When You Don't Have Data, You Can Still "Measure" Your Culture Change Efforts

When you spend time, effort and money on initiatives to change a culture for the better, it usually takes a while to get the data to prove it's working. Traditional measures such as surveys, key performance indicators, financial metrics and so forth, are indeed useful. But they can be hard to obtain, complex to analyse, and quickly out of date. In fact, sometimes by the time you've got all the data, the questions you now need to ask are different than when you started out!

And if you're a small organisation with limited resources or expertise to do this kind of data gathering, it probably won't be high on your list of priorities.

If instead you go looking at how people are behaving together, you'll soon see the early signs that your efforts are paying off. Talk to people and find out if they're feeling valued and that they add value, because, according to research from Guardian Jobs feeling valued is the most important aspect to being happy at work, scoring 60% alongside salary. And go looking for signs like this:

  • People are being encouraged to think for themselves and because of that, they want to do the same for others. So the old culture of "let me tell you how to do this" has become "what are your thoughts about how you could do this?"
  • You see people being respectful about others and their contribution, because people are willing to listen and wanting to collaborate more than they want to compete by having a better answer;
  • Diverse and divergent views are being welcomed because people don't get silenced, ignored, dismissed or ridiculed. As a result there's greater willingness to debate, challenge, speak up and suggest ways to make things better;
  • Relationships that were once distant or uncomfortable are visibly much more effortless, productive and fulfilling because people have sat with each other, looked at each other, and listened to each other;
  • Meetings are running better and resulting in real decisions because everyone who wants to has played a part – and because people and their ideas are treated with encouragement more people actively want to - and yet meetings take less time;
  • You see that anyone can show leadership and when they do, it's welcomed. At all levels and across all areas, not just at the top or in pockets. Their contributions don't all have to be taken up, but they're welcomed;
  • You see and hear more people being interested in what others's jobs are. And so they're spending more time face to face rather than overly relying on email. People are volunteering to peer mentor those from other departments so they can share and learn together. Previously siloed departments are inviting other departments over for a Friday beer, former rivals are joining forces to work on projects together.

If you're not yet seeing these signs, you might just have to wait for the data to arrive to get hard metrics. But if you want to accelerate progress, you can. By creating an environment where people will be more attentive, creative, rigorous, courageous and focused on what matters. Where they're no longer fighting against the system, or each other or in fear - instead the environment is making them feel safer.

All of these signs and more are what happens when we draw on the Thinking Environment®, developed by Nancy Kline of Time to Think.

It comprises of 10 observed behaviours and ways of being that create conditions for optimal thinking – efficiently, productively and collaboratively. Achieving more in less time, without even rushing. In groups, teams, management, leadership, whole organisations. They sound simple but can be complex to master because adopting them requires effort, as does anything that's sustainable.

Here are some ways from the Thinking Environment to accelerate positive culture change, by creating an environment where people can be and give their best:

1) Begin and end all meetings with a brief round so that everyone can arrive by speaking. It doesn't have to be long, just a check in. And ideally something positive, invited with a question "What's currently going well for you?"

2) If you're the most senior person in the room, avoid being the first to speak on any given topic. If you want to kill courage and creativity in the room, let the leader speak first. If you don't want that, step back and allow others to. Sometimes though people wantthe leader to speak first because it means they don't have to - if you're the leader you need to resist the pressure!

3) Don't interrupt someone when they're talking, and discourage others from doing the same. A simple rule, which can be hard to follow as it's fighting against a lifelong set of habits. But try it. However in return, be succinct when you speak and ask people to be succinct. It makes for a fairer deal.

4) When meetings get heated or stale, agree on the question that needs to be asked, and ask people to go into pairs for a few minutes. It creates more connection, allows voices to be heard, keeps the issue on topic, and generates better thinking than when people are in fight mode or bored silly mode.

5) Let people know you want to hear different voices, different views, even if they disagree with the majority. Make it not only possible but welcomed for people to challenge the status quo. Stress that a healthy culture is one with a growth mindset, and that growth only comes from thinking differently.

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If you want to see people giving their best without killing themselves or others in their efforts, and hearing that they've found a better, simpler and more humane way to be with each other, let's talk. You won't have to wait for the data arrive, you can make it happen now.

(C) Linda Aspey, 2016