by Leo Jakobson | December 08, 2015
It's no secret anymore that corporate culture has a big impact on the bottom line. But many executives see this culture as a "magic force" they can't control, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. The result is that most executives use intuition to try to manage their culture, say Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi in the article "How Company Culture Shapes Employee Motivation."

Yet answering three questions can help transform this mystery into a science. These are:

1. How does culture drive performance? 
2. What is culture worth? 
3. What processes in an organization affect culture?

To answer the first question, McGregor and Doshi, co-authors of the New York Times-bestseller Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation and co-founders of corporate-culture consultancy Vega Factor, surveyed 20,000 workers from around the world, analyzed 50 major companies, conducted experiments, and reviewed academic research. The result, they write, is that "Why we work determines how well we work."

They cite a 2013 study in which 2,500 workers analyzed medical images for objects of interest, being paid per image. Half were told the results were pointless, and the other half were told the objects they were looking for were cancer cells. The latter group analyzed 10 percent fewer images -- and made less money -- but spent more time on each image and were more accurate. "Reshaping the workers' motive resulted in better performance," McGregor and Doshi write. 

The article goes into some depth on the other two questions, before getting down to three simple things corporate leaders can do to improve their culture before the major changes to processes that substantial transformation requires. 

These are, first, hold a weekly "reflection huddle" in which each team member is asked what they learned, what impact they had, and what they want to learn next week. Second, explain why your team's work is important to the company and its customers. Third, look at the way employees' jobs are designed, giving them more opportunities to creatively improve what they do, see their work's impact, and plan to improve their own career paths. 

"A great culture is not easy to build - it's why high-performing cultures are at such a powerful competitive advantage," McGregor and Doshi write. "Culture can't be left to chance. Leaders have to treat culture building as an engineering discipline, not a magical one."

The full article is available here.