A lot has been written about the mystery of corporate culture – the “secret sauce of success” in an organization that creates disproportionate value, but is poorly understood. Some say that it is impossible to measure, although there is a large industry out there that purports to measure culture.
There are many different definitions of culture, one of the most popular being “the way we do things around here”. A slightly more academic slant would venture that it relates to established behaviours and norms in the organization, and these are rarely codified.
Most of those companies that do measure the ‘unmeasurable’ in some way rely on measuring behaviours. Agreement amongst employees that certain behaviours are prevalent then constitutes a measure of the culture of the organization. This approach represents a focus on outcomes (behaviours), very much like a focus on profits.
It follows, then, that if you want to change the culture of the organization, all you have to do is change the collective behaviours of managers and employees, and establish new norms. This, in principle, seems like something that would be within the realm of feasibility. However, in practice the singular focus on outcomes, or behaviours, often fails. The required behaviour changes are often dictated by edict, through codes of conduct or procedures. This neglects a very important dimension of culture, namely, the motivational drivers that determine why the behaviours and norms in the organization are the way they are.
Let us take a step back for a minute, and consider our personal lives. Our personal values tend to guide our decisions and our behaviour. They are motivational. We arrive at our personal values through a variety of ways, introspection over time, socialization within groups, our families, and observing how other groups behave, to name a few. Once they are bedded down we tend to take them as axiomatic for ourselves, i.e. our behaviours are based on these tenets that we take as being true, and most importantly, that we don’t have to re-evaluate at every decision point.
How, then, are values arrived at in an organizational setting? Here we have to distinguish between claimed values, those that accompany the organization’s mission and vision statement in its communications, and embedded values, those that represent the true norms and that actually guide behaviour in the organization.
Claimed vs. Embedded Values
Claimed values are usually a management abstraction, and represent a wishlist derived after lunch in the ten-minute slot on the last day of the off-site strategy meeting.
Embedded values are developed through observation and learning, and have the indelible mark of the organization’s leadership on them. As employees we observe how our leaders behave and how our co-workers respond. We examine this against what our leaders say. We look at their behaviours and make inferences about the values that underpin them. We try to make sense of the real motivations driving behaviour.
Here’s an example. Integrity is a claimed value for many organizations. It was one of Enron’s core values. In practice, though, the leadership team at Enron were proud of their abilities to stretch the rules to unethical limits in their quest for profits. The employees observed this and in many cases came to realize that exploiting clients through dishonesty was acceptable, and they were often even rewarded for doing so. Integrity was a claimed value in the organization, but it was one of the most violated values.
Measuring Organizational Values
If we could measure the values embedded in the organization, we would have a very good sense of what the culture of the organization is like, based on its prevailing values system. It would tell us what the motivational forces are that are driving organizational behaviour. The Consilient Universal Organizational Values Framework does just that. It provides an elegantly clear and simple way to assess and visualize an organization’s culture by identifying and mapping the values that underpin it. The system identifies gaps and prioritizes actions so that management effort is focused on things that will make a real difference to the organization. Consilient’s values assessment process takes the guesswork out of aligning strategy and culture, guides transformation initiatives, and provides an important roadmap for leaders.
Changing culture by addressing gaps in organizational values is far more effective than focusing purely on behaviours. It provides the motivational guideposts for effecting behaviour change.
CEO, Consilient Inc,