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Are You Measuring Change at the Right Organizational Layer?

Change can be tough to pinpoint. It’s constant, but its effects can appear instantaneously, take time to become evident, or even give contradictory signals.

For leaders in any size enterprise, it can feel nowhere near as concrete a measurement as, say, testing the placement of a button on a website, or getting a thumbs up or thumbs down from the market after a major earnings report—those are obvious signals. At the same time, you wouldn’t judge the success of an entire marketing campaign based on one button’s placements, or make a decision to turn out the lights of an organization based on a bad earnings call. 

That’s why when you’re thinking about measuring organizational change, it’s important to think in layers: they allow you to measure a healthy mix of outcomes, and design change everyone can experience at different speeds.

The Paces of Change

Stewart Brand’s Pace Layering concept theorizes that different parts (or layers) of society change at different paces, from the frenetic shifts of fashion to the more glacial shifts of nature. It inspired us to think about how we measure change within the organization, as well as types of meaningful interventions at different levels—displayed in the image below as yellow notes.

If you want to change “Individual Behavior” within your organization, for example, focus on better feedback and active coaching, and track how often you hold 1:1s with your direct reports. If you’re looking for change to occur at the “Shared Attitudes” layer, though—say, you want the media to start using your messaging to describe a new trend—you could measure total airtime. Of course, every organization’s activities and metrics will be different. What’s important is to not confuse metrics at different levels: tracking a metric for “Mood” if you’re really trying to change “Collective Behavior” is a recipe for frustration.

To get you started, we’ve included some of the most common tactics or interventions that we’ve found successful at making change at a given level. Plot your own as you see fit. 

Change LayerHow to Impact:Watch Out:
MoodSurprise perks, bonding exercises, news, leadership affectThis is the most ephemeral and least predictive layer of change
Individual BehaviorImmediate feedback, performance reviews, coachingIndividuals are going to be influenced long-term by their peers and the norms around them
Collective BehaviorShared rituals (e.g. all-hands), incentives, process improvements, leadership changes, etc.The more teams are engaged in co-creating these interventions, the more they will be committed to the changes
Shared AttitudesTangible proof of change, repeated messaging by leadershipAttitudes cannot be faked nor coerced. Any messaging has to be realistic, ground in evidence, and relevant to the audience
Firm Performance &
Market Position
These domains are not, long-term, directly influenced. Yes, some consultants may rush to layoffs and the like to drive short-term gains, but these advantages rarely persist

Getting a Holistic View of Change

If you’re already surveying your team’s engagement levels, it’s also good to think about how your survey questions match up to change layers. Shifts in these responses over time will help tell how quickly you’re achieving your goals of change. 

For example, if you want to measure the Collective Behavior level, you might ask, “Does our organization have an effective decision making process that governs its planning?” If you’re more interested in Individual Behavior and want to know if people trust their colleagues, you would ask, “Can you trust when teammates say they’ll do something they’ll follow through with it?” 

It’s not always obvious to see when you’re making an impact, but knowing what you’re trying to measure is a good start.

Published January 31, 2021

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