How healthy is your organization’s culture?
Kenning’s 3D Culture Process: Diagnostic Phase
In any organization, culture “happens,” whether leaders want it to happen or not.
Because leaders either grow up within or inherit a particular culture, at times they can feel helpless to effect a meaningful culture change, especially if their organization has a long history, and if that history is associated with success. But even a very successful organization with a storied tradition can over time develop a stale, unhealthy culture that needs to be reinvigorated or, in the most extreme cases, reconceived.
The difficulty of this task is significant in periods of stability, but is amplified greatly during disruptive times, like the current digital revolution in which we are all living. This revolution isn’t ending anytime soon, and it, along with other major shifts like changing demographics and globalization, likely will continue to overturn and reinvent industries at a dizzying pace for the foreseeable future.
Organizations that don’t have healthy cultures capable of responding to rapid change risk decline and even obsolescence. Typically, the most healthy and vibrant cultures are highly intentional and embedded, and may relate to such important elements as how communication is disseminated, how feedback is given and received, and how individual and team performance is evaluated. Informal aspects of culture also stand out. These might include where people congregate over lunch and after work, what they talk about, and what emerges (for good and bad) in and across the organization as a result of what may seem to be purely “social” conversations.
At Kenning Associates, we have been advising and coaching leaders of some of the world’s most distinctive organizations for nearly two decades. Inevitably, the success of these organizations is in large part a function of the positive, vibrant cultures they have created and sustained.
To help our clients get smarter and more intentional about their cultures, we’ve developed a proprietary methodology called 3D Culture. It’s a robust yet efficient 3-step process (Diagnose, Design, and Develop) for evaluating the current state of a client’s culture and prescribing a set of actions, as necessary, aimed at (re)building a healthy culture while ensuring optimal integration with the organization’s vision, mission, and strategy.
This article will focus exclusively on the Diagnostic Phase of the 3D Culture process. Additional articles will follow shortly, focusing on the Design and Development phases.
Diagnosing Cultural Health
The Diagnostic phase of the 3D process involves three primary data-gathering activities pursued over a multi-week period:
- One-On-One Interviews
These interviews engage key leaders and influencers to determine what the culture’s “presenting symptoms” are. Interview findings are employed to calibrate survey and focus group questions (see below); findings also are translated into insights and incorporated into the final diagnostic report.
- Focus Groups
We work with our client team partners to identify focus group participants who represent a cross-section of an organization. Focus groups are often organized into constellations of various kinds, (e.g., new hires, managers, women) to elicit specific perspectives likely to be relevant to an organization’s current or aspirational culture. Crucially, focus groups allow Kenning consultants to hear and include important non-leadership voices into the diagnostic’s findings.
Finally, to gather input anonymously from as many people as possible across the organization, we design, administer, and analyze data from an anonymous diagnostic survey. This yields not only quantitative insights but creates a baseline that allows us to measure the “before and after” delta once cultural levers are implemented following the Design and Develop phases.
Kenning has developed these qualitative and quantitative data inputs through years of applied research. To date, we’ve identified five primary drivers that appear to be relevant for every organization, regardless of industry, and which form the core of our diagnostic insights:
- Identity – The degree to which employees identify with an organization
- Fairness – The sense of fairness conveyed by an organization
- Excitement – The level of employee excitement generated by an organization
- Communication – The quality of communication that occurs in an organization
- Support – The level of support that someone can count on from an organization.
While additional drivers may be identified for specific clients, we always rigorously assess these five drivers during the Diagnostic phase, with specific interview, focus group, and survey questions that have been calibrated to generate highly nuanced findings. The data is complemented by a rich tapestry of anecdotes and stories that give our diagnostic reports a unique texture and a depth representative of the specific cultures they assess. The reports can be rolled out across an organization at a variety of levels, with presentations used as additional listening opportunities to solicit feedback from participants and refine the findings further.
Kenning has performed culture diagnostics for entire organizations, business units, and teams, depending on the needs (and, yes, the cultures) of our clients
A Diagnostic Case Study
We recently engaged with the business unit of one of our longtime client partners, a global tech company. The products produced by the business unit set industry standards of excellence and the business unit itself is among the most profitable in the entire company. The business unit has a well-established reputation within the company and the industry for having a highly competitive and even aggressive male-dominated workforce.
As a first step in the Diagnostic process, we conducted in-depth interviews with management team members. Over the course of the interviews, Kenning consultants determined the initial “presenting symptoms” to be a lack of women’s advancement and retention, a pervasive sense of powerlessness among lower-level employees, and such a heightened focus on internal competition (as opposed to collaboration) that it limited the business unit’s problem solving and development capacity – as well as its talent retention strategy. The collection of these issues created a significant drag on performance and, despite the business unit’s financial success and good reputation, low morale.
We tested the initial hypothesis of these presenting symptoms by administering anonymous, confidential surveys to every member of the business unit, generating quantitative baseline data across our identified drivers of cultural health. Kenning consultants also organized and facilitated a series of gender-specific focus groups, and we used the insights generated to corroborate, reinforce, and amplify our quantitative findings.
Through Kenning’s data analysis and synthesis, we identified several core “keeper” elements of culture that had done so much to contribute to the business unit’s success; at the same time, the diagnostic report focused on several unhealthy aspects of the business unit’s culture, and especially isolated elements of the business unit where the issues proved to be most acute and entrenched.
The Diagnostic phase of this 3D engagement closed after six weeks with a series of reflective counseling and ideation conversations with our lead clients in which we began to generate a set of potential recommendations. Building off these recommendations, the Design phase of the engagement – where key culture change levers were identified – shortly followed. That phase of this Kenning 3D case study will be shared in a subsequent article.
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