Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
The Problem with Ideal Cultures

The Problem with Ideal Cultures

August 7, 2017
Jamie Notter

I was doing a demo of our culture analytics platform the other day, and I got a common question:

So, we measure our culture using this platform, but do we first go in and fill out what our “ideal” culture should be?

As logical as that may sound, the answer is no. A lot of culture assessments work that way. You measure “current state” and you measure “ideal state” and that gives you a convenient gap to fill. I get it. But here’s the problem: you can’t understand your ideal culture in the same terms you use to measure your current culture.

Stay with me here…. Your “current state” metrics are telling you “what is.” In the case of the Workplace Genome, anyway, those metrics you in very nuanced and detailed terms, exactly how your people experience your culture, right now. That’s critical information to have, but I can’t then turn around and ask you, in the abstract, to tell me what those scores SHOULD be.

What they “should” be is “it depends.” Sorry to give you the consultant answer, but let’s look at it in a different context. I just did an online BMI calculator and it came back at 24.9, which is right on the edge of “normal.” Okay, but what if I were a professional cyclist? Or what if I were a sumo wrestler? The actual ideal depends on what will make me successful. The same is true for organizations.

You do have an ideal culture. The problem is, it changes based on your context, and right now it’s based on what drives your success in your market, with your product/services, and your people. It’s not based on what you think your score should be on Transparency. Once you start connecting the dots around your current culture, you may realize that you need to up your game when it comes to transparency, but you also might realize that you’re being too transparent and you need to dial that back.

If you want an ideal culture, you don’t fix your scores, you fix your culture. The scores are there to help you understand what’s changing and what isn’t, and they are there to shine a light on how your current culture is impacting both behavior and results. Use your data wisely, but don’t look to those data to tell you exactly what to do. That’s still your job.

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