Neon sign reading "change"

Enterprise Social Networks: An Alternative to Major Cultural Change Programs?

4 minute read
Laurence Lock Lee avatar
We set out to test a theory: drawing cultural assessment from real-time interaction data is more effective than drawing it from surveys.

I've written before about how we need to move beyond the ubiquitous “culture survey” into real-time digital sensing, where we draw cultural assessments from how employees actually behave online. The approach is very much in line with HR guru Josh Bursin’s future Employee Engagement 3.0 framework, which intimates a movement from annual surveys (1.0), to Pulse Surveys (2.0) to real-time human behavior analytics (3.0).

Measuring the Cultural Pulse: A Theory

At SWOOP we have been benchmarking enterprise social networking (ESN) platforms, like Microsoft’s Yammer and Workplace by Facebook, using social network analytics for more than five years now. It was therefore natural to use this source of behavioral interactions to test a theory: drawing cultural assessment from real-time interaction data is more effective than drawing it from surveys. At worse, it could be a complementary assessment that could be viewed on a daily basis.

competing values framework

We chose the popular Competing Values Framework (CVF) to test our proposition. CVF was invented by Quinn and Rohrbaugh from the University of Michigan in the 1980s. CVF has evolved to be one of the most popular cultural assessment toolsets, used by over 10,000 organizations. The CVF identifies two axes — “Internal-External” and “Flexible-Focussed” — which generates four inferred organizational forms: Clan, Adhocracy, Market and Hierarchy. The CVF is supported by a standardized survey, OCAI.

To generate a CVF mapping from SWOOP ESN data we selected specific measures that we felt best predicted the four CVF organizational forms: Clan, Adhocracy, Market and Hierarchy. We then applied the mapping to 78 organizations from our ESN benchmarking database. To identify what culture patterns existed amongst these organizations we applied a cluster analysis to the derived data which exposed three main cultural archetypes: innovators, market balance and community.

three main cultural archetypes: innovators, market balance, community

Learning Opportunities

We labelled each archetype according to the patterns we saw. We should note Quinn and Rohrbaugh refrained from suggesting a “best” cultural map, but did suggest a balance of all types will best prepare organizations for a disrupted marketplace, which we are seeing evidence of today.

At the same time, we surveyed our benchmarking partners using the key question from the standardized CVF survey. The 15 responding organizations provided a picture of what they felt their existing organizational culture is, according to the CVF framework. We felt our theory would be supported if we found a reasonable congruence between the SWOOP-generated and survey-generated CVF maps. Applying the same clustering technique to the survey responses, we came up with the following existing culture archetypes: community, control and market.

cultural archetypes: community, control, market

We can see the only overlapping archetype is the “Community” one, which was largely nominated by not-for-profits or community-based organizations. Tellingly though, none of the organizations nominating their existing culture as “community” had a SWOOP profile which mapped to community. In fact, what had become evident is that the SWOOP archetypes were largely complementary, rather than matching:

Related Article: 3 Ways to Change Company Culture to Support Digital Transformation

The Result: ESNs as Harbingers (and Tools for) Cultural Change

While our proposition for using ESN data to assess existing cultures was a failure, we potentially stumbled onto something more important. We know shifting an existing ingrained culture has been hard or even next to impossible, for precisely the reasons identified by the CVF, i.e. competing values. Nevertheless, nearly all current cultural change approaches suggest identifying a “desired” culture and then seeking to create interventions that can help move the culture in that direction (usually without success). 

The above example from one organization in our study was typical of what we have found. The ESN is being used to create a parallel cultural environment, where staff can exercise behaviors unconstrained by their current formal roles. Perhaps we should not have been surprised, as ESNs are often introduced to help circumvent ingrained hierarchies. If appropriately supported by senior executives, those parallel universes could be the answer to the cultural change challenges that currently plague many organizations today. Our benchmarking results suggest some organizations are approaching this level of use in their ESNs, but for the most part, the opportunity is still there to be exploited.

We haven’t given up on finding a digital mining approach that can replace, or at least augment, current cultural surveys. Perhaps other sources like MS Teams, Slack, email? Watch this space!

Related Article: Turn Your Enterprise Social Network Into an Innovation Pipeline

About the author

Laurence Lock Lee

Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.