Can You Quantify Company Culture?
E.M. Forster wrote, “Only connect.” One trait of a strong company culture is how connected its employees are to each other. Some even say a company is only as strong as its culture, but can you use metrics to define connectedness? How does a company quantify culture?
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses Dunbar’s Number which suggests that the larger a company becomes, the less accountability coworkers feel toward each other. If in a company of 100 people, John asks you to finish a task, you are more likely to complete it because you know John. But replace the same situation with a company of 1,000 people, and John with someone you’ve never met in person, and watch the sense of urgency go wayyy down. It’s the interconnectedness within a company and the strength of its relationships that help drive its culture, and one of the most common challenges companies face as they grow is how to scale culture. Over the years, Zappos continues to explore new ways to measure the seemingly immeasurable.
The Face Game
Naturally, as Zappos grew, more unfamiliar faces began to appear around the office. The Face Game was created as a fun way to mitigate that challenge. Every time you logged into the internal system, you would see a face of a coworker and guess their name and select from a drop down of options on how well you did or didn’t know them. The Face Game would then tell you their name as well as a short description so you could learn something about them. Simple yet effective, the Face Game is one way that Zappos keeps the topic of connectedness top of mind.
While helpful, the Face Game’s results only covered one data point. FaceMail was created to measure not only if employees know each other, but how well. Similar to the Face Game, FaceMail added five questions to look at different dimensions of connectivity, trust, and frequency of connections. Sent as an email, an employee is shown the picture of another employee and asked:
How much do they like them?
How well do they know them?
How much do they trust them?
How many different ways do they know them?
How often do they interact with this person?
Each question has a series of answers to choose from, and any employee can also send out their own FaceMail to anyone they choose for evaluation. The answers are anonymous and employees can then check their own profile as a gauge on each topic and compare it to the Zappos average. FaceMail is an easy way for each employee to check their pulse anytime they want.
Core Value Assessments
In 2013, Zappos launched a new way to measure culture: the z60 review. The z60 shows how Zappos as a whole is living its core values. Derived from ‘360’, or a full perspective, the z60 review is the only company-wide core value assessment at Zappos. Crafted using questions that vet a certain set of behaviors, the results can be broken out by core value and give a measurement/percentage of how an employee is energizing each core value. This not only helps employees know their strengths, but also helps identify core values they can improve upon. Each z60 review ends with a meeting with one’s mentor and an employee picking one core value to work on. They get to pick whatever they want, and then pick one person in the company they feel they can learn from or emulate.
The z60 was derived from a core values workshop created at Zappos in 2010. The core values workshop was developed as a way to bring the Zappos core values to life and ensure that they were never just buzzwords. Brainstorming sessions were held to identify what kind of behaviors were associated with each core value so that employees could put an action to the value.
Some other key things to note about the z60 are:
- In addition to their direct team, employees also choose who they want to fill it out. It is suggested to be sent to at least five coworkers, and the average amount sent out in 2013 was ten.
- It is peer driven vs. manager/employee only.
- The entire company’s results can be compiled to figure out the company’s identity as a whole.
The key parameter that the z60 hinges on is that of relationships. Employees are encouraged to send it to coworkers that they feel they have a good working relationship with who can give them a fair assessment.
One day, a cute blue smiley face appeared on the screen every time you finished playing the Zappos Face Game. His name was Krunky. Today, that friendly little avatar is now depicted through ten different characters that each epitomize a Zappos core value. For example, the first one is WOWzer, who corresponds with Core Value #1, Deliver WOW Through Service.
Each employee, team, and even the company has its own character based on their z60 results. Another facet is that it will show you other employees that share your ‘character’. Any employee can also see the ‘characters’ of top leaders. The Krunky characters are another creative example of how to keep culture and relationships top of mind.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the saying goes. Because connectedness is a key component in measuring the health of a company’s culture, it can only be as strong as its weakest relationship. Trying to measure the strength of a company’s culture provides fresh insights into an organization as well as reminds us that our working relationships are often the biggest untapped resource a company has.
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