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How do you measure company culture? You can’t. But you can do this instead.

Culture isn’t meant to be measured. Here’s why, and what you should measure instead.

“How do you measure company culture?”

Someone asked me this recently.

My answer: You can’t. And you don’t want to.

Why? Because culture, technically defined, is the artifacts, espoused values and beliefs, and basic underlying assumptions that people have. And that can’t be measured quantitatively.

Nor is it the point of culture, to begin with.

Culture is an organization’s compass for behavior. It’s what people use to decide what actions are acceptable, and what are not. At one company, it guides people to publicly report a mistake. At another company, it nudges people to brush a similar mistake under the rug.

To say you want to measure culture is like saying you want to measure a compass. You could pick it up and say, “Hmm, let me rate the shininess of this compass, or weigh how heavy it is.” But, really, what you care about is if the compass points you to where you want to go. Measuring the compass itself doesn’t do you much good.

The distinction is important. Because if you don’t see culture as a lever that influences what you’re trying to accomplish as a team, and instead as the thing itself you’re trying to maintain, you lose sight of culture’s power in the first place: Culture helps a group of people get what they want done, done.

As a result, what you can measure are the outputs of culture. The observable behaviors and outcomes you want to see as the consequences of your culture.

Possibly the most important output to gauge is progress. Ask your team, “Do you feel like you’re making meaningful progress every day?” Studies show how progress, more than anything, influences employee motivation.

This means defining what “progress” looks like on a day-to-day basis. Is it the speed by which things are happening? Is it the quality of the work being produced? Is it the number of people you’re helping because your work product exists?

It could also mean asking questions to your company about how helpful their manager is in supporting them to make progress, or how frequently they encounter frustrating obstacles in a given week.

In short: If you want to measure culture, start with clearly defining what the outputs of a successful, healthy culture looks like for you — and get super specific. Then, figure out what questions you can ask employees on a regular basis to gauge for that.

Don’t measure the compass, itself.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.