Are we measuring what truly matters?

Lately, we Millennials have been asking ourselves some important questions: ‘What is the deciding factor when choosing a place to work?’ In my office, the most common answers are, ‘A place where I feel at home’ or, ‘A place where I can grow and be happy.’ These answers don’t mention money. Instead, they center on a healthy corporate culture.

Why do my peers and I have different job expectations than previous generations? Is this a sign of some shift in generational attitudes? Are we approaching the first dawn of a new age?

To the Time Machine!

We are going to dig into history for a moment – please bear with me.

In the early years of civilization, we know that societies were mostly agricultural. Production was almost entirely a function of manpower – the more labor you had, the more land you could cultivate, and the more crops you could sell at the market. Successful farms were those that brought the most crops to market. 

Next, there was the Industrial Age. Despite many changes, important factors in agrarian societies were still important after the Industrial Revolution. But now, there was a greater focus on productivity and quality. If a factory was to maintain its competitive advantage, efficient production took center stage, as did the quality of the materials being produced. 

Skip to the Information Age

In the Information Age, the Digital Age, or the Computer Age, information became the product. These are economies “in which sources of productivity and competitiveness for firms, regions, countries, depend, more than ever, on knowledge, information and technology” Manuel Castels (1997). The timeliness and the relevance of the information you provided your customers became your competitive advantage. Technological advances meant that data could be rapidly processed and converted into information that aided important business decisions. These decisions weren’t just being made by managers: investors also benefited by getting more information about businesses.

“Shareholders have a stake in the company’s financial affairs and therefore have a legitimate right to know what the management has done – or plans to do – with the money” Hummels, H. & Timmer, D (2004).

The ultimate goal of every publicly-traded business is to maximize shareholder value and to demonstrate to shareholders that their value has increased. During the Information Age, a whole array of metrics and ratios were created to illustrate this. The financial performance of these companies was (and is) measured with metrics and ratios like the Return on Investment (ROI), Asset Turnover, and Profit Margin. In other words, the main factor determining success became company performance in financial terms.

What Age Are We In Now?

Now, many writers and experts are indicating that the Information Age is nearing its end. David Houle one of America’s leading futurists, wrote about the end of the Information Age ended back in 2012 (by the way, that’s six years ago). Another expert, Richard Barrett, who writes about leadership, values, and cultural evolution in business and society, argues that we are shifting into the Culture Age. Companies are not only focused on providing high-quality goods, productivity, and technological innovation, they are focusing on what their purpose is: figuring out who they are as a company and what they stand for. Companies are focusing on fostering a healthy culture for the people in their organization (2010).

Ok, you might be thinking, this sounds nice, but let’s see some examples. As it turns out, some of today’s most powerful brands have a reputation for cultivating an awesome company culture. Starbucks, Zappos, Twitter, Facebook, Southwest, and Nike are just some of the corporations that place a premium on healthy workplace environments.

Karl Moore an academic who studies leadership trends, states that Millennials constantly seek purpose in the workplace. At the same time that they yearn to reach the top, Millennials want to feel like they are contributing to challenging projects that will change the world. Moore states that “Organizations who wish to prosper will focus more time on meaning at work, have an organizational purpose and contribution which gives people a sense of satisfaction and a genuine feeling that they are making the world a better place (2014).” In this new age, companies have to cater to the needs of Millennials by fostering a healthy culture and serving a real purpose as a business.

New Age, New Challenges

The shift to the Culture Age has brought great challenges to individuals and companies alike. We are now in a new age, but we are still measuring success by the methods developed in previous ages. This might have something to do with a very simple question: How do we measure culture?

A culture is the sum of the values, beliefs, and behaviors of a collective entity such as an organization. The personal values and ‘hot buttons’ of every individual within a group or organization help to create culture. Personal values are what we hold dear or what is important to us. For example, Honesty, Family, and Trust are some personal values. A ‘hot button’ has a deep root in one of your personal values. It is a behavior or a situation that can make you feel very strongly because it crosses or goes against one of your personal values. For example, if one of my core values is honesty, then a hot button for me might be that I can feel deeply affronted if I discover that people are acting dishonestly.

How to Measure a Culture

Ok, so now that we’re clear on what culture is, let’s turn to the question: How do we measure it? As an intangible and invisible phenomenon, it can be difficult or nearly impossible to measure. Yet, the Barrett Values Centre’s Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT®) provide companies with a real way to get a sense of their cultures. The Barret Values Centre has developed these Cultural Transformation Tools to measure both the current culture and the desired culture of any organization.

The tools track developments along what are simply called ‘The Seven Levels of Consciousness.”  Richard Barrett explains the seven levels as follows: “Every human being on the planet evolves and grows in consciousness in seven well? defined stages. Each stage focuses on a particular existential need that is common to the human condition. These seven existential needs are the principal motivating forces in all human affairs. The level of growth and development of an individual depends on their ability to satisfy their needs”.

The CTT identifies the positive values and the potentially limiting values within any organization. Positive values, often referred to as virtues, enable us to live authentically, foster connectivity, and contribute to the common good. Positive values stimulate growth within an organization. Potentially limiting values arise from the fears and anxieties we have about not being able to meet our needs. Potentially limiting values stagnate or hinder the growth of an organization.

Now, this is a lot of information to take in, and it can be a bit difficult to visualize it. Luckily, you can always click here to download a sample report that the Cultural Transformation Tool provides. The report visualizes the results of an assessment in many different ways to help us understand different aspect of our culture.

Our Final Destination

The shift into each new Age was caused by a need. The shift from agrarian civilization to the Industrial Age was caused by a ballooning world population. This population had a great need for mass quantities of quality products. After the Industrial Age stimulated global development, investing became more and more popular around the world. Yet those investors had a need for relevant and timely information. The arrival of computers facilitated the provision of this need and brought on the shift into the Information Age. Nowadays in the Cultural Age, what are the metrics we will use to measure success? Will we measure culture as an important determinant of success?