Question: Tools to assess corporate culture

As we are growing in staff we are finding that we don't really have a clearly defined corporate culture. The result is silos across the organization, finger-pointing, and not infrequently, under-the-bus-throwing after generally civilized meetings.

What reliable diagnostic tools exist to assess and define our organizational culture as it is now, and what does the process of improving and building a strong organizational culture look like after that?


7 Expert Insights

I have a survey that I have developed over 20 years. I have generally used it for safety culture assessment, but many of the questions are not about safety. The survey validates against overall business performance, not just safety. A modified version could be used for your purpose.
How I approach these problems.
Step 1. Understand your business and your vision.
Step 2. Clarify what is culture.
Step 3.  Using our survey and/or interviews, understand in what ways your existing culture serves your vision and in what ways it does not.
Step 4. Using our knowledge of culture, formulate a change plan.
Step 5. Monitor Progress, course correct if necessary.

Brooks Carder, PhD

you've actually already assessed the culture you have simply by your observation, it's a culture of silos, wherein people's individual agendas and absence of personal responsibility fracture any notion of unity and singlemindedness of organizational purpose...

The question isn't what IS the culture that exists, the question is what is the culture that you all want to shift to?

The culture remains the same because somewhere in the system, it is being rewarded to do so.  If there were consequences to the behavior being exhibited,  then the culture you describe wouldn't exist.  

So, the first question is a question for the organization, and not just leadership, it's worth an open forum, inquiry etc. so that whatever culture is created it's organic to the whole and therefore much more sustainable...this is not a quick fix project you;re looking at because the entire ecosystem needs to be looked at, what contributes to growth, what contributes to roadblocks, HR processes,  leadership development issues>>>>

You'll need a culture expert to handle this one because the 'disease' is systemic,  you're just noticing the symptoms. However some questions you might want to answer are, when the new culture is in?.....

part 2 of response:
What behavior will you see on a consistent basis?
How will interpersonal problems be handled differently from now by ALL people?
What metrics will give you an indication that things are happening that support the new culture?
How will the common conversations change?  (see Tribal Leadership levels)
How will the new culture handle "problem child" even if it's a top performer?
What role does HR hold in crafting new compensation systems to support the change?
How will leadership assess itself and each other for the impact it is/ isn't having on this change?
What is the expected productivity, profit level shift expected if change is fully implemented and smoothly running?
Where are the key friction points to work on first?
What are the projected consequences if the change doesn't happen as completely as you see it needs to?
Who are the allies of a culture shift and who are its adversaries?
What mental models of thinking/ belief systems are in the way of the culture you want to see?
What organizational training may need to be brought in so that the group can attain alignment moving forward?

response part 3

Lastly....What message does leadership ALL have to get behind and then consistently and publicly model (not just telling, walking the talk) in order for the entire organization to "get it"

I see this happen a lot in organizations that I've played in....the key piece is that people ALL forget that it's one big team and if the team fails everyone loses, maybe not all the same level of loss, nor at the same pace or immediacy as others, but nevertheless....everyone loses that point needs to be clearly communicated...

Here's the deal...if the company fails and closes because of ALL this divisive behavior, who win?  bottom line NO ONE....but people seem to think every company they work in is invincible....that's what happened at Enron....and every other company whose collective arrogance of immortality kept them living in the blind spots of their behavior.

OH, and by the way, I'm not the person for you but there may be some colleagues on this site who are perfect....

When it comes to assessing culture there is ONE instrument that stands above all others... The Denison Culture Survey. It's available in multiple languages, too. Simple and easy to administer ... as well as debrief.

There are two approaches i'm familiar with.
The first is to follow the advice of the Dean of Haas Business School at UC Berkeley. Have an independent company collaborate with you to assess the current culture (mix of cultures by silo in your case, or "lack" of culture) and then spend the collaborative time that will be necessary to change the culture, using methods that apply to work groups/teams, and to silos or levels of management, and to upper management. Each level has a different method that is the most effective for it. The process is likely to take one or two years, possibly a little longer.

The second is to have someone with expertise in resolving internal conflicts in organizations assess what is going on and decide fairly rapidly whether this is something (s)he can collaborate on with you or not. As you describe your problem, it seems to me the approaches that can be use to deal with various internal conflicts might well be useful. Often effective changes can be made in weeks or at most months. Therefore this second approach would likely be cheaper and faster than the full "culture" approach. Certainly, finding out whether it would work could save you time and funds.

Like my colleagues, I can't ethically direct you to a diagnostic instrument, when such an instrument is apt to reinforce your issues, rather than offer a solution path.

While you identify real problems in your operating culture, focusing only on the problems will not create a foundation for a healthy and thriving organization.  I believe that our work in creating vibrant and life-affirming cultures should begin with discovery of the vital, essential strengths and gifts of the organization and its people.  The best method for this work is appreciative inquiry, which engages the organization community with a series of exploratory questions about the instances of great success, superlative service, seamless cooperation, and more.  Through this process, you are able to identify the essential positive core of the organization, the "root causes of success" behind your exceptional high points and strengths.

You can then analyze this "positive core" for the secret sauce, the ingredients that you want to draw on and leverage every single day.  When these are present, your organizational dysfunction is not.  You are aiming to make those high point experiences the new normal, because you are replicating the conditions and behaviors that underlie them.  

The appreciative inquiry process next guides your community to imagine, to envision what is possible with this new baseline of superlative behaviors, then to name the observable, measurable behaviors that will be your daily accountability checklist of actions that you must exhibit to be in that envisioned state.  Finally, you can establish a set of short-term initiatives that will speed you toward that new set of targets, knowing that your collective genius will continue to course-correct and fine tune your learning curve.

I love the appreciative inquiry process, especially because it faciliates your conscious organizational evolution toward becoming a powerfully productive AND deeply satisfying place to work.