The Advancing Leadership Blog

How to Measure and Manage Your Organization’s Culture

One of the challenges to cultural change is that it has been difficult to measure. Culture is invisible, yet we know it when we see it. And, as we have learned in TEC, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

In 2008, my colleagues, Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright completed a 12 year study of over 24,000 people and published the study as the book, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. They came up with a simple way to measure the cultural stage of a group, or what we call a tribe.

Just as birds flock and fish school, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists tell us that people tribe. A tribe is a naturally forming group of between 20-150 people. Smaller companies can be a single tribe. In larger organizations, there can be many tribes. It is easy to spot the cultural difference between sales and engineering departments.

According to their research, tribes operate at five different cultural stages, which can positively or negatively impact your results as an organization. A high performing tribe can be three to five times more productive.

We measure a culture by observing the language people in the tribe use in their everyday conversations. There are five different stages; Stage One is at the bottom and Stage Five at the top of the ladder. Our study found that the stages form a bell curve with the majority of workplace tribes at Stage Three.  By observing and classifying the people that work for you into these five stages, you will be able to lead them to the next highest level.  Here are the five stages and the typical language used in each stage.

Stage One:  The language used is “life sucks,” and people act out in despairingly hostile ways. Life is so unfair for this segment that anything is permissible.  One of our clients is a not for profit that works with homeless people. This is a group of people whose lives suck. In the workplace, behavior of a stage one tribe includes violence, extortion, and sabotage.  Fortunately, it is only 2 percent of the workforce. 

Stage Two:  At this stage, the language used is “my life sucks” and makes up 25 percent of workplace.  The behavior is almost no sense of urgency or accountability. We hear a lot of excuses for why things didn’t get done in this tribe. It is typical to see it in large government offices. This is an upgrade from Stage One because even though their life sucks, they see others around them whose life is working. They do the minimum amount of work to get by and don’t show initiative. 

Stage Three: This is dominant culture in 49 percent of workplace tribes, where the language is “I’m great” (and you’re not). Stage Three people are competitive and work to show everyone that they are smarter and better than anyone else. This personally competitive cultural stage produces limited innovation and almost no collaboration. No amount of ropes courses and “trust exercises” will turn this tribe of self-declared superstars into a team. 

Stage Four: Representing 22 percent of workplaces, the language is “we’re great” (and they’re not). Stage four is the zone of where productivity improves substantially, three to five times more than at Stage Three. Teams are the norm and genuine stable partnership is the structure. At this stage, people feel more alive and have more fun. Zappos is a company at Stage Four.

Stage Five: This is the culture of 2 percent of workforce tribes and the language is “life is great.” Here, people focus on realizing potential by making history. Teams at Stage Five have produced remarkable innovations, leading their industries and the economy.  The first Macintosh was produced at Stage Five. This stage is pure leadership, vision, and inspiration.  The language focuses on infinite potential and making history. There is no other to compete with because the vision is about making a better world. When Gordon Binder, the former CEO of biotechnology giant Amgen was asked who his competition was, he replied, “We’re in competition with cancer.”

As a “Tribal Leader,” you can change the culture of your organization bit by bit – and make it run faster, more productively, and more effectively. The result you will achieve will be greater strategic success, more profit, less stress and more fun.

Mark Taylor, a speaker for TEC Canada is a results-oriented executive with a 35-year history as an accomplished CEO and corporate manager. He chairs four TEC groups in Manhattan as well as delivers keynotes, workshops, training and retreats for companies that want to facilitate corporate change.

A former TEC member for 12 years, he is a retired CEO who founded several companies; one became the 58th fastest growing company in the state (which he sold in 2005), and a high-tech Internet startup that raised $20 million and went public. Mark has a MBA and is a certified organizational coach.

He can be reached at Mark@TribalLeadershipNYC.com

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