Engagement = Culture “for Dummies”
20 Qs to test and strengthen your CQ (cultural intelligence)
You’re no dummy. I’m not saying that measuring engagement is dumb either. I think measuring engagement is essential when it comes to culture. I’m saying that calling engagement the same thing as culture sounds dumb when it’s coming from world-class, corporate professionals responsible for improving company performance, engagement, diversity, equity and inclusion.
Saying that engagement is the same thing as culture is like saying that CTOs are the same as CIOs; or it’s like saying that revenue is the same thing as income; that’s not what a high business IQ sounds like.
The expertise of both CTOs and CIOs is essential to executing on the company’s digital strategy — but they are not interchangeable. Similarly, revenue and income are both useful in determining the financial health of a company, but they are not interchangeable — nor are engagement and culture interchangeable.
“___for dummies” is a Wiley brand with the intention of providing “learning made easy”. This article is not about “___for dummies” products. In the case of organizational culture-related topics, most people are unknowingly confusing what’s “easy” and what’s incorrect.
I can hear some of the defensive reactions already: “But, But, But we’re a Great Place to Work/Best Company to Work For/Best Workplace…We Have a Great Culture!”
It’s not your fault that you don’t know the difference between engagement and culture. Research companies have dumbed down the complex topic for years and marketed/sold you what they thought you were ready to hear and ready to buy. Today, many CXOs like you, are ready for a more useful, more strategic more courageous and more intelligent understanding of how organizational culture drives your organizational effectiveness. If you’re reading this, you probably do focus on culture related topics and are benefitting from a wonderful culture— but to be more precise, you actually have a wonderful range of many subcultures.
CXOs ARE NOT SETTLING FOR THE CULTURE PROXY/SHORT CUT
CXOs are learning to get much more precise with all the efforts and investments they put into driving organizational effectiveness and execution through people. CXOs are simultaneously simplifying the culture conversation, reducing friction, increasing business velocity and streamlining their aiming accuracy (e.g., codifying) to get more of the ideal culture they want, more often, for their people and for their business results.
If you’re still miffed because you’re attached to your engagement credentials, take it easy — engagement scores are important measures of performance too. But you were probably never explicitly told that engagement surveys are not measuring your organizational culture — engagement surveys are only measuring some (not all) elements of your work climate. It isn’t bad to measure engagement; it’s just incredibly incomplete.
To be accurate… at best, you can think of engagement surveys as a short term “proxy” for culture. Which is fine, if a short term “proxy” is all you are curious about.
Just measuring engagement and calling it culture is what creates the “dumbass, culture bypass.”
THE “CULTURE BYPASS” IS OPTIMISTIC, COSTLY & UNNECESSARY
Some CXOs are pissed when they find out they’ve been unknowingly enabling the culture bypass year after year. Many are humbled when they are forced to explain the oversight to their fellow SLT members.
The optimism of the bypass is costly. This shortcut is an unfortunate blindspot for many organizations. In all industries, whether in the context of digital transformation, blitzscaling, public offerings, restructing, or M&As, etc… culture is always either amplifying or undermining the investment. In 100% of the M&A deals, where deal value was lost, culture is cited as the primary reason for loss by the corp execs and PE execs alike.
A CXO friend of mine, involved in multiple M&As, inspired the term “dumbass culture bypass” after learning the difference between climate and culture and realizing how much additional risk they had taken on by looking at engagement/climate data but no specific culture data.
I get it though…compared to culture, climate seems easier to talk about, easier to point at and it is easier to change if you don’t like the score. With engagement surveys you can “teach to the test” to make sure you get the annual incentives that are tied to your engagement scores. It happens. Engagement is an important predictor of short term performance. But it’s still not work culture - it’s work climate. (Culture is a better predictor of long term performance.) Climate really isn’t easier to measure than culture — in fact you can/should measure both climate and culture at the same time. Get the full MRI — the “stethescope” alone is not going to give you visibility into the data you need to make smart decisions about improving the operating model.
A culture bypass increases the likelihood of misdiagnosing, mistreating and failing to optimize organizational health. That’s why a “close enough” approach, should not be an acceptable standard now that you know there is a difference. (I’ll walk through a specific, illustrative example in the next article).
THE “CULTURE BYPASS” IS CAUSED BY A LOW CQ
Don’t dabble at culture — it affects business performance. There is no reason to perpetuate the culture bypass. Unless maybe you are afraid of the gaps you’ll find between your current culture and your ideal culture? In my experience, the potential gap isn’t what’s causing the culture bypass — what’s causing it is that most CXOs don’t know what they don’t know about culture and neither do the people they trust to focus on culture. (Maybe somebody is just not listening to somebody who’s been saying this for years.) In most cases the issue is a matter of cultural intelligence (CQ) or sometimes refered to as culture competency — managing resources/people at scale is definitely a technical competency and you need a high CQ to do it strategically vs optimistically.
HOW STRONG IS YOUR CQ?
How might your extended team’s level of CQ be affecting your business results? Check and see for yourself and then ask your CXO peers…
FUNDAMENTAL CQ QUESTIONS
- What’s the difference between culture and climate?
- How is culture formed?
- How is culture transmitted?
20 SPECIFIC CQ QUESTIONS TO SEE WHERE YOU MIGHT BE LACKING IMPORTANT CLARITY, ALIGNMENT & PRECISION
- What is the story that I keep telling myself about our lack of progress/speed/effectiveness against our goals? Why does it seem like our competitors are moving faster than we are?
- If we don’t protect/improve our culture, what’s the impact on the two business areas that generate the highest revenue/margin?
- In what ways is our culture working for us and against us re: org effectiveness?
- Under what situational context do inconsistent micro-cultures show up?
- Where exactly are these anomalies in our organizational culture? Do the anomalies show up more or less based on geography, by line of business, by department/function, by age, by race, by gender, by tenure, by seniority-level?
- Why do the anomalies show up there? Do these anomalies help our effectiveness?
- What are the unwritten rules that most of our people fall in line with and follow in our culture? How do you know? How are you measuring that?
- What are the constructive or effective “rules”/norms that we want to protect?
- What are some of the less effective “rules”/norms that we are intentionally trying to evolve and why? Is there internal competition at the expense of trust and collaboration? Is there perfectionism at the expense of creativity? How much passive or avoidant behavior exists — how much fear of failure?….why/where will it show up from time to time?
- What are the causal factors for our current culture?
- What specific behaviors are telltale signs of those norms? What beliefs must be true to warrant those behaviors? What else is reinforcing those beliefs?
- How has our history shaped and reinforced those beliefs?
- What leadership beliefs facilitate shaping our ideal culture?
- What leadership biases/lenses inhibit shaping our ideal culture?
- How do we prioritize levers for change? Where should we start?
- Are we clear and aligned on the ideal culture vision? What aspects of our culture are essential to keep no matter the circumstances? What aspects are not so critical to guard/protect? Why?
- Are we clear where we have real gaps?
- What impact do the culture gaps have on Ex and Cx goals?
- What about now that almost everyone works from home? When work is remote, does culture even matter as much in a post-Covid world?
- How is our culture toolkit flexing and extending in the crisis? What did we learn about our culture based on our response to the crisis?
WE CAN’T SCALE OUR IDEAL CULTURE UNTIL WE SCALE OUR CQ
Would it be beneficial to you, if you had a short-hand way (e.g., shared language, simple visual model + memorable color learning aids) to talk about the complex system dynamics of culture in the context of your business and your current operating model?
I am not a researcher and I don’t work for any research firm. But I appreciate the mastery of research professionals and the few, globally validated instruments available for culture. I’m research agnostic and I’m full of bias. I’ll work with whatever research we have to work with…but first we’re gonna be very conscious about what it is and what it isn’t :-)