Data Analytics Are Reshaping Culture Measurement

If you’ve attempted to measure your company culture, you know it can be a bit like herding cats. You can send out surveys to collect feedback, but the results rarely reflect the actual culture. However, new methods of data analysis are reshaping the way culture is measured. A recent article from Harvard Business Review (HBR) highlights the challenges of traditional methodologies and new approaches for assessing and measuring culture. 

Per the article, feedback solicited from employees is too often unreliable, “The values and beliefs that people say are important to them, for example, are often not reflected in how they actually behave. Moreover, surveys provide static, or at best episodic, snapshots of organizations that are constantly evolving. And they’re limited by researchers’ tendency to assume that distinctive and idiosyncratic cultures can be neatly categorized into a few common types.”

Through the use of big data analytics, the new approach analyzed trace data in the language of various employee communications including emails, chat messages, and review sites. Analysis of the data shows how culture can impact their thoughts and behaviors at the office. “The studies focused on cultural fit versus adaptability, the pros and cons of fitting in, cognitive diversity, and the effects of diversity on organizational performance.” Below we take a brief look at the first two. 

Fit Versus Adaptability 

HR and executive teams look for culture fit when hiring, as they should. But too often the view is focused on how a candidate supports the values and norms or the company as they currently are. What is not taken into account is the candidate’s ability to adapt to the culture. To quickly learn and adopt cultural norms as they evolve over time. The study found, “Employees who could quickly adapt to cultural norms as they changed over time were more successful than employees who exhibited high cultural fit when first hired. These cultural “adapters” were better able to maintain fit when cultural norms changed or evolved, which is common in organizations operating in fast-moving, dynamic environments.”

Pros and Cons of Fitting In

Another issue is taking a limited view on the types of candidates hired. It’s important not to only look for people who look like people you already have. Bringing in those with different ideas and perspectives can spark innovation and creative solutions. The watch out is that these types of hires can have trouble selling their ideas to their peers since they are outside of the box thinkers. According to the research, employees who didn’t have strong departmental networks but did have established social connections, “By building trusting social bonds with colleagues, they were able to overcome their outsider status and leverage their distinctiveness.”

For more details, we recommend reading the entire article. A few of the key takeaways from the study include looking for candidates who, at their core, align with the values and beliefs of current employees. Beyond that, they may think and look quite differently than current employees and that diversity is beneficial. Candidates should also demonstrate adaptability characteristics that help them successfully manage inevitable culture changes that happen over time. When considering cultural “misfits”, set them up for success by putting them in a position where they can utilize their social skills to engender trust and support.

Many of the tools that were used in the research are publicly available. Which comes with an important caveat, ethical considerations. Maintaining anonymity of data and employee confidentiality is a must. Misuse of the data can lead to general biases being brought to the surface, and provide a limited view of the communication impact on performance. 

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