The View from HR

Changing a workplace’s culture requires the right measurements

May 6, 2012 

“Culture” is an overused workplace buzzword which can mean many different things.

If company culture is some combination of “how we work, how we treat each other, how we serve customers, and what it is like to work here,” there is a powerful way to move all of these factors in an excellent direction: the right measurements.

The RIGHT measurements, developed in the right ways for the right reasons, can unleash and invigorate a company culture needing a new direction, common language, unified purpose and energized workforce.

Typical measurements include revenue, expense, net income, new accounts and cost of goods sold. How exciting! Are we bean counters or are we leaders, managers and effective team members? There are good reasons to publish these numbers, but do not expect them to move your company culture needle.

What if you found the right combination of measurements to inform, teach, lead, aim, motivate, communicate, reward and celebrate? It is very hard to do, but the impact on culture and results is profound. The wrong measurements can also do damage.

Say you work in a distribution facility. It can be repetitive, physical and isolated work. Today’s measurements are cases shipped, damaged inventory, accidents and on-time deliveries. These are managers’ numbers. They will not move the culture needle except by carrot and stick.

What if you added measurements that communicate strategy, mean something to individuals and provide reference points for individual decision making?

Start measuring (and reporting) customer satisfaction scores. Is the score rising? If so, why? Provide some of the narrative comments from the surveys. Demonstrate the impact of an on-time delivery through a real customer to both explain and thank.

Measure the cost of damaged product in terms that matter to people: what does this cost mean we are unable to do for staff, or, better yet, what does this big improvement in damages mean we now CAN do for staff! What does fewer accidents mean to real people in terms of hospital days and rehab struggles avoided?

Measure how the work of a receiving person (when done well) impacts the work of a picker, forklift driver or loader. Report it and celebrate improvements! Give badges to the best internal service providers as named and ranked by their peers.

When the administrative team meets its goals, how does that affect all? Publish the right results such as re-negotiated vendor agreements, a six sigma project with big impact or getting a better group health and wellness combination – and show how it affects everyone.

Measurements may change due to new company and individual goals. Ideally, they will line up with the goals discussed in individual reviews. There is no better way to start a new strategy than to measure and publish its growth and impact in ways that matter and emotionally connect to people.

The order picker will know how she supports her peers, where she stands on individual measures, how she impacts the success of customers, the tools she has to support company needs (that also benefit her) and where she fits in the strategic plan: WOW!

Do the hard, on-going work to create measurements that both result in good accounting numbers and move the culture needle!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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