cPulse — A tool to proactively measure culture at any organization.

cPulse gauges culture at your company that helps you take meaningful actions toward it.

Measure culture. Those are the words we want to hear but in truth, I don’t know if we can accurately measure culture quite yet, the same way we can’t objectively say what’s good art and bad art. Asking to accurately measure culture displays a fundamental misunderstanding of it.

We are humans. How can you measure the heart without diminishing it? — Andi Plantenberg

How it works

cPulse is based on the simple premise that culture is people driven and my Framework for Designing Sustainable Culture. Quite often, to measure culture, companies send out surveys monthly, quarterly or unfortunately, annually. I don’t believe that’s how culture works — it’s always shifting and constantly evolving. And so, cPulse measures culture with conversations.

Safe Space

At Neo, I wanted a way to measure our culture. To get started, I wanted to understand what are the things we actively do that contributes to our culture. As a result, I went on to do an engagement survey — the things we do at Neo that makes up our culture. In doing so I found SF Weekly to be a safe place to converse on our culture. It’s a 30m meeting where we discuss various topics — operations, culture, business and hiring. The goal here is to identify or create a safe space to talk about culture because at its core, cPulse facilitates conversations on culture. To have a conversation, a safe space is required.

Culture Observers

Culture is an ongoing conversation because it’s at play every single day, every hour, every second. Why not tap the brilliant minds of the people who are passionate about the company’s culture to measure it — in real time. I call these individuals culture observers.

These are also the individuals who are in it every single day and so they too are affected by the culture. In many ways, they are constantly collecting data points (aka feelings) on culture that influences the company. Culture observers represent different facet of the company — for instance, engineering, design, leadership, support, etc. It’s a healthy diversity of all these including discipline, skills, values and perspectives that makes up culture.

Here are our Culture Observers

Jonathan Irwin, Managing Director / Michele Perras, Principle / Rizwan Reza, Senior Engineer / Richard Wyatt, Awesomeness Manager / Damian Madray, Senior Product Designer & Culture Anthropolgist

A large assumption being made is that companies can find the individuals who champion their culture, believes in the company, cares about its future and proactively work at making its culture better. These are the people who should make up culture observers.

Based on this idea, cPulse taps these individuals to document their feelings towards culture in the short term using a ridiculously simple way to capture this — spreadsheets. Throughout the course of a week, the culture observers are asked to enter how they feel towards defined metrics — engagement culture, dimensions of culture and team values.

Engagement Culture

At Neo, we have ‘programs or activities’ that adds to culture. And so do you at your organization. I call them engagement culture. Here are some of ours:

Hour of Awesome
Lunch and Learn
Away Day
Business for Meeting
Happiness Email
Weekly Goal Achievement
Design & Engineering
Internal Projects

Engagement with any of these activities is a signal towards the health of the culture and its direction. cPulse simply asks observers to enter 1 or 0 to state whether the week was good or bad for that particular engagement. It doesn’t have to be done at the end of the week, it can be done anytime an observer deem necessary. Why 1 or 0? The idea isn’t for observers to think about it but rather document how they feel towards it. It intentionally takes feelings and make it binary.

The nature of cPulse is to be unique to any organization. The activities, rituals or programs you engage in make up your culture. It comes down to the things you do based on what you value as a company and cPulse allows for it. Easily.

Dimensions of Culture

Culture is much more than cool activities. It’s about some of the things I talk about in Designing Sustainable Cultures — purpose (which defines behavior), diversity and ownership but I added three from Mark Graham Brown’s article How to Measure a Company’s Most Elusive Element: Culture — perception, behavior and knowledge. These make up my dimensions of culture.

Culture can vary at every company — it’s dependent on what dimension works best for your culture and what you’re building.

Similarly to how we capture data for engagement culture, the same applies for dimensions of culture. It however requires observers to have a solid understanding on what the dimensions of culture are and how to recognize it at work.

Knowledge — Do people know what values are and can they recognize when our behavior and decision making is consistent with those values?

Perception — Opinions about what are the real values and culture of the company collected via culture observers. It focuses on identifying what the real values and priorities are versus what is stated. For example, a lot of companies talk about diversity, but tend to hire people that look and think like them that went to the same six universities where they always recruit.

Behavior — Incidents of good and bad decisions and employee behavior related to the values. For example, if health and fitness is one of your values, you might look at how often people are going to the gym of taking breaks at work.

Ownership — Situations where employees are contributing to the company without being asked or recruited. For example, one designer at Neo, Alex Kim, built a tool called Summon where he illustrates Neons as super heroes and listed them in Trello with all their super powers (skills). Now Summon is being productized.

Diversity — This tends to look at diversity in all facets of the company. It’s not just about diversity in people but in thinking, in activities, etc. Just how diverse is the company and also gauging openness to it.

Values of Culture

And finally, there’s values because at the core, culture is about people. Inspired by Netflix’s concept of “stunning colleagues”, Neo did a dump-and-soft of the attributes that we collectively felt described “stunning Neons” — the kind of Neons that we would all value working with; that we aspire to become ourselves ; and that we hope to recruit someday. For background see slides 8–17 of the Netflix culture deck.

Stunning Neons:

Embraces diversity of thought, personality type, skill-set, and work style
Intellectually & emotionally curious about the world
Extremely passionate about
quality & craft
Special communicators:
direct, constructive, empathetic, collaborative
High character:
accountable, humble, team players, get shit done.
Genuine empathy & care for colleagues
Keeping track of what your team values in each other and the organization is important.

Taking The Pulse on Culture

Once all the information is entered, the cPulse runs some basic calculations that comes down to three important numbers:

Overview — this combines the following three.
Dimensions — this gives a pulse of culture in relation to the dimensions
Engagement — this gives a pulse of culture in relation to our activities
Values — this gives a pulse of the values within the culture
The numbers entered are fictional and only for presentation purposes

Why it works

Now, you might be thinking that none of this seems like an accurate measure. Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. The point is to talk about culture in an objective way. When we meet at SF Weekly, an observer can talk to the reasons his/her numbers are low if it is. This is the moment when we dig into the details. In doing so, as leaders we can make meaningful changes towards the results we want based on contextual conversations.

cPulse prompts and frames a proactive conversation around culture. It keeps the conversation almost real-time, you know, like your business, product or design meetings that happens every day.

Getting Started

To recap, here’s how to get started:

1. Carve out a safe space for culture to be one of the primary talking points.
Curate your culture observers, leave it open for anyone to join.
Identify your engagement cultures.
Define your dimensions of culture.
Download cPulse, start tracking.

Tweet to access and track your culture

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Do I do it for my team, department or company?
cPulse can be used at any of these level. It really depends on the goal of the company, the size of it and the level of buy-in. In our case, at Neo, we’re doing it at a location level — our San Francisco office. I also believe that it could be used for engineering and design culture across the company.

How do new activities make it onto the matrix?
Activities are added and dropped off all the time. An activity should only be added if it’s proven itself to be a contributor to culture. Until then, it should remain out of the matrix so the data doesn’t get cluttered. And yes, you add it and change the calculations to reflect the new addition.

I saw the pulse as gathering a good/bad 1/0 on a few meeting ceremonies but ceremonies aren’t culture.
We can talk culture all day but it comes down to doing and so a lot of the ceremonies, activities and programs is something that drives our culture. Why? Because outside of work, it’s doing things together.

Are you available to help with implementation of this?
Yes! I am. Please reach out to connect with me via @themadray on Twitter