Nov 8, 2013
Matt Kuikman
Culture by Numbers

Came to Play PongWhat is culture?

This is a question that every organization at some point will find itself trying to answer. Many will get fooled into thinking that it can simply be created by providing a “fun” work environment for employees via a ping pong table and a couple of cold ones to enjoy on Beer Fridays. However, as nice as those may be; culture is so much more than that. Therefore, I encourage you to shift your line of thinking on culture into areas that can have larger implications for your business; because it’s the organizations that strive to understand and improve upon that kind culture that transform into high performing ones.

Say Hello to the Denison Organizational Culture Model

There are many companies out there who specialize in culture surveys, but of all those companies, Denison is the one that stands out the most for me in delivering one of the more comprehensive and actionable frameworks for measuring culture. What’s important to note about the Denison model is the extent of the research that went into developing it – over 20 years of research. Not only that, but when your organization takes their survey it gets benchmarked against thousands of companies in countries all over the world.  This will allow you see how you stack up against other organizations comparatively.

What’s also useful is that you can segment your results by department or management level to get further insight into the different perspectives that exist within the organization. Most importantly, the Denison Model not only provides insight to culture, but its traits can also be linked to performance. (e.g. profitability, growth, customer satisfaction, etc.) The model Denison has created revolves around an organization’s beliefs and assumptions and it is comprised of 4 key traits: Mission, Adaptability, Consistency, and Involvement.

Denison Culture Model

Denison Consulting, www.denisonconulting.com

Each of these traits is made up of 3 indices which we’ll examine below in further detail, and how your company scores in each of those indices is determined by survey that uses a series of questions for each index. The traits provide insights into the organization’s internal and external focus, as well as its ability to be stable and flexible.  Dynamic relationships also exist in which the traits can shed light top-down and bottom-up communication, and progress and preservation. Now let’s take a closer look at what culture really looks like by examining the indices of the Denison Culture Model.

MISSION

The mission of an organization provides employees with a direction on the work they do, a blueprint on how to achieve success in the long run, and a vision that provides purpose for their work.

What the Mission indices measure…

  • Strategic Direction & Intent – is there are clear set of long-term high priority strategies that provide direction to our employees’ work?
  • Goals & Objectives – how clear are employees on the short–term goals that should be conducted daily?
  • Vision – what is the organization trying to achieve and what is it’s overarching purpose for being in business?

ADAPTABILITY

Adaptable organizations have the ability to perceive patterns and identify trends by listening to the market in order to respond to changing demands of their customers and conditions of the environment in which they operate.

What the Adaptability indices measure…

  • Creating Change – is the organization willing to try new ideas and approaches in the way it does business?
  • Customer Focus – as an organization are new and improved ways to meet customer expectations continually sought after?
  • Organizational Learning – does an environment exist in which risk taking is encouraged and the organization learns from its successes and failures?

INVOLVEMENT

An involved organization engages, aligns, and empowers its employees with ownership and responsibility in their everyday work in order to earn their buy-in and commitment.

What the Involvement indices measure…

  • Empowerment – can employees make decisions on their own, and are they encouraged to provide input into organizational initiatives?
  • Team Orientation – do employees support each other by listening to ideas and working as a team to accomplish goals?
  • Capability Development – are training opportunities available for employees to develop their skills and capabilities?

CONSISTENCY

Consistency within an organization is all about providing employees with an integrated and coordinated set of systems, structures and processes that guides them in their everyday work.

What the Consistency indices measure…

  • Core Values – is there a clear set of values that inform decisions and behavior that are enforced within the organization?
  • Agreement – is it easy to reach agreement when difficult issues or problems are encountered?
  • Coordination & Integration – are projects coordinated across departments and do employees understand the impact of their work on the organization?

The Benefits of Culture by Numbers

The first time you take a culture survey it serves as a benchmark for the state of your organizations’ culture. Those results can then be used to determine your organizations strengths and weaknesses, as well as provide insight into implications that has for the business. In many instances you might see an executive segment profile where everything looks outstanding, but once you start examining the employee population down in the trenches you may discover there’s quite the disconnect. The results can also provide excellent insights into employee satisfaction, which is especially useful if you supplement the survey with open-ended questions to capture your employees’ voices.

Once you have those results the next step is to come up with actionable steps to improve your culture. Depending on your results you’ll likely find several areas that need attention, but what’s important is that you identify the most important 2 to 3 indices that need improvement and you create initiatives that will help improve those. If you try to do more, it tends to become overwhelming and instead of making good progress in key areas, you’ll end up making little to no progress in a lot of areas. But with any survey you’ll have to remember that it captures a moment in time, so the sooner you act on it the better, but be mindful of any key events that might be impacting the results. e.g. Departmental restructuring, leadership turnover, product launches, etc. Once you’ve taken action, you simply measure schedule time to measure the culture again to see what impact you had. It’s that simple.

Closing Remarks

Ping pong tables and beer are all well and good, but if you really want to know what’s driving your organizations culture, go out and measure it. Listen to your employees, because whether you choose to use Denison or another survey, just remember: culture is what drives your business. And the difference between having a high performing culture and a low performing one can have direct ties to your bottom line.

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