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Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


Becoming a Culture First organization doesn’t just happen for most organizations. Individual leaders believing in the power of “culture first” is one thing, but deeply embedding culture first behaviors across the organization in a meaningful way takes time and willingness to learn.

Based on our experience working with of nearly 600 of the world’s leading organizations, we’ve mapped the typical culture maturity curve into four distinct stages.

Stage one: Gather data on the current organizational culture

The first phase of the maturity curve is to gather information and data about your current organizational culture. At this stage you simply don’t know what you don’t know. As a result, the first phase is all about gathering knowledge.

Good data will show how different departments, teams or branches experience the organization, or perhaps reveal that a newly-acquired subsidiary has a very different culture than the one you’re trying to cultivate.

Having data is the first step to better people and culture decisions. Remember that data by itself doesn’t provide answers; it provides tools for asking the right questions. Meaningful data helps the right people to ask the right questions to make the right changes.

In this first phase, don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Start by using a platform with questions that have been well designed and benchmarked to provide clear and actionable information.

Stage two: Embedding people data into the way the business works

In stage two it’s time to connect the data you collected with the way your business already runs.

At this point, you’re not doing anything particularly sophisticated or predictive. The aim is to get more of your people comfortable with seeing and understanding culture data on a regular basis.

It makes sense to stay within your existing reporting cadence. If your business works on a quarterly budgeting and reporting cycle, that’s how often you should update and review people and culture data.

I know how tempting it is to jump forward at this point, but it’s impossible to make meaningful changes on the back of data from a single point in time without broader management buy-in. People data needs to be everywhere, culturally embedded and ready to be deployed for analysis and decisions.

Stage three: Use people data to drive initiatives designed to improve the employee experience

Stage three is where you use the data to start driving programs and initiatives to improve the experience of your people.

By now you’ve got broad awareness throughout the business on the meaning and importance of people data. On the back of stage two, there’s also recognition across the business of what’s working, and where the potential trouble spots are.

In designing any initiative you’ve got to be intentional about the outcome you’re looking to achieve. Based on that outcome, you can design experiments to measurably improve culture. Because people data is embedded in the business, you can quickly create feedback loops around a hypothesis – using what has been learned to create a better cultural outcomes over time. Most firms do feedback, but forget the loop. The power in the process is in doing the loops over and over again, adjusting what needs to be changed to achieve the desired cultural outcome.

Stage four: Connect different sources of data together to examine the broader linkages

In stage four you connect the data collected throughout the employee lifecycle to drive decision-making throughout the organization.

“Culture First” literally means that culture is a leading indicator for everything in your business. From this perspective, there’s almost no performance indicator that you shouldn’t link to your people and culture data.

The more data a company has, the more opportunities to examine broader linkages. If turnover is comparatively high when benchmarked, it may be valuable to look to the data collected six months earlier and see how the people who left felt then. This is a linkage analysis between exit and engagement data. In the same way, it’s possible to understand linkages to marketing, customer service and many other areas of the business.

Progressing through the four stages to Culture First

The time that it takes for an organization to move through all four stages will depend on resources, growth and a range of other variables. However it’s generally not a quick process – with timeframes measured in years rather than months.

The key is that it is never too early to start being intentionally Culture First. The earlier in its lifecycle a company starts moving toward Culture First, the faster and simpler the transition.

Didier Elzinga is a People Geek and CEO/Co-Founder of Culture Amp. You can follow Didier on Medium, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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