Lots of people we talk to are curious about our model of company culture and how it differs from the employee engagement tools on the market. There is an ever-growing list of companies trying to help employees ‘engage’ at work.
To us, this sounds mechanistic and instrumental – how can you squeeze more juice out of those individuals who come to work every day? How can you make those resources as financially productive as possible? How can you get maximum ROI?
This whole approach is much like trying to be happy. Aiming directly for happiness is unlikely to achieve it. The economist John Kay lays out the importance of what he calls ‘obliquity’ (gaining outcomes by not directly aiming for them) in a wonderful essay which was later expanded to a book. As he says, break parenting or mountaineering down to its constituent activities and no-one would willing take on such projects, as most steps along the way are unpleasant in isolation. In the moment they can be difficult and often unhappy. However, on a broader timescale they can make us very happy and fulfilled.
Applying this thinking to business and company culture, this quote from Kay’s 2004 essay is instructive:
“the statement “we look after employees because we care” is not the same as the statement “we have introduced new compensation arrangements because, having calculated the relative costs of benefits enhancements and staff turnover, and commissioned a consultant’s report on the policies of competitors, we believe it will produce a net enhancement of earnings per share”. Even if the pensions and healthcare benefits are the same, the response from those affected is different. That is why companies that put the second statement in their board papers and investor presentations typically put the first statement in their press releases and communications to employees. But people who work in a business generally know its nature well enough to see the instrumentality at work.”
All this is to say, when we measure culture for our customers at Workio, we do not ask employees “do you have a good culture?” or “Rate your culture out of 10”.
In our company culture survey of employees, we do not mention the word ‘culture’. Instead we ask about the things that together constitute a culture.
We ask employees about how their experiences match their preferences, and about the relative importance of different aspects of their work – money vs purpose, relationships vs innovation.
Employee engagement tools on the market do not really seem to care about the employee they are engaging with. They care about the benefit that employee can provide to their employer. They are aiming directly at it.
We care about the benefit to employers of a strong company culture too, but as a by-product of our deeper passion. We exist to help people find belonging at work.
The oblique benefits of employees feeling a deep sense of belonging at work are numerous and vast – greater employee retention, higher productivity, higher profitability. But we should not aim directly at these, neither our customers using Workio nor as Workio ourselves.
And even on another level of obliquity, we do not aim directly at belonging.
Our key insight is that employees have very diverse sets of desires or preferences about the company cultures of which they are a part, and employees are looking for satisfaction of those desires and preferences. This is what we measure.
We conduct a gap analysis between scores from 1 to 7 for an employee’s experience compared to their preference. For example, we ask employees
So here, the employee is looking for a more challenging role than they currently have.
We also ask how important the Role category is compared to the other nine categories in our model, and apply a weighting factor to each question depending on the importance of its category.
With our breadth of categories and questions, we build up a picture of the culture piece-by-piece. First for each employee, then for a team or department, then for a whole organisation, by bringing more and more results together.
So we measure culture without asking about culture, and we encourage our customers to foster communities of belonging in their organisations without saying so.
As humans, we seek out common cause. We seek out the like-minded. We seek out tribes.
At Workio, we are intensely focused on helping people find belonging at work – on finding their tribes – and we’re building a tribe of our own who care about this work. We believe that our approach to this, as well as our goal, is enlightened and oblique enough to have positive impacts for business and the world.
If you believe this too, or are just interested to find out more, get in touch – we’d love to have you in our tribe.