Culture change follows behavior and performance change not the other way around. If you buy into that premise, the behavior and performance you expect, enable, measure, reward, and hold people accountable for will become the habits that define the culture. The best organizations have clarity, alignment, and execution across each of these areas.
And that leads to the question of “how do you know a change is taking place?”
Culture change initiatives typically measure two things: results and perceptions. You must have both. Southwest Airlines, Zappos, and the Container Store are known for outstanding, engaging cultures. At the end of the day, these employee-centric cultures are only worth emulating because they support and enable business results.
Here is the problem: results and perceptions are lagging indicators. They show you’re the outcomes of what happened in the past. Waiting 12 to 24 months to evaluate a change in employee perception leaves too many opportunities for the desired change not to work. Likewise, there are a number of factors that contribute to business results, and a change may or may not be attributed to an improved culture.
The solution is to add a third measure: activities. Specifically, what is the performance and/or behavior that if done consistently will lead to the results and perception change we want?
A Personal Example
Let’s say that you want to make a lifestyle change that causes you to lose weight. You establish a clear goal complete with expected results; a clear time table; and even attend training classes.
The first week goes well. You stick to your exercise and dietary plan without fail. But then your activity starts to wane. You drop your intensity level from 45 minutes of aerobic activity five times per week to only 20 minutes. The next week you miss two days and then never return to your level of five workouts per week.
What are the chances that you will see the results you want? What are the chances that your perceptions of your physical fitness program will be high?
And yet, that is the way we typically approach culture change initiatives. We establish a benchmark; set a goal; get everyone pointed in the right direction with communication, education, and training; and then wait to see if the change was successful.
In over two decades of helping organizations change their culture, experience shows that those that regularly measure the leading indicators that drive results and perceptions – the specific behaviors and performance – are the most successful.
If you buy into the premise that the culture is demonstrated by the habits of how people behave and perform, it is essential to provide everyone with feedback that allows you to quickly calibrate and align expectations, performance, and behavior.