Successfully navigating the culture tidal waves has never been trickier. So many macro forces are at play that thrash culture around daily… things like…
Public and mass layoffs
Ongoing market volatility
Remote vs. in-office debates
Shrinking budgets and head count
Increased pressure to create companies, brands, products, and services that cut through the noise
Culture is something that has always been susceptible to macro forces like the ones listed above, but perhaps it has never felt more at risk when we also consider things like…
These stats underscore an important point. CEOs, heads of People and departmental leaders need to not only build unbreakable, remarkable cultures. They also need to understand the stages of culture they are in at any given moment of time based on what’s happening at the macro as well as right inside their four “walls.”
Let’s unpack this further…
At team, department, and organization levels, businesses go through what we like to refer to at SQA Group as Resurgence Cycles that are triggered by macro and internal shifts. At the highest level, we categorize the phases of culture as:
Build Back: A period marked by pervasive volatility, uncertainty, fear, and risk that may be piquing as a result of shifts such as layoffs, reorgs, mass team departures, bad company press moments, beloved leadership departures, etc. During this stage, morale is at risk, producitivty is hampered, mistrust is brewing, gossiping is pervasive, and so on. The organization is greatly at risk of further team exodus, distracted employees, diminished output, and compromised quality, among other factors.
Double Down: A period characterized by company goals being hit, teams rowing in the same direction, strong belief in mission/vision, healthy culture, and ignited innovation. Clarity has emerged about what is working so that the organization can double down on it and shift into the fast lane. There’s a focus on developing the career equity of employees, continuing to build upon a strong cultural foundation, and starting to stretch the next level of impact… Soar Ahead.
Soar Ahead: This is the 10X era. Growth and organizational health are soaring. Goals are being exceeded. Top performers are the great majority, not the rarity. Employees are activating their zones of genius regularly. The company’s services, products, and brands are reaching the next level of relevance and staying power. In this phase, the focus shifts from maintaining good, to inching towards great, with all eyes on reaching the extraordinary.
Now what makes these stages even more nuanced is that there is no final destination. Rather, companies dip in and out of these phases over and over as they brush up against new macro tidal waves and new priorities from their people.
For example, an organization might have been in the Soar Ahead phase for the past few months, but then a competitor introduces a new product that immediately captures market share and shifts the organization back into the Double Down phase. Or a company is in the Build Back phase and successfully rebuilds morale and belief within some departments (e.g. Marketing, Ops, Finance) so those departments shift ahead to Double Down, while other departments (e.g. Sales, Customer Success, Product) are stuck in Build Back a bit longer for a number of factors (e.g. their team leads are not as strong at instilling faith, those teams were hit by greater macro forces, etc.).
So what does all of this mean?
It means that as leaders of companies and people, we need to always be reflecting on three core questions as it relates to our culture lifecycle…
It all comes down to what we’re measuring and when. Let’s dive in…
There’s no disputing that tried-and-true culture metrics will always have a home in the world of all things People. Things like eNPS, pulse surveys, retention scores, etc. But, unfortunately, they don’t give the full picture for a Future of Work era.
They capture moments in time. They are lagging, not leading indicators. And most importantly, they don’t account for the differing lifecycles that our organization and our individual departments are weathering at any given moment in time.
Let’s take one small example within the Build Back phase.
Imagine a company is in this phase as a result of massive employee churn. They’ve lost a lot of their A-players and are committed to stop the bleeding. In this case, it’s not enough to just keep their eye on attrition and retention metrics. Those metrics will only tell them what just happened (lagging) versus what is about to happen (leading) so they can prevent additional churn and other negative outcomes.
In this scenario, the company should start to focus on identifying the factors that cause employees to quit well before they actually give their 2 weeks.
By reviewing historical data they already have — as well as new data sources and correlations they can create — the company can pinpoint the variables that cause employees to become flight risks in the first place. Things like:
By shifting the focus away from retention/attrition (lagging) to instead fixing the culture that is most causing flight risk to exist in the first place (leading), the company can use both strategy and advanced analytics to build back morale and win back unsure employees.