Is Company Culture Dying a Death by Our Data Obsession?

Is Company Culture Dying a Death by Our Data Obsession?

I am not here to condemn our use of data. I am here to question our pure reliance on it when it comes to developing company culture, and whether the investments and time we put into this heavy tech is really paying off.

Data has brought us the world we are living in today. 

I’m grateful for the data that helps me to enhance my life. From my fitbit that encourages me to move, the notifications from Amazon that it’s time to repurchase my cats medicated cat food, and even Netflix’s ability to keep me hooked because it knows what I like. Creepy yes, helpful, questionable. 

As I was driving to Manchester recently I listened to a TEDTalk by Bozoma Saint John, the Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix. (The Creative Power of Intuition).

Without ruining the talk for you, or giving away too many spoilers, the underlying message from Bozoma is that sometimes we get too bogged down in all the data, and miss the golden opportunities our intuition is nudging us towards.

I could relate heavily to Bozoma’s talk because I see exactly the same thing happening in the arena of company culture.

Since I started Liberty Mind in 2018, I have been approached by multiple companies wishing for me to sell on their employee engagement surveys, apps and platforms. The proposition being, that for every new client I got onboard, I would get a cut.

Unfortunately, they’ve all outreached to the wrong person. I’ve spoken previously about my dislike for culture apps, and how many of them don’t really ‘fix’ a culture. But the thing is, they wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a demand for them in the first place.

Companies fall over themselves buying apps, platforms and surveys to understand what their employees want, how to keep them at the company, and of course how to keep them running for longer.

The demand for these surveys wouldn’t be there if the companies weren’t desperate to fix something in their company culture.

Psychometric-testing is on the rise, employee engagement surveys, AI recruitment tools that pick out keywords to decipher candidates and mental health apps. The list continues to grow.

Selling the dream of data

Who can really blame any company for wanting to be data-led about their decision making? When things are up against the clock, and tight on budget, every decision counts. And data just makes us feel more secure that we’re making the right decisions.

Data has changed our lives so much, why shouldn’t it be used when it comes to improving the workplace?

For example, brands like Google are notorious for using data in all its forms to enhance their company culture and workplace environment. From data on ideal room temperature, to how long the canteen queue should be to increase inter-department conversations. Google makes other companies using employee engagement surveys, look like toddlers. Very few companies utilise data like Google does to create an optimum work environment and company culture.

Having data makes us think we’re making the right decisions, and even convinces us that we have strong evidence to suggest it will all work out in the end. But you forget, culture is about people, and we’re messy chaotic ever-changing beings.

Just take 2020 as a firm example. The data you may have collected at the start of March 2020 may have painted a picture of a happy and healthy workforce. A few weeks later, that picture was very different.

And rather than rely on data, you have to actually ask people how they’re doing, and what needs to be done to help them.

Yes, it’s a very strong worst-case scenario. But this happens on a micro scale every year. HR departments pull out the surveys and make decisions based on data that doesn’t have any real context.

Worst of all, as I’ve mentioned before, this data can be skewed, because the company is only asking questions they want to hear the answers to. People don’t have any real platform to express exactly what’s really getting in the way of their work or their well-being.

Does this feel right?

The trouble is, what the data says, doesn’t always mean it’s the best decision.

In a world that loves logic and rationale, and does away with ‘instinct’ and ‘gut feeling’ like it’s some kind of woo woo hippy magic, we’ve lost our ability to be creative and lean on our inner knowing.

I even heard one gentleman recently call gut instinct an acronym for Given Up Thinking. I winced.

Bozoma talks about this beautifully in her TEDTalk. Revealing how she ditched the data and went with her intuition, it paid off.

Every reputable company in the world is trying to build a team that is creative enough to keep up with the fast pace of change. But the data is the history of what’s been, not the crystal ball of what’s to come.

In a nutshell, the data can only tell us so much. For the rest of it, we need to dig deep. We need to tap into our human instincts and have real-life conversations with our team. Not just pry them for answers with a convoluted survey.

A few questions to ask yourself;

Why do you think you need data?
What purpose is this data going to serve?
Does what you’re creating in your culture feel right?
Have you created space for your people to share more freely?

We shouldn’t be sanitising peoples needs at work. We need to create more pathways for conversations so that we can dig deep on what’s getting in the way.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.