Color Your Culture Picture with Data

We live in a world of data. Every day we are inundated with more and more information. In fact, the internet alone is estimated to comprise about 1.2 Zettabytes of information (that’s about 2.6 billion times the size of the average computer hard drive). We use data to help us make decisions in many parts of life from where to go to dinner, what schools to send our kids to, or where to invest. The use of data in business planning and operations is just beginning to take off and is expected to increase exponentially as data storage costs continue to decline.

So what exactly does this have to do with culture? Surprisingly a lot. Organizations regularly collect large sums of data regarding their workforce and operations. Some common types of information include retention and recruitment numbers, workforce size, sales figures, and customer and supplier orders.

Each of these data points tells a story about what is happening in the organization. The key is to make meaning of this information by identifying connections and correlations between data points. For example, “Big Box” Inc. discovered the following connections following an analysis of its culture and operations:

  • Sales is driven by customer satisfaction, overall safety compliance, and employee retention.
  • Retention is driven by employee satisfaction, employee satisfaction is closely associated with safe work environments and the availability to opportunities to mature skills.
  • Safety compliance is closely linked to the maturity of the processes that govern the company.

By understanding these connections we have a more colorful picture of how the moving pieces are interrelated. Using the example above, our individual data points are now connected in a network of relationships where each individual part impacts the whole. For instance, improving employee retention not only requires us to improve professional development opportunities but also to closely examine the safety of the work environment. That in turn compels us to look closer at our processes and how we use them to manage the organization. To address a specific problem, we have to understand the system and how it functions.

Data isn’t just for business intelligence departments. The wealth of data (both quantitative and qualitative) we can access today makes our understanding of our culture much richer and nuanced. If we can use data to peel through the layers of our culture, leaders are able to address core issues earlier and employees will be more satisfied with their work, and all stakeholders will have the necessary information to tell better stories about where they work and why it matters.