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Financial Sector Profile

Ask me Anything: Culture Benchmarks?

  • 02 November 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Are benchmarks useful? How can my organization learn from the culture profile of our economic sector? I received this question in response to the “Ask Me Anything on Culture” and I’m happy to answer it here.

Compare yourself

In general, companies love benchmarks. It gives an opportunity to compare the organization to the competition in the same market. It seems to answer the question: how are we doing? Are we normal? Are better or worse?

Yes, benchmarks give an indication - no more and no less. Culture benchmarks of an industry give an idea of the overall culture in that sector, given the nature of their activities, staff, circumstances, and market.

It is interesting to see the differences between the sectors of, for instance, healthcare and finance. But if you’re working in the financial sector the benchmark culture does not tell you the secrets of the competition.

Competitive secrets

Every culture profile is based on high-level values and tons of research. The four culture types of the Competing Values Framework are thoroughly validated and very insightful to work with when you want to change the culture. I work with clients to make those high-level values operational and discover how they are displayed as daily behaviors. What is typical for this company? How do we express the people-oriented Collaborate Culture? How can you detect our famous flexible Create Culture? And so on.

Culture values are expressed as daily behaviors, decisions, interactions, and outcomes. Just knowing the dominant culture values does not tell you what your competition is doing differently on a daily basis. It’s the details that make the difference. The secret sauce of a stellar performance could be one positive leader that balances a task with a people orientation. Or, the reason why your company is famous for its flexibility and agility could be that you have hired the most autonomous and creative staff from the start; and there is no way to copy that.

Competitive advantage

Kotter and Heskett showed that culture can account for 20-30 percent better performance than competitors in the same market and circumstances. As culture is unique for each organization an effective culture gives a competitive advantage that you can’t easily copy.

Culture cannot be designed and controlled and copied. Culture can only be developed over time if you engage people to reconsider some of their beliefs and practice to change certain daily behaviors that will affect the organization - and support those changes by also adjusting policies and procedures, and so on. These “secrets” cannot be found in the industry sector culture profile.

Focus on your own company

So, is a sector profile useless? Not entirely. It can give a useful high-level overview that can be “nice to know”. It’s nice to compare your company culture profile. It might answer the question why you are doing better or worse.

It’s nice to know if you consider applying for a job in that sector: does it fit you? It’s nice to see what different sectors value and how you could work with them as a consultant.

But for individual companies, there’s no strict “need to know”. I’d rather see my clients work with their own culture profile and make that operational on a daily basis than have them compare their company to the market. A benchmark often seems to be taken too seriously, while it is of limited value when you’re looking to change your organizational culture. It’s better to focus on your own company than to compare it to others.

Spend your time on questions that inspire action:

  • What is working well in our organization?
  • How could we amplify and facilitate that?
  • What is holding us back?
  • How could we emphasize our preferred culture type to be successful?
  • What inspires us to go the extra mile?
  • What would we need to do differently on a daily basis to become the best organization we can be?

© Marcella Bremer 2017. All rights reserved.

By the way, if you want to work on your organizational culture, my next open workshop on Positive Culture Change Leadership is scheduled for May 2018! More information and registration is available and the Early Bird rate still applies.