Dan Stroot

Culture - Measure what you Treasure

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11 min read

How do you measure culture? How do you change culture? What do we even mean by the word "culture"?

Many organizations attempt to measure culture using employee engagement surveys, unplanned turnover metrics, employee burnout measurement, and even Glassdoor comments. Do these measure your culture? No, they measure the outcomes of your culture.

What if you aren't achieving the outcomes you desire? If you want to change or improve your culture you must focus on the ingredients of a great culture, not the outcomes. The "inputs", or "drivers" of culture are those that will lead to the cultural outcome you desire. What do those ingredients look like?

Culture Diagram

Side Note: One of the values in my family was following the rules. We had a defined bedtime as children, and we were expected to adhere to it. In my view my family just "followed the rules". My friends interpreted that as my parents being strict. Interestingly, my friends had the exact same bedtime, but their parents just didn't enforce it. They had the same "rules" but a different cultural outcome. Another way to say this is one aspect of culture is not the slogan on the wall but rather how you allow people to behave. What you actually allow vs. what you say you allow. Its why metrics are important - you have to measure the ingredients, not just the outcomes.

Cultural Ingredients

1. Communication

With strong communication, employees are able to communicate their thoughts and suggestions to leadership, while leadership effectively communicates necessary information to employees.

Are our current channels of communication effective at helping everyone in the company send, receive and understand information?

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees to rate communication, how is it working top down, across the company and in your department? Focus groups are effective ways to measure internal communications.
  • Number of posts in Technology Teams channels
  • Email open rates
  • Intranet analytics

2. Innovation

Innovation is one of my favorite subjects. It is closely related to communication, because it comes down to whether employees:

  1. Are crystal clear about what the company is trying to accomplish - the priorities and goals.
  2. Can move ideas through the organization (and how much your company is open to new ideas).
  3. Feel like innovating is just "part of job", it is expected and encouraged.

When measuring innovation, remember that it comes in many forms, such as resources, processes, behaviors and the product itself.

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees if they understand the goals of the organization?
  • Do they feel like their ideas are heard and acted upon?
  • Do they see others innovating?
  • Do they feel the company values innovation and are they "invited" to participate?

3. Agility

Agility is key to staying competitive. Agile organizations can quickly redirect their people and priorities toward value-creating opportunities. A common misconception is that stability and scale must be sacrificed for speed and flexibility. Truly agile organizations combine both: a strong "spine" provides the stability and "muscles" for developing and scaling dynamic capabilities.

Structural stability (standard operating procedures) and cultural stability (shared purpose, direction, and values) is necessary to support dynamic capabilities (e.g. fluid changes to strategy and products). Otherwise it may feel like chaos.

Agility is also related to strong internal communications - changing views of the market and priorities need to be clearly and quickly communicated to employees; along with "why" they are important.

Agility can be enabled by:

  1. A network of autonomous, empowered teams each with clear objectives. What is each team's "north star"?
  2. There can be no overlap between teams (which creates internal politics that will slow down agility).
  3. Autonomy is enabled by creating cross-functional teams with full end-to-end accountability for specific goals and/or products.
  4. Rapid decisions, short learning cycles in each team.
  5. Dynamic people, who have a shared passion for what they do. If someone on the team is not performing the team needs to ability to "vote them off the island". Put another way, if the team does not the ability to directly choose its members it must at least have the ability to choose who is not on the team.

"Without purpose and autonomy, you’re in a world where people come in to work, they do their little bit, and they go home. They aren't engaged because they are not sure where that fits into the big scheme of things, and they are focused internally, not on the customer. Teams need direct ownership and real-time accountability, plus absolute clarity about how their mission fits into the company's mission. That’s where engagement comes from — employee engagement goes off the chart because people have richer jobs, they’ve got a broader perspective, and they’re focused on solving problems. They don’t feel like hamsters — they feel like they’re part of a squad that’s on a mission."

Finally, studies show that it's truly a blessing to have long tenured, experienced employees. You just don't want to allow them to become stale and bored. They should have a new role/opportunity on a new team every 18-36 months to keep them engaged and fresh.

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees to rate agility, what is slowing them down?
  • Ask employees what is their team's "north star"?
  • Do they have the skills and resources to achieve their mission?
  • Do they feel they get to decide "how" they achieve their mission?
  • How do they handle teammates who are not engaged?
  • Number of projects deferred or canceled in favor of newer projects/priorities? If no programs/projects are ever deprioritized it's nearly impossible to be agile as we add new projects to respond to market conditions. Teams become overwhelmed and may burn out.

4. Wellness

Wellness encompasses the mental and physical health of employees. Not only does wellness lead to happier and more productive employees but this metric also has an important ripple effect. According to a study in Health Affairs, medical costs and absentee costs fall about $3.27 and $2.73 respectively for every dollar spent on wellness programs.

However, this metric is not about reducing healthcare costs (although it may be an outcome) - it is about making sure employees know the company cares about them and is helping them with their personal wellness journey. This journey can take many forms, both physical and spiritual. It also means the company accepts them for who they are, so it touches on diversity and inclusion for all employees.

Since we are social animals, wellness also stems from feeling connected - a sense of social connectedness to the organization.

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees to rate their perceived "wellness level"? (stress, exercise, work hours, etc.)
  • Ask employees if they feel they can be authentic and be themselves at work.
  • Ask employees if they consider coworkers as friends.
  • Measure sick days, absence trends
  • Employ the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to measure employee burnout

5. Work Environment

You don’t need a trendy office to have an effective work environment. What is most important is that the workplace provides for comfortable, productive employees. For instance, small details, such as the temperature of the office, or ambient noise, could be resulting in big losses in productivity. Focus on employee comments related to the workplace, and you will find some of the easiest and fastest ways to improve the work environment.

Some office environments are noisy, lack privacy, or are simply to stimulating for deep thought. Employees may "self-select" by working away from the office when they "just need to get something done". Pay attention because that may indicate issues with the environment. Just like in a hotel, the "occupancy rate" is an important metric to watch as it can indicate how changes affect employees desire to be in the office.

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees, they'll tell you!
  • Measure occupancy rate.
  • Observe those employees that choose to work outside the office and ask why.

6. Collaboration

Collaboration has many layers, and once again, employee feedback is the key. To assess collaboration, look for collaboration within teams, as well as collaboration between teams.

Many people focus on collaboration tools: email, the intranet, corporate social media, video conferencing, instant messaging, etc. Collaboration isn't about tools, it's about behavior.

Collaborative behaviors include:

  1. Psychological safety - Creating an environment that makes it safe to openly communicate unlocks collaboration. It also unlocks the power of diversity because one of the most powerful tenets of inclusiveness is an environment in which people feel free to express themselves.

  2. Communicating — leaders need to model open and effective communication, and appropriate delegation to foster collaboration within and across teams. Collaboration cannot thrive where people are simply told what to do.

  3. Delegating — Decisions are one area where collaboration can either help or detract from progress. Companies with highly collaborative cultures make slow decisions, and evidence suggests they are not better decisions. Even worse is when companies try to make decisions unanimous - employees who disagree feel stifled. An essential component of good collaboration is clarity about who is authorized to make decisions.

  4. Managing meetings — Collaborate with the right people! Only invite those with the needed skills and knowledge to meetings and assign a stated purpose/goal to each meeting. Avoid "meeting tourists", and for those who desire to know what happened in the meeting update them asynchronously after.

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees - do they feel safe when they collaborate?
  • Do employees feel leadership is modeling collaborative behaviors?
  • Do employees feel meetings have the "right" attendees? Meetings should be used to make decisions. Meetings simply to provide a status update are better handled through a status report.

7. Support

Employees should feel supported by the overall company, their manager and peers. As leaders, we cannot control the way an employee feels at work. We cannot demand engagement, job satisfaction, or motivation in the workplace. We cannot demand that any employee feels valued.

We can do the things that employees want and need to feel valued and supported at work. If your people believe you’re not valuing or supporting them, eventually they’ll find a leader who does — a leader who truly appreciates their energy, effort, and results.

Everyone should understand what determines success in their role, and they should be rewarded or recognized accordingly. Larger rewards do not necessarily make for a stronger culture. Instead, take time to understand if employees feel they are appreciated and how they would like to be recognized.

According to a study in Harvard Business Review, middle managers are the most disgruntled group in the workforce, possibly because they are lacking the support they need to be successful.

Possible metrics:

  • Ask employees!
  • Think positive - are we encouraging success or correcting mistakes? Encouraging success makes people feel valued.
  • Are we celebrating success? Are we recognizing and rewarding employees? (How's our DVIP pool?)
  • Are we celebrating milestones in years of employment? Do we value tenure? Do we celebrate careers? Careers are different than job titles. Valuing employees in the workplace means also valuing all the experience, insight, and advice they’ve gained that helps them be their best in their current role and helps your team. Celebrate the years of service they give to you, and the years of experience they’ve gained throughout their career.
  • Do we have solid training and skills development opportunities?

8. Responsibility

Responsibility encompasses employee accountability for actions and results, as well as the ability to make decisions regarding their work. While it seems like an individual metric, these behaviors should be promoted and assessed on a company-wide level. And believe me, you’ll find that employees are eager to report back on their experience in this area.

Good people thrive under clear responsibility and accountability. They seek it out. Employees who don't want responsibility or accountablity are damaging to the organization.

Possible metrics:

  • Define Accountable Behavior.
  • Create SMART Goals and Measure Results.
  • Do employees have clear performance metrics?
  • Are employee reviews and check-ins conducted in a timely manner?

9. Mission and Value Alignment

The first step is having a mission statement and company values. Vision and mission statements must be real and relevant, not an insipid product of forced strategic planning theater. If they aren't "real" they won't unite and inspire employees and could imbue more cynicism into the workforce.

Ironically, the main reason that companies will refuse to measure their vision or mission is the claim that they are deliberately broad for aspirational purposes and deliberately vague so everyone can find their own meaning in them. Being broad and vague means they cannot/will not drive employee energy and focus.

Here's an example:

“To refresh the world… To inspire moments of optimism and happiness… To create value and make a difference.”

Can you guess the company? ........ It's Cola Cola.

Once you have a real mission and values you should make sure employees know your mission and values, understand them, and live by them. This process starts during recruitment, and continues during the employee's tenure with the company.

To be clear and actionable for employees your guiding principles or values must be verbs, not nouns. Examples:

  • Instead of "Integrity": "Always do the right thing"
  • Instead of "Innovation": "Think Different", or "Look at the problem from a different angle"
  • Instead of "Client Focus": "Always make decisions with the client's best interests in mind"

This makes how you should act clear and unambiguous.

Possible metrics:

  • Do employees know the Mission, Vision and Values of the company? Does it inspire them?
  • Do employees understand how their role is aligned to the company's mission?
  • Do employees like the mission and values of the company? Does it align with their personal values?
  • Does it provide enough clarity to drive daily decisions and priorities within the organization?
  • Is it measurable? A company can't claim that it is excelling if it doesn't have an objective measure of how well it’s fulfilling its mission and employees won't care.

Culture Outcomes

If you get the ingredients right, you should achieve the culture you desire. The results should be visible in the "outcome" metrics we are familiar with:

Employee Engagement

What is employee engagement?

  • Quantum Workplace - "Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their places of work."

  • Gallup - "Engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace."

  • Willis Towers Watson – "Engagement is employees' willingness and ability to contribute to company success."

  • Aon Hewitt - Employee engagement is "the level of an employee's psychological investment in their organization."

Behaviors of engaged employees:

Engaged behaviorsDisengaged behaviors
Goes above and beyondHigh absenteeism
Solution-orientedNegative attitude
Shows a passion for learningFocuses on monetary worth
Passes along credit but accepts blameAccepts credit but passes along blame

Six drivers of employee engagement that have the greatest impact:

  1. Trust in the leaders of the organization to set the right course.
  2. Belief that the organization will be successful in the future.
  3. Belief that leaders are committed to making it a great place to work.
  4. Understanding of how they fit into the organization's future plans.
  5. Belief that leaders of the organization value them (employees).
  6. Visible investments made to make employees more successful.

Voluntary Turnover

Not every employee who is thinking about quitting will report so if asked. They may not answer honestly in employee engagement surveys about how satisfied they are with their work (especially if they’re concerned about getting fired for a negative review). Looking at voluntary employee turnover statistics can help uncover how effective company culture is at retaining employees—and avoid high employee attrition.

Employee Burnout

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is the first scientifically developed measure of burnout and is used widely in research studies around the world. Since its first publication in 1981, it has been considered the gold standard. When used correctly, the applications of the MBI can greatly benefit employees.

Burnout is measured via a combination of dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism and professional efficacy. These measurements not only measure burnout but other outcomes/results as well:

  • Burnout: negative scores on exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy
  • Overextended: strong negative score on exhaustion only
  • Ineffective: strong negative score on professional efficacy only
  • Disengaged: strong negative score on cynicism only
  • Engagement: strong positive scores on exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy

Note the relationship of measuring employee burnout to employee engagement.

Examples of effective programs


The airline employs a robust measurement program and tracks, among other metrics, employee satisfaction scores. According to Ann Rhoades, co-founder of JetBlue, former Chief People Officer of Southwest Airlines and Promus Hotel Company, “When an employee tells us they are very happy to be part of the organization, we calculate that number. It is a measure for all of our managers and a portion of their bonus was based on the employee satisfaction score in their department.”

Rhoades stressed that it’s important that every person is involved in meeting the metrics and goals. As an example, “The first day you come to work for us, we explain to you what the main metrics are including cost per available seat mile and revenue per available seat mile.

JetBlue also actively uses a Net Promoter Score for employees. “When you get your six-month and 12-month employee satisfaction score, we ask you to tell us how long you intend to stay with us and would you recommend to family and friends to fly with and to work for JetBlue,” Rhoades said. “Those are critically important metrics for us.  It tells us whether our people are recruiting other A-players to work for us and whether they’re also telling their family that this is a great brand. If your own people aren’t promoting the company you have a serious problem.


Well known for its commitment to culture, Zappos management places a high priority on the concept of connectedness to support its core values. To measure success in supporting this connectedness, the firm uses several tools including a Face game that, along with FaceMail, encourages employees to know each other and associate faces with names. Its effectiveness is regularly measured with an internal feedback system called Z60.


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