Move over engagement – it’s time to rethink how we measure culture.

Culturethe way we treat each other and work together around here – is so fundamentally important to so many things.

From confidence to generosity to innovation to feeling connecting to success – it matters to everything! – at both an organisational and individual level. We all know the feeling of working in a great culture and just as equally know when culture isn’t right – be it an entire organisation level or at team level.

Right now, so many organisations are spending extra time considering culture – seeking to make changes that make a difference. We all want to ensure the best possible culture for every person on our team. We want to not only attract and retain the best people, but also give them environment where they can make their best possible contribution.

30 years of engagement

For near on 30 years we’ve looked to Engagement as the hero measure of organisational culture. But have you ever stopped to think about what you are actually measuring? Whether it’s real? We have our simple set of questions, that focus on things more aligned to productivity (doing more with less) than anything to do with the complex system that is people and culture. I’m a guilty party having helped draft questions such as “My manager communicates regularly with me” or “I can access learning and development I need to do my job well”. Usually with zero discipline around ensuring that that correlates to anything is good for either the organisation or the individual.

Many practitioners use that very collection of employee feedback as the baseline data on which to make improvements. But there’s problems with that.

Firstly, engagement questions are well known and ‘desired scores’ are too. This means that people are now giving you the exactly the answers they need to get a high score.  ‘Yes, my manager communicates regularly” – but how? Do they shout? Are they inclusive? Is their communication useful? You won’t hear this context unless they put their thoughts into that ‘Other’ section of the question.

Similarly, “Yes I can access learning and development I need to do my job well” – doesn’t necessarily highlight what their learning and development needs might be to really go that step further towards the ambitions of the employee. What could we do to help get them there?

In short, people are playing for the win and trying to nail that high score.

‘Oooh, we’ve gone up 2% on last year’s engagement score’.

And often that’s the end of the conversation after we’ve skipped through the powerpoint report. Or if not the end of the conversation then we have to create an action plan, theme the actions and go on our merry way again until next year.

And that’s the last thirty years. And that’s long enough.

Things have changed.

We’ve had a global pandemic, a very different economic outlook, and a whole new way of working, but we are also finally appreciating the power of connection, of working together, of non-linear measures of culture.

Culture isn’t just about productivity measures, its more than that. It’s our individual and collective sense of how we collaborate, connect and create together. How we communicate within, between and across our teams and the people we work with.

We believe culture is all of this and more. It’s how we are included, how we have a community or tribe at work. And a single, simple engagement score we’ve used for 30 years is not nearly enough to measure any of that.

This is where Belonging comes in. Beyond inclusion. Way beyond engagement. It’s changing everything we know about confidence, innovation, and the impact we have on one another. It’s what brings culture truly together so each of us feels we not only have permission to bring ‘our whole selves to work’ but that it’s important that we do. Where we are trusted and accountable to do our work brilliantly, with real agency over how we do it. And where we can laugh and have fun together as well.

My personal belonging moment

I can clearly recall the exact moment I knew I belonged at mwah. It was our regular Friday wrap up meeting and footy was on over the weekend. Having only recently learned the knack of putting backgrounds onto zoom I found an Adelaide Oval background, donned my Adelaide Crows beanie and logged into our meeting.

Unbeknownst to me, Michael had also had the same thought so when we logged on, there he was wearing his Magpie beanie at the MCG! It was that moment I knew I’d found my spot. The right spot where I was welcomed, where I felt I’d started to know the people in the mwah. team and had connected (albeit he supports the wrong footy team!).

I felt it, it was real, and it was the differentiator between mwah. and some previous employers. Like me, I guarantee you can recall these moments.

And that’s why they are important. Those moments are great, and we always want more of them. It’s in our nature to want to Belong and to find connection.

Measuring Belonging

So, if we are moving beyond engagement measures, and beyond inclusion to Belonging, how on earth do we measure this?

Well, this has been our holy grail of challenges. Over the last several years, we’ve been testing and building the belonging index ©. The objective was a simple, non-gameable, measurement tool that’s good fun to answer, that form a visual map that described culture and provides serious insights into what to do about it. It was the cornerstone measure in our culture dashboard.

And it works! We can get a meaningful measure of culture, what people really feel, rather than a competitive gameable survey measure.

The Belonging Index © gives us the visual map to open the right discussions – moving way beyond simply being included but towards really connected cultures where employees thrive. Rather than hours of ‘action planning’, you have a simple nuanced visual that you can use to explore and have conversations about culture.

Keeping it real – Baselining information.

Most of my career, has been large scale culture transformation. The multi-year, multi-layered change programs that fundamentally shift an organisation to be future-facing and successful. That work always starts with a baseline measure – where are we up to now and where do we want to get to?

I wish I had this kind of culture measure when I was doing these big culture change programs in the past. I knew I needed a different level of measurement above and beyond the usual engagement surveys to really be able to track and monitor culture. This type of measurement would have helped get us moving forward with some of the gaps in our culture a lot faster and given me the real insights into where what we were doing was making a real difference.

The mwah. Culture dashboard

And that’s the value of Belonging Index ©. The ability to create an initial baseline, then introduce your different initiatives and retest your progress in 12-18 months’ time when you measure again. You’ll see what is working for your team and where you need to make changes. It’s a real measurement, giving you insight into how people best like to work, and how aligned they are, not a single – and very gameable – score.

We so often talk about the future of work, but in the space of measuring and understanding culture, maybe we’re already there. Can’t wait to share more!

©Copyright mwah. 2020