It has been said that measuring culture is like shaping smoke or herding cats. But that is before something called Return on Culture came alive. Douglas Conant, who led the remarkable turnaround of the Campbell’s Soup Company by increasing cumuative total shareholder return to 64 percent, nearly five times the 13 percent return of the S&P 500 during his 10-year tenure beginning in 2001, did so largely by focusing on the iconic company’s culture.
“I have a foundational belief that business results start with culture and your people,” he says. (See “Pulling Campbell’s Out of the Soup” for a fascinating account of the Campbell’s Soup journey at http://hbswk.hbs. edu/item/pulling-campbells-out-of-the-soup) Even faced with this kind of evidence, organizational culture is too often neglected by leaders because its impact on the bottom line is rarely shown to be linear.
Intuitively, we recognize that culture must have some impact on execution, marketplace differentiation, and the resilience it takes to pull an organization through good times and bad. But when it comes to the hard dollars and cents measurements, culture often takes a back seat to programs that can be tracked in real time and which have results that are easily understood and eagerly awaited by an organization’s various stakeholders.
“When we speak of culture,” says Bill Conroy, senior consultant with Senn Delaney, the culture-shaping company of Heidrick & Struggles, “we stay in the realm of chart values, ratios, and percentages. No wonder executives aren’t always interested in culture as a key component of success. And even those who are interested in it, too often lose interest over time and the daily demands of meeting numbers.”