How to Change Your Culture with 2 Numbers

August 19, 2022 Jamie Notter

Many organizations I work with wish they did innovation better. When we assess their culture, we see a common pattern: they are valuing the concepts of innovation (creativity, future focus, etc.), but they don’t put as much value inside their culture on the practices of innovation (experimentation, risk taking, beta testing, etc.). The result is limited innovation. There might be some in pockets or around the edges, but it’s not unlocking enough value.

Improving on the practice side is not always easy. With no track record for doing the practices, it’s easy to slip into the historical approach of doing things they already know how to do. But there is a simple process change that will likely result in significant culture change around innovation: put experiment metrics into your organizational dashboard.

Your organization should have a dashboard consisting of a small number of metrics that are vital to your success. On a monthly or quarterly basis, managers should be reporting up their numbers into the dashboard, which is reviewed by senior management. The dashboard typically includes key revenue or productivity numbers, and if you’re doing it right, it should also have some leading indicators that tell you if you’re on or off track.

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If you want to develop your innovation practice, then add two numbers to the dashboard: (1) number of experiments completed last month, and (2) failure rate (in %). Those are easy numbers for managers to produce every month, and I guarantee you if some departments are regularly reporting up zeroes, someone’s going to go talk to them about it.

And some managers might push back, arguing that their work is customer facing, and customers don’t want experiments, they want finished products. And you could push right back on them, arguing that there must be some part of the work where you can try to experiment. And that team would go back and find a piece of their work that is behind the scenes and they would try an experiment.

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By changing two numbers on the dashboard, you end up with people in your organization changing their behavior in a way that drives success. That is culture change.

So from a culture change perspective, it works like this:

  • Culture problem: We’re stuck doing things the way we’ve always done them.
  • Relevant culture pattern: Incomplete innovation (our culture values innovation concepts more than it values innovation practices)
  • Culture solution: Add experiment metrics to your organizational dashboard
  • Results: People in every department find areas to experiment and start unlocking new value.

Note: this post is part of a new series on “Culture Solutions,” where we identify specific culture change action items that real clients have used to solve real problems in their organization.

 

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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