Back to Basics 2: Quantifying Culture

Nancy Roberts

One of the responses we hear a lot at Umbrella when talking to clients about improving diversity and creating an inclusive culture is a variation on the theme of “Culture is so hard to change” or “Culture is hard to get a grip on.” Well, certainly it presents some challenges compared to just crunching the diversity numbers, but it’s not impossible and will definitely repay the effort.

Generally speaking we find Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web model to be a useful place to start. This model breaks down corporate culture into 6 main areas:

  1. Stories. What are the anecdotes that new employees get told, those stories that being “Do you remember that time when…..?” To give an example, one of my favourites when I joined a previous company was the well-worn tale of how an eccentric staff member had brought a hedgehog into the office which proceeded to leave fleas all over the place, including in the (very old, very brown) carpet tiles. Said fleas were never fully removed, and indeed the office was full of small little bugs which never seemed to fully go away. . . All organizations have these stories, but what do they tell us about business?
  2. Rituals and Routines. What are the accepted behaviours in the office, are start and end times rigorously observed, or do people come and go more freely? Are regular coffee breaks happening? Do meetings start on time?
  3. Symbols. What does the office look like? How do people dress?
  4. Organizational structure. What does the org chart look like — or, even, is there an org chart? And what structures and groups exist in parallel, not officially linked but nevertheless forming alliances?
  5. Control systems. This refers to formal systems like financial processing and authorization systems, but also to softer forms of control, such as how rewards and incentives are managed and distributed in the business.
  6. Power structures. Obviously a locus of power will be in the senior leadership team, but where else? Is there a team or department who always seem to be getting more resource, or people who pop up in conversations that seem, ostensibly, to be outside their functional area?
Johnson and Scholes Cultural Web (image my own)

So by analyzing your business using this framework you can start to get a view on the culture of the organization, and where you might want to make changes. However, some of this will still feel quite qualitative, and we know that you need to put firm quantitative measures in place if you are going to drive real change, particularly in Diversity and Inclusion.

At Umbrella we take the Cultural Web one step further, adding quantitative analysis to this picture of the business. This will include deeper demographic analysis around some of these questions such as who holds power: is this just about job titles, or do race, gender, or other demographic factors come into play? In terms of symbols, we can look at the company from a data point of view as well. How many toilets are there for men, for women, gender neutral? How are the meeting rooms named? (You’d be surprised how often meeting rooms are named after dead white men…). How many accommodations have been made for those with physical disabilities (eg lifts, lowered basins and door handles)? And, of course, how do the control systems impact on staff? Is control exerted equally or are there areas where more control is imposed? And again, does this relate purely to job roles, or is something else at play?

Of course, this is not an exact science and we need more research in these areas, but we see with our customers that through this process of enhancing qualitative data with something more quantifiable, change becomes easier to implement. What gets measured gets done, so however you are tackling diversity and inclusion challenges in your business, make sure you have clear measurements and goals in place and you are checking in regularly on progress.

Nancy is the Founder and CEO of Umbrella, using data analytics and AI to help companies drive real change in diversity and inclusion. If you’d like to know more, get in touch here.

Nancy Roberts

Written by

Passionate about diversity and inclusion. Entrepreneur.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade