Blog | Why culture and engagement should be measured differently

Published December 19, 2016 by Andrew Cocks

Employee Engagement
Why culture and engagement should be measured differently

According to research by Deloitte, 87 percent of organisations cite culture and engagement amongst their top challenges. A key part of addressing these challenges, and creating a high performance culture driven by engaged employees, is to disentangle the two. But this is something that many companies struggle with, particularly when it comes to measurement.

Both culture and engagement deliver major benefits. A high performing culture helps organisations stay agile, customer-focused and deliver on their strategic objectives in line with their company values. Engaged employees are more productive and are less likely to leave.

While both are important and closely connected, each is very different in nature, and needs to be measured using specific methodologies. The problem is that companies often use the same tools to monitor both. For example surveys that are supposed to be measuring aspects of culture are actually engagement surveys in disguise. If you aren’t clear on what you are measuring, then both your cultural change and employee engagement programmes will fail to deliver to their potential.

How do culture and engagement differ?

The best way to understand the differences between the two is to think of employee engagement as focusing on the ‘I’ and culture as about the ‘We’. So engagement is related to the personal views and opinions of employees about their employer and place of work. Thus engagement surveys might indicate how likely someone is to remain at a company for the long-term, and can take in factors such as advocacy and productivity. Engagement can be damaged or even destroyed quickly, by the actions of a manager or other factors for example. 

Culture on the other hand rests on core values that can be buried deep within an organisation, and can be difficult to quantify or assess objectively. At a basic level it is about "the way we do things around here.” Changing culture is tough and time-consuming because it’s often self-reinforcing. To make a difference in company culture you need a sustained culture change programme or experience a major external factor, such as a merger or acquisition.

Why you need to measure engagement and culture?

Measuring employee engagement is important because there is a direct link between engaged staff and retention, productivity and the bottom line. As this basic premise is the same across all organisations there are standard methodologies for measuring engagement that you can adopt. 

Culture is different. Measuring culture is important because organisations want their culture to support their strategic objectives without conflicting with company values. You need to start by understanding where the culture is now, to help you plan what needs to change to create a high performing culture. Unlike employee engagement, culture is more focused on an organisation’s specific priorities and vision, so off the shelf surveys won’t work.

Highlighting the differences

Not only are culture and engagement measured for different reasons, but they have to be assessed differently. For example, to monitor engagement levels you can look at the results of your engagement survey and see the extent to which employees are engaged or not based on the scores you receive. You can then look at how to make improvements. Essentially it is simple to see how you are doing and to make comparisons with previous years or similar organisations. 

With culture on the other hand, there are no right or wrong answers. The organisation has to define what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, based on its values and business strategy. These perspectives on culture will vary greatly between organisations. The culture that a bank is looking for is going to be very different to that of a start-up, for example.

Can you develop a high performing culture?

To measure (and change) culture the first step is to develop a self-awareness of what your prevailing culture actually is and then assess the gap between this and the ideal future state. An initial step is to explore leadership and management behaviours, as these are key to defining and reinforcing culture. 

Next, measure the current experience of employees. While this step will build on existing employee engagement measures, it should be treated as a separate exercise to traditional engagement surveys. For example, staff should be free to describe how their current experience compares with what they perceive to be the future ideal. In particular, you need to understand how closely aligned this future ideal is to the culture goals defined by your corporate strategy, values and vision. Is it a controlling, creative, competitive or co-operative environment and how does this vary between subsidiaries or departments? Categorising your culture provides an essential common vocabulary for how you discuss current and target culture and the changes you need to make. 

To drive culture change focus on the management actions that can encourage the behaviours you want. To develop a high performance culture the organisation needs to consistently reinforce these behaviours rather than those that maintain the status quo. Ensure you continue to measure these behaviours alongside traditional engagement metrics such as attitudes, beliefs and perceptions, but use separate tools that recognise the difference between the two.

If you want to create a high performance culture driven by engaged employees you need to disentangle the two, and to understand where your culture currently sits. Use the right methodologies for measuring each area – as there is no one size fits all process or tool that covers both.

Learn more about the Questback’s Culture Quest toolkit and how it can help you move to a high performing culture here.


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