace culture HR Business Direction can assist you to move beyond people watching and get a better measure of workplace culture.

Alistair Kerr, MPsychOrg; PostGradDip Psych; BPsych

Organisaitonal Development Strategist | Psychologist

07 3890 2066

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