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Viewpoint: Yes, You Can Measure Your Culture

Tech tools give HR new insight into the organization

A man in a suit and tie standing in front of a building.
​Josh Bersin

Editor’s Note: Josh Bersin is our monthly columnist focusing on HR technology issues. As a noted author, speaker and industry analyst, Josh brings a wealth of experience on technical innovation, and he will keep us updated on the latest trends and critical issues in the field.

The topic of culture has become one of the hottest issues in business.

How can we build a culture that attracts great people? How can we push our culture to be more innovative or customer-centric? Why do we have performance and engagement problems in certain groups but not in others? What can we do to help leaders reinforce our brand and values?

All of these questions plague business and HR leaders at every company I visit. And when a problem occurs (such as a product recall or financial miss), or during a merger with or acquisition of another company, suddenly culture is the most important thing leaders think about.

I recently visited a large technology firm going through a significant merger and we had nearly 30 HR leaders sitting around the table for a day to discuss how to merge the cultures. One part of the company was very sales-oriented (driven toward rewards and incentives based on market share), another was very service-centric (completely focused on Net Promoter scores and total service solutions), and a third part was being paid to reduce costs and maintain the highest levels of margin.

As you can imagine, these three cultures conflicted with each other in strategic ways, so it became important for the company to look at each of them carefully to figure out what should stay the same and what should change as the company moved forward.

Today, like never before, you can measure and diagnose inconsistencies and do something about them.

How? Let me briefly mention a few new solutions:

  • First, you can now deploy pulse engagement and feedback tools to quickly understand cultural issues in every group, every week. One major [organization] we work with told me it had identified safety issues in various parts of the company almost immediately after starting to use a pulse survey tool. I see these tools as mandatory in the HR world of today.
  • Second, there are a variety of research-validated cultural assessment tools now on the market. These tools (from companies like Human Synergistics, Deloitte CulturePath, RoundPegg and others) each have different models for diagnosing culture—some at a personal level, some at a team level, some at an organizational level. Once a company starts using one of these tools, inconsistencies and areas of improvement are immediately apparent. 

One of our clients found it had a high engagement but low performance culture. The tool found a culture of strong customer service and teamwork in the customer part of the business, but a very low level of trust and respect among the back office teams. Of course, back office quality directly impacts business performance, and the company realized they were "overglorifying" their client teams. This realization enabled the CEO and HR team to carefully redesign many of the reward and talent programs for IT, finance, operations and other back office groups.

Once an organization can see these variations, the hard part is making the necessary changes. Culture change is slow, as it often means changing leadership, revisiting reward systems and reorganizing teams, and will often require a tremendous amount of communication.

But without good data, none of this is possible. I challenge you to think seriously about measuring your organization's culture—whatever tool you use, it will tell you things you never realized were happening, and it will give your HR team an invaluable road map for leading your company toward change for the better.

Josh Bersin is founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Contact him on Twitter @josh_bersin and read his blog


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