All work relationships, whether remote or in-person, are now informed by technology. Those of us working remotely rely entirely on technologies like email, digital chat and video calls, and people in the office still use digital communication channels for a healthy percentage of their workplace interactions (be honest, how often do you Slack someone because it’s easier than walking across the office?). Since so many of our workplace interactions pass through digital channels, our digital communication habits have a significant impact on employee empowerment and company culture. Both of these things are the sum total of the many small interactions that employees have with their managers, direct reports and colleagues – which are now largely conducted through digital mediums.
Employee Empowerment through Digital Communication
One benefit of this increased use of digital communication channels is that it allows for platforms like Cultivate that can help empower employees. Employee empowerment (which means giving employees a degree of autonomy and control over the work tasks and more decision-making authority) has been studied for decades and can have several business benefits, like increased productivity, lower employee strain and lower turnover. The Cultivate platform can provide feedback to employees on how they can be better digital communicators and leaders. This can directly improve employee empowerment by encouraging behaviors like asking for feedback, sharing opinions, and managers sharing doubt. These behaviors help contribute to psychological safety, which has been linked to higher-performing teams by research at Google. Our own analysis has shown that these three digital behaviors were correlated with higher-performing managers and teams. By showing people the patterns in their digital communications (how often they give feedback, express doubt, etc.) and nudging them to improve those behaviors, Cultivate can empower employees to be better leaders. This helps specific employees as well as the business overall.
Not only is the Cultivate platform a critical tool for employee empowerment, but it also offers new uses for this anonymized data once enough users at an organization have opted in. One of these is measuring company culture.
Mapping Company Culture
Our Natural Language Processing models measure about 50 different statistics about employee communication. These can be used to give employees useful feedback, but without additional context they’re aren’t very useful beyond that. But when enough employees at an organization are using Cultivate, our platform can find patterns in this anonymized data. These patterns build a map of that organization’s culture. For example, perhaps an organization’s employees send a lot of messages after hours and messages are usually responded to quickly after being received. That could indicate an “always-on” culture where employees are expected to be very responsive. Alternatively, an organization with employees that rarely send or respond to messages after 5:00 p.m. might emphasize work-life balance and the 8-hour workday.
Side note before we continue – Cultivate is an opt-in, bottom up platform focused on employee empowerment first. The data we use in these company culture calculations is anonymized, and we can only perform these calculations after enough users opt-in. This is different from how most people analytics platforms collect their data, which is top-down, and most times, not opt-in.
Our data science team used a statistical technique called factor analysis to find seven groups of manager behavior that often occur together throughout our user base. These seven factors are: sharing and gathering information, response time, one-on-one meetings, collaboration, digital accommodation, after-work requests and response density. How an organization scores in these areas compared to the average for all our users, or how different business units score on them, can show us a company’s culture. For example, if employees in the accounting department score much higher than the overall company average in the “one-on-one meetings” and “collaboration” categories, this could indicate that that department has a culture of being collaborative and having lots of meetings. Since this analysis is based on hard data derived from employee communication, it’s more objective than measurements like surveys and can be a useful way to diagnose differences in culture that employees can “feel” but not understand.
Putting it into Action
There is no “good” and “bad” company culture overall – each organization will be unique. But correlating Cultivate’s measurements with other metrics like performance reviews or business KPIs can help organizations discover what’s the most effective culture for them. For instance, in my last example, let’s assume that the accounting department consistently exceeds their KPIs and their managers get rave reviews on their yearly evaluations. Perhaps that company should consider emphasizing one-on-one meetings and collaboration in other business units to help them improve. Or if the accounting department is struggling, perhaps they should try to change those elements of their culture.
In the future, this robust model of culture might be able to tell HR and People Analytics departments how their company culture affects their effectiveness and business outcomes. For example, imagine being able to discover, through data, that sending emails after hours negatively affects employee retention. This would let PA and HR build specific plans to improve that (i.e. “This year our goal is to reduce turnover by 5%, so we’re encouraging managers to not message their teams after 6:00 p.m. and rewarding those that do not”).
This kind of analysis has some important limitations. First, it requires a critical mass of Cultivate users before there is enough data to be useful (and as discussed, those users must opt in – leadership cannot force the platform onto them). Second, it requires additional data, like business KPIs or performance reviews, to correlate with. Third, this analysis only measures digital interactions. Part of a company’s culture comes from the face-to-face interactions that employees have, and our platform can’t take this into account. Even considering these limitations, the ability to measure company culture in a more rigorous, data-centered way can offer incredible value to forward-looking organizations. We’re excited that our platform can not only help empower employees, but that it also could lead to a more useful and actionable way to understand company culture.
As Co-founder and CEO of Cultivate, Joe is focused on building leadership development and future-of-work technology for the digital workforce. In addition to leading Cultivate, Joe enjoys writing about workplace trends, teaching about startups and product management at UC Berkeley Extension, and occasionally running a marathon.