Measuring Culture: The First Step to Unlocking Potential

by Doug Claffey

We know that culture, more than strategy, contributes to business success. We also know Top Workplaces are intentional about culture. The first step in building a positive organizational environment is to gain a measure of the current culture climate. So, how do you do that? At Energage, we’ve studied workplace culture and employee engagement for more than a decade. Our data and experience has taught us that the single most important measure of culture is engagement. Our research has also revealed 15 culture drivers: The all-important levers you need to know how to control if you want engagement to improve. While many business leaders discuss employee engagement, the term can have a variety of meanings. For our purposes, I’ll discuss engagement in two different contexts:
  1. The way employee engagement feels
  2. How to measure engagement.

What employee engagement feels like

In an organization that has developed a culture of high engagement, visitors can feel the energy and passion as they walk around the building. The sense of caring about coworkers and customers is palpable. Employees collaborate. Both staff and customers feel appreciated and valued. On the other hand, a culture of disengagement is also easily discernible. Employees fly out the door at 4:59 p.m. They pass the time playing games on their phones, isolate themselves in their cubicles, or exhibit a lack of creativity and initiative.

How to measure engagement

A third-party survey is the best way to measure employee engagement. It also provides a useful picture of organizational culture. At Energage, we look at three things:
  1. Motivation: Are employees motivated to give their best to a project? Or do they give the minimal amount of effort required to meet the parameters provided to them?
  2. Retention: Are employees committed to staying at the organization? Turnover rate is a critical indicator of employee engagement. Our research shows that employees who believe in the organization and where it is headed are more likely to stick around for the long haul.
  3. Referral: Will employees recommend your organization to their friends? The best workplaces hire half of their new employees from personal references provided by existing staff.
So, what does the data reveal?

Unlocking untapped potential

Our data shows that in the general population, the level of employee engagement holds steady at a national average of 31 percent. That means nearly 70 percent of the workforce represents untapped potential! They lack desire to be at work. They’d rather be somewhere else. Consequently, they fail to perform at their best. And so does the organization. The picture looks a little better at “culture-aware” companies, organizations that focus on culture even if they haven’t quite cracked the code yet. In these organizations, an average of 46 percent of employees are engaged. And then there are Top Workplaces, those that are intentional about culture. These standout organizations achieve double the national average with employee engagement levels close to 60 percent. At the best-of-the-best — the top decile of intentional cultures — employee engagement averages an impressive 86 percent. These are the organizations that have truly unlocked potential and are driving outstanding business results.

Best practices to build an intentional culture

Benchmarking against your current culture will help you to build a roadmap to take your organization to the next level. Next, I’ll outline three steps proven to help you unleash employee potential.