Engagement is based on what we have and do; Culture is what we have, do and BE.
If you think about the iceberg model, the root cause of issues, or the ‘symptoms’ will be happening under the surface. These are lodged at what we call the 'BE' level, the deepest part of ourselves that is described through our Values, Feelings and Beliefs. We’re generally less consciously aware of these drivers of our own behaviour.
This is true for organisations, where the collective beliefs and assumptions of the organisation guide behaviour and influence what people do, how they interact and consequently how the organisation performs. Understanding these drivers of organisational behaviour are fundament to understanding and changing your culture. For these reasons, qualitative methods such as focus groups, interviews and or discussion sessions are vital.
Getting to the levels where values, beliefs and feelings reside requires more than a rating scale on a statement. True measures of culture will involve opportunities for interviews or discussion groups where people are asked “Why” for observed behaviours or “Why not” for absent behaviours? The questions need to probe and challenge the individual outside of what they have for so long taken for granted so that the “unspoken” messages are considered and evaluated.
Without qualitative data at this level, culture has not truly been measured. Often complemented with deep dive discussions, cultural surveys have the same advantages as outlined above, but additionally they can collect data on the following:
- Forced ranked options, which requires the respondent to prioritise out of a range of possible options. As there are typically no negative cultures and therefore it’s not obvious which are the “positive” or desired responses, i.e. much harder to fake.
- Opportunity to rate current vs future/aspirational which gives a clear view of the “gap”.
- Questions are about the organisation rather than the “I” which shifts the focus away from any one respondent and how they might be feeling on any particular day.
In summary, engagement surveys are a good indicator of culture at the 'Visible' level. However, engagement data like most quantitative surveys must be considered with its limitations in mind. For this reason, we must also acknowledge how susceptible engagement surveys are to “impression management” and individuals either wanting to please their manager or those who are tempted to fake responses. At the end of the day, an engagement survey result only reflects the information that people want to tell us. The reason for why people engagement is far beyond what we can see, but the surveys only capture the surface of all that it involves.