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What is good culture? To answer this, I often draw a parallel between culture and personal health. We can all imagine what ‘bad health’ might look and feel like, but ‘good health’ is rather more subjective. My good health might look like avoiding cake or going for a 20 minute walk every day, whereas to others, running triathlons and eating only proteins and greens is the epitome of good health.

Give your culture a health check

To understand what good culture looks like for your business, you first need to assess your current levels of ‘cultural health’. By conducting a cultural baseline, or health assessment, you can understand what you have, what there is to work with, and what change is achievable.

1. Review your history

Just like an annual health assessment, the first step is to perform a family medical history questionnaire. In other words, what is your organisation’s culture predisposed to? A financial services firm may be predisposed to a culture of risk taking or a retail giant to an inconsistent culture driven by high staff turnover. In a culture health assessment, Gate One would look at historic data that has played a part in shaping its current cultural health: what is the shared cultural history of your organisation? What are the past incidents – leadership changes, news stories, mergers etc. – that have shaped the culture?

2. Lifestyle questionnaire

Next is the current health and lifestyle questionnaire. This is where we give an indication of our day-to-day lifestyle behaviours and current symptoms. In our cultural health assessment, this may take the format of individual interviews, focus groups and survey verbatim. Thus, we get an indication of some of the cultural ‘symptoms’, the day-to-day behaviours that people experience in your organisation. Just as we may hold back telling the whole truth on our lifestyle in a health assessment (for example underplaying the amount of red wine drunk and overplaying the amount of exercise done); we must be cognizant that individuals interviewed in a culture assessment often hold back from describing the entire picture.

3. The physical assessment

If you have ever had a health assessment, you know which dreaded part that comes next – where you are put on the treadmill and all your lifestyle questionnaire answers are put to the test. In a cultural health assessment, this is where Gate One performs a mechanism review. What do the controls, policies, processes, leadership and governance say about your culture? This allows us to surface differences between what culture is reported versus what culture is supported.

4. Understanding what the data tells you

The final step in a health assessment is to have a blood test, which gives the assessor quantitative data about our health. In our cultural health assessment parallel, Gate One looks at your organisation’s KPIs and metrics. Very much like a blood test, it is important to start by using a handful of key data points first. When you receive the results of a blood test and your cholesterol comes back too high, they may perform a further test to obtain more data points to indicate why this is the case. It is the same for culture metrics. For instance, if an organisation’s overall diversity statistics are below expectations, we look further at related data points such as gender balance at different grades. If female talent is leaving at a Senior Manager level, we look further at employee engagement results for this group, the gender pay gap, exit interview data. A different data measure might reveal low trust levels in the leadership team. If we drill down to another data point, we may find it is due to a perception of corporate spin in firm-wide emails. The data points we would investigate are bespoke and contextual to that organisation but there are some commonalities in the types of data sets we would review first.

5. Receiving the final health assessment

At the end of this process you would expect to receive the assessment from the doctor, which will either consists of ‘everything is fine’ or some health improvements you need to make. We present your cultural health assessment by way of an objective and detailed report, as well as a collaborative accelerator session to collectively define where you want your organisation’s culture to go.

Next steps

It is only by understanding your organisation’s cultural health baseline that you can then assess whether you are happy with your culture, and whether changing it would reduce risks and bring additional benefits. It ultimately comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve the desired culture, and whether improving in one area may cause issues in another (such as in the health analogy forgoing big nights out for early morning runs only to find you are a lot less happy).

In the next article, we will look at ways you can improve your cultural health, some of the ways to monitor your cultural health proactively and pre-empt cultural health problems further down the line.

It is only by understanding your organisation’s cultural health baseline that you can then assess whether you are happy with your culture, and whether changing it would reduce risks and bring additional benefits.

Caro Ruttledge

At Gate One, we are change experts. Our team will equip you to drive culturally-aligned, innovative change programmes.