What is the difference between Engagement and Culture?

‘Engagement’ and ‘culture’ are the corporate buzzwords of the day, and not only within Human Resources. Executives across all departments have realised that engaged employees are more productive, and that organisational culture plays a huge part in issues of hiring, performance, retention and corruption.

In addition, company leaders know that culture is established from the top down, so it is crucial that they be aware of their organisation’s culture in order to nurture or change it.

The leadership often think culture can be identified and managed through engagement surveys, as though ‘engagement’ and ‘culture’ are interchangeable terms.

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Culture vs. Engagement

Engagement concerns how employees feel about the way things are done. This can be evaluated in various ways – surveys, focus groups, interviews, observation, etc. The focus is more on the individual employee’s values, commitment and satisfaction.

Culture refers to the more unspoken, deep-rooted social norms – the beliefs, values and assumptions held by employees and by the organisation as a whole. These values are enacted through behaviours in the corporate environment, thus driving the unique culture of each organisation.

Engagement Surveys

These concepts require different forms of measurement and statistical analysis. Most assessments today are engagement surveys. Many tests are very subjective and one-dimensional; they do not identify why something is happening. Therefore, they reveal only one piece of the puzzle of organisational culture and can’t be used to tackle retention or financial crime.

For example, perhaps a firm selectively hired only highly ambitious employees, but they later lacked devotion and drive. An engagement survey could confirm very entrepreneurial employees. However, an organisational culture assessment could further reveal that those employees felt stifled by a corporate structure of hierarchy or bureaucracy.

Measuring Culture

Culture is more difficult to empirically measure, but it is possible using quantitative methods grounded in behavioural science. For example, cultural assessments can reveal the behaviours underlying outperforming versus under-performing teams, or why turnover is high.

CultureScope is an analytic tool developed from academic research in organisational psychology. It uses two online assessments to quantifiably identify personal behaviours against the perceived organisational behaviours, revealing where and why there are differences between the two.

Given that organisations are always evolving, leaders and managers must consistently measure the culture in order to manage it. They must recognise the influential relationship between employees’ intrinsic behaviours and corporate culture. Only then can they exemplify and establish a culture that nurtures integrity, collaboration, innovation and performance.

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2016: The Year of Organisational Culture and People Analytics

Only a cursory glance at daily business news and corporate social media feeds confirms this as the year of “organisational culture” and “people analytics”. These days, job hunters consider online reviews of office cultures, while a firm’s executive leadership know that their corporate culture influences company value and performance.

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In a Duke Fuqua School of Business survey of 1,400 CEOs and CFOs, 92% believed improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company. And more than 50% said that culture influences productivity, creativity and profitability.

Another indication of the importance of organisational culture is the proliferation of conference talks and workshops focusing on the issue. Sir Win Bischoff, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, gave a speech during the annual FNC conference that focused on the importance of corporate culture. “When there is a healthy culture, the systems, the procedures, and the overall functioning and mutual support of an organisation exist in harmony,” he said. “This will lead to enhanced integrity, confidence, long-term success and ultimately trust.”

Though “corporate culture” or “organisational culture” have become universal buzzwords, they’re still difficult to define. Essentially, culture is the behavioural manifestation of underlying values and beliefs specific to an organisation – such as patterns of thinking, communicating and decision-making. Though the leadership set the overall company values, culture also becomes office-specific and team-specific, as influenced by employees’ personal values.

The central principle of culture holds that values and behaviours are inter-related, so gauging personal or organisational values and behaviours in the right way identifies current culture and even predicts future behaviour patterns.

Methods of measuring and interpreting workforce data have spawned another trendy phrase: “people analytics”. This refers to taking assessments and algorithms a step beyond job-fit results to better design teams and predict business performance.

As Bischoff noted, “Corporate culture is intangible, it is true. But culture can be measured and much information is already available to do so… It is what you choose to measure and how you analyse and interpret it that is important… The indicators selected for assessment should be tailored to each company’s circumstances.”

The area of people analytics is at a crucial turning point, in which companies (both large and small) seek highly customisable HR analytics platforms that not only identify unique organisational culture but also provide further insight into which behaviours affect team dynamics, productivity, innovation and therefore company success.

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