Can’t Measure Culture? Here Are 9 Ways to Quantify It

by Nov 6, 2018Leadership

Putting numbers to the elements of culture helps you understand it.

But do you really understand your culture? I’m not challenging you on whether your culture is good or bad. Rather, there could be some interesting opportunities in getting a more explicit understanding of what makes your culture tick–especially when it comes to communicating to people who might want to join the organization what they can expect.

I have come up with a list of nine factors that you can use to start trying to assign a quantitative value to your culture. Think of each factor as a spectrum, where you can rate how it reflects your culture on a scale from 1 to 10. There is no right or wrong answer to any of these: it’s just a chance to paint a more precise picture of what your culture actually looks and feels like.

Let’s get started:

Formality: How formal is your culture? Does everyone dress up in jackets and ties? Do you work inside enclosed offices where everyone is focused on their title, assigned parking spots, and rank in the company hierarchy? We might rank this a 10 on the formal scale, which might be a bank. Or, is your culture more informal, where people walk around an open office plan in their jeans and t-shirts? This might rate a 1 on the formal scale, which might look like a start-up tech company in Silicon Valley.

Analytics: How does your organization treat data and analysis? Does everyone focus on spreadsheets and making decisions based on what the data is telling you? How would your team react to the phrase, “We don’t make decisions without data: Ever” Or, are decisions made more based on gut feelings and intuition?

Transparency: Some organizations hold onto their data tightly–especially crown jewels like the P&L and balance sheet. It might even be that just the executives, or even just a subset of executives, get access to this information. Or is your organization run with a high degree of transparency, where everyone is given access to financial information and taught how it flows throughout the organization that you might see in a company that practices The Great Game of Business or open-book management?

Teams or Individuals: Some organizations are highly collaborative where all the work is done in teams. Everything is about motivating and celebrating, the performance of the team as a whole. Other organizations work at the other end of the spectrum by rewarding individual contributions and performance, such as paying bonuses based on meeting individual goals or quotas that you might see in an organization like Amway or Mary Kay. Again, this isn’t a value judgment: it’s a measure of what your culture looks like.

Performance Tracking: Speaking of performance, some organizations measure how they are performing in a very precise and minute manner. Everything is measured and optimized. At the same time, there are plenty of organizations that don’t measure their performance to that same degree. Think about something like the DMV, where people are very capable of doing their jobs. But they aren’t as focused on elevating their performance by, say, delivering exceptional and speedy customer service.

Innovation: Some organizations are super innovative, like 3M, where everyone is focused on coming up with the next great game-changing idea. Part of the culture is based on a competitive idea of beating their competition by creating the next great innovation. Other organizations, on the other hand,
maybe less worried about what comes next as they focus much more on optimizing the market opportunities they have right in front of them.

Frugality: There are companies like Walmart that have adopted a strategy of being the low-cost operator in their market. To do that, they have adopted a culture of frugality where they watch their pennies and make decisions on things like travel where even their executives might fly coach to save money. Frugality is valued in Walmart’s culture–unlike somewhere like Google, which gives its employees freebies like food and laundry service.

Humor: Humor can be an important tool in some organizations to help alleviate stress and to help build teamwork and camaraderie. But in other cultures, maybe in the actuary division of an insurance company, where they are making tough decisions about catastrophic events, you shouldn’t expect to hear a lot of laughs.

Conformity: An interesting aspect of an organization’s culture is understanding how it tolerates outliers or makes people conform to its standards. I know that missionary organizations tolerate a lot of variability in how people operate in the name of achieving the organization’s goals. It’s up to individuals to decide how to get the work done. But we also know there are organizations where there is an expectation that people will conform to a certain standard, perhaps even to the point where people look very similar based on how they dress and even how they cut their hair. The implication is that if you don’t conform, it might not be the right organization for you.

These are just nine factors; I am sure you could add a few more to the list. Again, if you treated this as a self-assessment quiz and assigned a value of 1 to 10
for each of these factors, you’d paint a fairly accurate picture of what your culture really looks like.  If this resonated, you might see if your leadership team agrees with your assessment – that can be an eye-opening process.

It could also be a great opportunity to compare this quantitative culture assessment to the values of your organization to check that your culture accurately reflects the way you want people to act.