Culture matters. Everybody knows this. You can’t serve your customers if your culture doesn’t move employees to improve customer experience (CX). But for being as important as we all agree it is, most of us are very uncertain about how to change culture. This partly comes from uncertainty about what we should change our cultures to. We know we need to get past this culture — the set of behaviors, norms, rituals, and artifacts that have emerged over the prior years — and evolve to some other culture. But what should it be?

This is a question I will be answering from the stage of Forrester’s CX North America event on June 7–9 in Nashville, Tennessee. My answer is born from the frequent experience of having clients ask, “How do we create a culture of [fill in the blank]?” where the blank might be innovation, collaboration, or resilience: a culture of something other than what they currently have. We’ve spent years guiding clients toward those outcomes with varying amounts of success, depending on complex factors relating to the organization’s leadership, practices, technology, and circumstances. In the middle of the pandemic, when these questions of culture were even more urgent than usual, we set out to resolve this once and for all. Led by Senior Analyst Angelina Gennis, our future of work team led the survey of nearly 8,000 workers in half a dozen countries, measuring a whole battery of culture-related factors. Our goal: Figure out precisely what makes an adaptive culture different from a creative culture and different still from a collaborative culture. We figured once we found the precise formula for each culture type, we could give companies a map from where they currently are to where they wanted to be, empowering them to serve their customers at an even higher level.

What did we find? There is no such thing as a culture of something. We were able to measure collaboration, adaptability, and many other dimensions of culture. But along the way, we arrived at a striking and essential truth: Companies that are good at any of these things — scoring in the top quintile, for example, in any of these measures — were good at most of them. And some companies were good at all of them. This included few companies, mind you, but enough for us to realize that the real thing that makes your culture work is its overall culture energy.

Companies high in culture energy can direct that energy toward any new goal or challenge that arises. They can be innovative; they can be resilient. They can be customer focused while also being very employee focused. These things aren’t trade-offs to companies high in culture energy, which makes the answer to the culture question our clients have been asking us for years easier than we imagined: Increase the energy you have in your culture, while reducing the friction that inhibits your culture energy, and you’ll find you can adapt to any novel challenge that comes your way, serving your customers at a higher level across the board.

I’ll represent our team’s research on the stage, where I’ll share specific tools you can use to measure your culture’s energy relative to other companies, looking for strengths that keep your energy up and identifying areas worth increasing and investing in. Join us in Nashville at the CX North America event, and then follow up to see how your team and organization can boost your culture energy and make more goals more reachable.