Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Measuring Organizational Culture

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When someone tells me that they want to measure organizational culture I get just a little nervous, as I am pretty sure however I respond there is a good chance that person might have something else, other than what I say, on their mind. If you ask 10 people who say they want to measure organizational culture what they mean, you will likely get 10 different answers. Organizational culture in the words of one of my esteemed colleagues is “often a big, sloppy, wet concept that means different things to different people.  It usually requires longer, maybe fuzzier surveys more akin to personality tests than aptitude tests.”

People who push generic cultural assessments are in general taking a very specific point of view, usually their own world view, and pushing it to the exclusion of what might actually be in the best interest of the client or organization. It is of course easy to fall into the trap of a “quick” cultural assessment. It sounds simple, and as though it will give insight on some organizational issues, but in my experience these quick and easy assessments are often a waste of time and money. They make good marketing fodder, the magic silver bullet that can solve your issues, but little else.

Here for instance are a series of words that could be used to describe an organization’s culture. How would you go about picking and choosing which of these concepts to include in your assessment of an organization’s “culture”?

Aggressive Family Oriented/Personal Striving
Innovative Customer Focused Bottom-line focused
Learning Diverse/Homogenous Meritocracy
Sales Driven Cooperative Silo’ed
Safety Oriented Quality Focused Resistant to change
Respectful Communicative Secretive
Traditional Ethical Integrity
Bureaucratic Sustainable Oriented Entrepreneurial
Authoritarian Hierarchical Collaborative
Shoestring Efficient/Streamlined Transparent
Resourceful Prideful Career Oriented
Partnering Effective Fun
Irreverent Paradigm Changing “Get-it-Done”
Courteous Problem Solving Empowering
Standardized Engaging Hubris


Clearly the list can go on and on, but the point is that there are about as many words to describe an organization’s culture as there are organizations. Some people have models regarding which aspects of organizational culture are important, and I have more than a few myself. However, those that push one model as “the answer” are giving the complexities of organizational life and the business world short shrift.

So how might you go about deciding which aspects of culture are important to measure? Let me answer by describing a situation several of my clients have had over the years.

Most of the time, after an employee survey, we are asked to present the findings to the executive team. However, every once in a while, we simply provide reports which summaries the findings and the internal team takes it from there.  On several occasions the internal team has stated to me that they get only a very brief time slot to present the findings, the culmination of a pretty big effort. I ask them to show me the presentation and invariably the presentation is organized around themes like training, and communications, and decision-making. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but those categories are not what senior managers think about day-to-day. What do they think about? Their business strategy. So what if you design the organization’s survey and take the resultant information and categorize it into what is enabling the execution of the business strategy and what is preventing the full implementation of the strategy, perhaps by each strategic topic? Usually you’ll find that you get a whole lot more attention and the time of senior managers.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 8, 2014 at 7:38 am

One Response

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  1. Good topic Jeffrey. We do organizational culture assessments with small and large institutions. However, you recommend, these are only done in direct alignment with organizational strategy. What would be the purpose otherwise?

    We conduct and present the analyses, findings, recommendations and next steps in the form of a “strategy and culture report,” and it clearly outlays what is within the culture that advances or impedes accomplishing strategic outcomes.

    Everything in the culture should be evaluated from the perspective of whether or not it serves as an impediment or contributor to realizing the strategy. As I read the article, I just couldn’t imagine how other consultants are doing this external to the strategy or even what the .point would be..?

    Terina Allen

    June 8, 2014 at 9:43 am

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