Why Measuring The ROI On Culture Is So Damn Hard

We live in KPI-driven world.

Perhaps, more accurately, a KPI-obsessed world.

Miss your quarterly forecasts – even by one or two cents – and watch how quickly investors pounce.

Don’t show a continuous upward tick in your fully-optimized marketing campaigns, boy oh boy…

Missing a credible and substantiated “adoption curve” in your investors deck – ideally one that looks like a hockey stick – then be prepared for the quickest VC meetings in history. 

KPI’s are good.

They give us something to strive for, a yardstick to meet and exceed. Heaven knows we’re swimming in enough data to generate a million KPI’s for each and every business. And just wait until my IoT friends get their hands on you.

Perhaps that’s why I remain so perplexed when I hear debates about the ROI of investing in Culture and how hard it is to quantify the impact of Culture-building (or Culture-changing) activities.

Truth is measuring a Culture ROI is relatively easy – and getting easier every day.

There are great organizations, like Globant and Microsoft, with amazing tools that can measure utilization rates (always a favourite in places who still label departments “Human Resources”) levels of collaboration, how “integrated” new teams and new members are within your company, average turnover, retention, tenure, absenteeism etc.

The ability, and the fantastic Saas-enabled, shiny Dashboard-rich technology, is there. Fantastic news for those of us who earnestly believe you measure what matters. And what matters more than Culture?

The issue, if I can try explain it from my observations, is not that measuring the ROI of Culture is impossible or even difficult these days.

The issue is that measuring the ROI of Culture is uncomfortable.

COMMITMENT - Uncomfortable because it requires a leadership commitment at the very highest levels of an organization. A commitment of time, a commitment of resources, a commitment of real dollars into defining, creating and nurturing a culture that promotes the care and growth of your people.

NEW EXPECTATIONS - Uncomfortable because it forces you to confront and address the classic refrain “why train our people if they’re only going to leave us” and actually build an organization that rewards curiosity, risk-taking and employee freedom. That means letting go…just a little..and letting the good people you’ve hired step up.

That’s hard if you’re accustomed to command-and-control operating principals, no matter how outdated those may be.

SPEED - Uncomfortable because, unlike tweaking our Tech Stack and our latest SaaS subscription, we can’t immediately and efficiently optimize our people in the same way.

With gleeful exuberance we’ll invest Trillions of dollars in Enterprise software, digital transformation consulting and elaborate Customer-Experience journey maps for the promise of immediate growth. Unfortunately changing how our people behave and how they make decisions takes longer – and FAST is the prevailing business mantra of the day.

AND HUMANITY - Uncomfortable because it requires confronting your values and your humanity head-on.

As Newsfeeds are populated by advances (or techno-porn) of machine-learning, AI and automation – and the huge gains to be made from deploying those – it can be hard to remember that business is still inherently human. That, until Robots have wallets, you’re still relying on other human beings to imagine, create and BUY your products.

To create a Culture that inspires and invigorates other human beings means YOU have to be able to inspire and invigorate others.

And you can’t mail that part in.

I get how uncomfortable it is.

But any more uncomfortable than these KPI’s?

Only 12% of American workers believe they get effectively on-boarded.

Only 35% of senior executives believe their Culture is effectively managed.

One in 5 employees are actively sabotaging their current company.

The $3 TRILLION lost because of the excessive bureaucracy of organizations stifling productivity and innovation 

I am a marketing person at my core. I’ve spent my career helping organizations find and communicate what makes them different and unique. With every passing year I’m more and more convinced that products can be copied – and commoditized. Flashy new technology can be acquired just as quickly by your competition.

But only your Culture is truly unique. No other company has it - or can copy it.

Only your Culture can inspire and invigorate your people to overcome and thwart the inevitable disruptions coming to every sector in the years ahead.

Only your Culture can attract the world-class talent you need to thrive in the future. Whether you like it or not, top talent doesn’t have to settle for mediocre Cultures.

In the end, your Culture really is the only true sustainable competitive advantage you have.

What’s the ROI on that?

I wanted to thank my friend Cybelle Srour for inspiring this post. She was the boss that personified a genuine mantra of caring for and growing her people. Thanks Cyb!!