Understanding your culture ROI

Engaged workers working hard
Credit: JD Hancock CC BY 2.0

Go beyond your annual engagement survey when measuring the benefits of investing in your workplace culture.

Tired of talking about employee engagement, that once-a-year survey where leaders and employees are reminded that no one enjoys coming to work? Or perhaps you have seen reports of high engagement in your teams, yet no one feels their own experience matches the strong scores?

The challenge with employee engagement surveys is that they only measure engagement levels at a specific point in time, which can be highly misleading. Leaders need to pay attention to assessing engagement accurately, as scores have been proven to have direct correlation to key business drivers, including profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction.

If working to build a stronger workplace culture and deeper levels of engagement in your teams is important, you need to think carefully about where to focus your efforts. But first, you need to understand how to measure your culture ROI beyond the annual engagement survey.

Calculating culture ROI will be a combination of business outcomes and employee analytics. Knowing the business outcomes that need to improve, whether productivity or customer satisfaction ratings, need to align to your priorities.

Within your people data, many start with focusing on turnover. If you’re turnover rate is high in key groups, or certain positions are difficult to fill because of unique skill requirements, tracking turnover makes sense. But if it’s not a big issue, turnover can be a lazy metric as it's a lagging indicator (or "rear view mirror view") of issues, vs leading indicators, which can give you a future view of potential problems. Finding strong leading indicators of engagement can be difficult, but start with participation rates in corporate activities, like town halls, annual surveys or company events, or strong feedback in pulse surveys. Other measures, such as unusual spikes in benefits usage or training expenses, can also be leading indicators that employees may be looking to leave.

There can also be qualitative, intangible measures of culture ROI that are still important to consider. The strength of recruiting applicants, feedback on sites like Glassdoor, or concerns about your employment practices expressed by potential customers are all signs that problems may become bigger headaches.

Once you know how you’ll measure culture ROI, start thinking about where you need to make improvements to your culture. There are hard truths about employee engagement, but the biggest one is this: you can’t buy your way to higher performance by providing new perks and other benefits.

Here are a few priority areas that should be on your plan.

Leadership Development

Engagement cascades from the top, and as research from AON shows, senior leaders can create a multiplier effect for influencing key drivers of engagement. Senior leaders need to understand their role in influencing culture, starting with knowing how to communicate a clear vision and priorities.

Team Learning

In Deloitte’s 2014 study of millennial workers, 66 percent of millennial respondents indicated that they believe it’s “management’s job to provide them with accelerated development opportunities in order for them to stay.” While some may view it as an inflated sense of entitlement, I think it speaks more to understanding the pace of change in work today requires greater access to information and training.

These days, learning isn’t just formal training that happens offsite or via internal eLearning/learning management systems (LMS). Finding ways to connect your team to new information through articles, blog posts and short videos can also make a difference. Micro learning, or small learning pieces, has become a hot topic and allows your team to learn new concepts that can be quickly applied to their work.


Gallup’s research on engagement also highlights the need to include improving communications as part of your engagement strategy. Gone are the days when you could "set it and forget it" by establishing objectives at the start of each fiscal year; rapid change means ongoing updates and course direction to meet new demands.

If communications is a priority, start with understanding the 8 conversations you need to be having at work.


Building a sense of community within your teams takes work. Whether creating communities of practice to support sharing experiences with new technologies or project successes, or providing forums for team members to meet, connect and share information, employees want to feel a strong sense of belonging at work.

Understanding the impact of engagement on your team’s performance is a key step to building new momentum and outcomes for your organization. Measuring it is only the first step; you need to build a plan for sustained focus and effort in order to realize the full ROI of your investments in culture and engagement.

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