Firms spend a significant amount of time and money creating a company culture that helps employees feel supported and drives results. In recent years, forward-thinking firms have focused on creating growth cultures rather than performance-based cultures.
What’s the difference? In a Harvard Business Review article, Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project and author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, explained it this way:
“In a growth culture, people build their capacity to see through blind spots; acknowledge insecurities and shortcomings rather than unconsciously acting them out; and spend less energy defending their personal value so they have more energy available to create external value. How people feel — and make other people feel — becomes as important as how much they know.”
It’s easy for leaders to pay lip service to building a supportive and thriving firm culture. We can write inspiring mission and values statements, slap the right words on the company’s website and fall into the trap of communicating caring but not following up with action.
As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “what gets measured gets managed.” So how can we measure something as complex and nebulous as culture? In my experience, it boils down to six essential measurements.
In a growth culture, people feel safe taking risks to drive innovation. They know they won’t be penalized for failure because firm leaders recognize that failure is an essential part of growth. Failing forward and failing fast is not only accepted; it’s encouraged.
Like culture itself, leadership can be challenging to measure. These roles stand for so much that merely measuring the financial effectiveness of each individual isn’t enough.
Pulse surveys can be a great way to gain feedback from employees, and questions can center around how employees feel about the leaders within the organization.
Continuous learning and personal and team development are essential to a strong growth culture, and all of this depends on communication.
Because there are many different ways of communicating, there are also different ways of measuring communication. Intranets are useful for observing how departments communicate with each other and how internal communications are distributed and understood.
Investigate work projects to see how people communicate with each other and look at the tools they’re using.
In firms that focus on performance, people often feel overwhelmed, unsupported and even exploited. Partners and managers pay little regard to work/life balance and other employee health and wellness elements, instead putting pressure on people to produce better results in the short term.
In a growth culture, leaders recognize that short-term bursts of intense productivity aren’t sustainable. When they focus on taking care of people, employees find more meaning and purpose in their work, are more engaged and committed to the firm, and sustainably produce exceptional work in the long term.
When your firm practices wellness, the results speak for themselves. Employees who feel looked after have higher retention rates, lower absenteeism and are generally happier. Putting a high priority on employee health has an enormous impact on your firm. People return to work quicker, are more productive and save the firm money that would otherwise be spent on hiring replacement staff.
In today’s marketplace, firms need to respond to changing dynamics quickly — a concept known as agility. Agility can be used to describe a lot of things, but in its essence, it is adapting and refining the processes and operating of the business to meet changing technologies and changing client demands.
You can measure how agile your firm is by measuring time scales, client complaints and quality scores. If you’re not already tracking these metrics, start now to get a baseline and continue to monitor them as you make improvements.
Giving feedback on an annual, semi-annual or even quarterly basis doesn’t work in a growth culture. To learn and improve, people need to be given feedback on and discuss their strengths and weaknesses continuously. This helps people feel more confident and be more creative and adaptable.
Opening up feedback is an excellent way to create two-way, continuous feedback in your firm. This can be as simple as providing a suggestions box or an employee forum on your intranet, or as elaborate as implementing a continuous feedback performance management system.
To get an edge over your competition, your firm needs to constantly evolve your services, marketing and business development practices and processes. There is no way to succeed other than to innovate, yet many firms struggle to get people thinking in innovative ways.
There are many effective ways to measure innovation:
Do you have a research and development budget?
Do your team members use the latest technologies and communication tools?
Are your everyday processes executed efficiently?
Do you measure financial returns and incremental revenues?
By demonstrating innovation and providing the right tools, employees will develop a mindset of curiosity and growth.
The foundation of any successful firm is its people, and keeping them healthy and happy depends on strong firm culture. Identify the essential elements of your firm’s culture, look for ways to measure those elements and seek continuous improvement. When you start measuring what really matters, your firm and people will thrive.
Sandra Wiley is president of Boomer Consulting, Inc.
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