Before embarking on any culture change, maybe you’ll want to assess the existing organizational culture first.
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Why Do We Need to Assess Organizational Culture
If you are going to carry out any level of organizational change – from adjusting operational processes all the way up to full-on transformation. You need to start from a base of understanding the status quo ante – that is, the current organizational culture.
This allows you to design a project or program of change that can, for example:
- Improved employee satisfaction:
When employees feel that they are part of a positive and supportive culture, they are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.
- Increased employee engagement:
Employees who are engaged in their work are more likely to be productive and innovative.
- Reduced turnover:
Employees who are happy with their work and their culture are less likely to leave the organization.
- Improved customer satisfaction:
When employees are happy and engaged, they are more likely to provide a positive customer experience
The Process of Assessing Organizational Culture
An assessment of organizational culture involves learning about, understanding, and evaluating shared values, beliefs and assumptions, behaviors, and norms within a company.
Edgar Schein analyzed organizational culture into three distinct levels: artifacts (the surface manifestations of culture), values, and assumptions. They are kind of like an iceberg, with the most important elements most hidden from view
Visible, surface elements of an organization’s culture, that an outsider would notice. They’re typically the things even an outsider can see, such as furniture, decoration, dress codes, rituals, and stories.
They can be easy to observe but sometimes difficult to understand, especially if your analysis of a culture never goes any deeper. Often they can have a deep and meaningful history.
The company’s declared set of values and norms. They set out ‘how things should be done’ and what choices we should make.
Values affect how members interact, behave, and represent the organization and are often reinforced by public values statements, such as branding straplines, or lists of core values.
Shared basic assumptions
These are the bedrock of organizational culture. They are beliefs that people take for granted, rarely question, and therefore tend to go unnoticed.
Understanding these shared assumptions will help explain seemingly confusing artifacts and values.
The Process for Assessing Organizational Culture
Here are some steps to help you conduct such an assessment:
Agree the Purpose for Your Assessment
Define why you want to assess the organizational culture. For example, is it to identify areas for improvement, align the culture with goals and strategy, enhance employee engagement, provide better customer service, or support another change initiative.
Determine Your Assessment Method
There are various ways to assess organizational culture, which we’ll look at a little later. Select the methods that serve your goals and fit your resources. Here, you will also need to decide what sample size and which organizational demographics should form the basis of your survey.
Design the Assessment
Agree the questions you want to answer. If you are using direct questioning through surveys, interviews, or focus groups, you’ll need to develop the sequence too. Be sure to provide for gathering both qualitative and quantitative data to give you a comprehensive understanding. I also recommend a staged approach, so you can re-evaluate the method and questions after the first cohort of your study. Also determine your approach to confidentiality and anonymity to encourage honest responses.
Carry out the assessment by administering surveys, conducting interviews or focus groups, and observing behaviors.
Analyze the data
Data analysis is where you will look for patterns, themes, and discrepancies. These will be the basis of your conclusions and recommendations for change. Consider using software to support quantitative analysis and collation of qualitative data. AI tools can be a huge help with both of these.
Interpret the results
AI may provide a first pass at interpreting the findings. But, I think it still comes down to Human Intelligence to properly understand an organizational culture. Identify those cultural attributes that contribute positively to the organization’s goals and those that might hold back progress. Now, you can determine the level of alignment between the current and desired cultures – and where the mismatches lie.
Report on your Findings
Share your results with survey sponsors and stakeholders. Present your findings clearly, separating out facts from interpretations, and delivering the essential findings up-front. Then facilitate discussion to test your interpretations and ensure understanding among your audience.
Develop Your Plan
This is where we move from assessing organizational culture to using the assessment. So, I will stop here, knowing that you know the importance of defining goals and objectives, scoping the work, assigning responsibilities, and establishing budgets and timelines.
Then, of course, following sign-off, we’re into implementation, monitoring, and control.
Remember that assessing organizational culture is an iterative process. Culture change takes time, so you will need to take continuous soundings to understand your progress.
Assessment Tools to Gather Data
When conducting an assessment of organizational culture, we can draw from a variety of methods to collect data. Consider multiple approaches, to get a rounded perspective of the culture.
Employee surveys are the most common way to assess organizational culture. Surveys can be quick, efficient, and cost-effective. But there is no scope for responding in detail to individual insights.
Focus groups are a qualitative research method where you can gather feedback from a small group of people and explore in-depth topics that may not be well-suited for surveys. They can be expensive to run, but potentially less so than one-on-one interviews.
Interviews are another qualitative research method that you can carry out with employees at all levels of the organization, from frontline workers to senior executives. They are often the best way to get insights into the organization’s culture that may not be evident from surveys or focus groups.
People don’t often say what they do – they don’t always know it! Observation is a way to collect cultural data that involves simply observing the real behavior of employees and managers in the workplace. It can be the best way to identify the unspoken cultural norms and values of the organization, and a way to see how employees interact with each other and with customers.
Take a look around your organization. The culture leaves a trail of breadcrumbs in the physical artifacts. Everything from the style of its formal documents to the graffiti in the toilets. The way people leave their workstations at the end of the day, to the organization of informal spaces like a kitchen or coffee lounge. Wander around and use your eyes. Take photos and make notes. Discuss your observations in your team.
The Nature Organizations
For a whole course on Organizational Culture, hop over to our sister channel, Management Courses, and check out the full course on The Nature Organizations. This has six videos that look at the main models of Organizational Culture. You can see it on:
Recommended Videos to Help with Project and Organizational Culture
Carefully curated video recommendations for you:
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- How to Survey Changes to Your External Business Environment | Video
- How to Transition to Business as Usual – BAU | Video
- What is a Business Blueprint? | Video
- How to Create a Project Organization from the Wider Organizational Structure | Video
- How to Build a Collaborative Project Culture with Deb Mashek
Recommended Articles to Help with Project and Organizational Culture
- What is Project Culture and How can You Craft it
- How to Build a Robust Project Risk Culture [8 Steps]
- Support Organizational Change: A Complete Guide to What You Need to Know
- Your Helpful Guide: Here’s How to Transition to Business as Usual
What Kit does a Project Manager Need?
I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
Note that the links are affiliated.
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For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.