Defining Organizational Culture: Core Culture

Defining the Core Culture of your organization is the first step in bringing needed change to your organization. Do you know your organization’s vital Purpose, its distinctive and enduring Philosophy and its strategic Priorities? Do you know the universal Priorities the organization must focus on and pay attention to in order to build an engaged workforce? Have all employees participate in a process to uncover and define the essence of your organization’s culture–the Core Culture.

When conducting an organizational culture assessment to define the Core Culture of your company, use these questions as a guide. These questions can be used when conducting interviews, constructing open-ended surveys or conducting focus groups. During interviews and focus groups, be sure to ask follow-up questions to enrich the information you collect. Encourage employees to share examples and stories.

Although the questions are designed to reveal particular attributes of the Core Culture, you will find that the responses are not always clear-cut. Often people’s responses do not directly answer the question. Be open to what the information you collect actually reveals. For example, a Philosophy question might yield a Priority. You must understand the differences between a Philosophy and a Priority so that you classify the responses in the most appropriate attribute category. Review the explanation of the Five Ps to ensure you understand these concepts. Take a few moments to understand the meanings of Purpose, Philosophy, and strategic and universal Priorities.

Some of the organizational culture assessment questions sound repetitive. Often, using a slightly different word or phrase in a question will yield either confirming or new, insightful responses.

When conducting an assessment to determine the identity of your organization, your objective is to find those few values that capture the distinctive character of the company. Nice-to-have values that do not paint the picture of your organization’s identity should not be a part of the distinctive Philosophy. Your aim is to identify the¬†fewest number of values. Otherwise, fragmented views will exist, and a shared view¬†will not be attained.

Use the workbook Building a Culture of Distinction: Facilitator Guide for Defining Organizational Culture and Managing Change for a detailed explanation of the process for conducting an organizational culture assessment.

Sample Organizational Culture Assessment Questions to Define Core Culture–the Essence of your Organizational Culture

Introductory Questions

1. What words would you use to describe this organization? Give examples of each word.

2. What are you most proud of at this organization?

Purpose Questions

3. What is the purpose of this organization?

4. Why is the work you do important? (Ask this question up to five times in an interview.)

5. How are you making a difference to society through your work?

6. What is your contribution to society through your work?

Philosophy Questions

7. What special attribute does the founder/leader possess that has influenced the character of the organization? Explain.

8. Describe the ideals that drove the founding of this organization.

9. What value is fundamental and distinctive to this organization since its founding? Give examples.

10. What makes this organization feel different or unique from our competitors?

11. Describe the personality or character of this organization.

12. What is central to who we are as an organization that should never change?

Strategic Priorities Questions

(These questions can also uncover Universal Priorities.)

13. What should the organization focus on and pay attention to?

14. To effectively achieve our strategy, what principles should guide how we work? Explain.

15. What key values, if followed, would help this organization compete and thrive?

Learn more about conducting the assessment process here