Organizational culture assessment instrument

Is there an organizational culture assessment instrument to help identify and define your company’s core culture?

Organizational culture assessments are used to identify the principles and values that are core to the culture of an organization. If you are planning to conduct an assessment, what organizational culture assessment instrument or process do you use?

Is there an organizational culture assessment instrument to help you define your organization’s foundational principles and values? Is there some list of questions that can be used in a survey to simplify the process?

organizational culture assessment instrument-Core culture defined in culture assessment

I wish the answer was yes, but the truth is no generic instrument will capture your organization’s distinctive culture. There are a number of instruments that say they define culture. But in reality, it’s not your distinctive principles and values that these instruments measure. Instead, these instruments offer a set of pre-determined values to gauge a description of your organization. No generic instrument is going to capture the language and terminology that insiders use and understand as their guiding Philosophy.

So what do you do if no generic organizational culture assessment instrument can give you the unique description of your organization’s personality and character? If you don’t define your valued beliefs, how can you be sure employees will strive to practice these prime principles?

Use a process rather than a generic organizational culture assessment instrument.

Rather than a generic survey, you need a process that extracts the principles and values that uniquely define your organization’s core culture. The process involves a series of steps to define your organization’s vital core.

The process has three stages:

  1. Step One: Conduct interviews or open-ended surveys with key leadership to uncover the principles and values that they see as core to the culture. Sometimes focus groups, using a cross-section of employees, are also helpful to see how others throughout the organization define the organization’s guiding principles. You can learn more about the types of organizational culture assessment questions to ask at this link.
  2. Step Two: Next, construct and implement a closed-ended customized survey based on the information gathered in Step One. Yes, list all reasonable options derived from your qualitative data gathering. Now is the time for all employees to reveal how they view the organization’s principles and values—by reacting to the options on this customized survey.
  3. Step Three: Finally, conduct a facilitated session with the leadership team to review all the information collected and make decisions on the core culture. Leaders define culture with the knowledge of employee views.

Using this process, you will define your organization’s core culture. Then, share it with everyone in the organization. Begin the ongoing journey of aligning all practices and projections with the core culture. First, you must clarify who you are as an organization. Next, you must integrate the principles and values in everything you do. Build your Culture of Distinction by defining your distinctive character and practicing the principles that drive success.

The value of sustainability and the Five Ps

Sustainability is a commitment to ethical behavior in three areas of responsibility: economic, social, and environmental. This effort is an environmental and human focus that is profitable for the organization. Sustainable organizations create value and long-term stability while contributing to society at large. The Five Ps model illustrates how the value of sustainability can be viewed systemically in order to be effectively integrated in an organization.   Core Culture and The Five Ps--is the value of sustainability a part of your culture?

  • First, sustainability must be accepted as a core principle guiding the organization (either part of the organization’s Purpose, Philosophy or Priorities).
    • If sustainability is the organization’s Purpose, then it is why the organization is in business–the reason it was established.
    • If sustainability is the organization’s Philosophy, then it is a distinctive value of the organization that has endured over the years that guides how employees do their work.
    • If sustainability is a strategic Priority of the organization, then it is a goal that the organization wants to focus on and pay attention to in order to be competitive and thrive.
  • Then, the value must be infused in the Internal Practices of the organization–guiding employee interactions and how they do their work.
  • Additionally, sustainability must be infused in the External Practices of the organization–meaning that sustainability guides the products and services provided by the organization as well as serves as a guiding principle for selecting customers, vendors and business partners.
  • And finally, the value of sustainability must be reflected in the Projections–the images that the organization projects to the public–like the image of the organization’s offices or stores and the organization’s marketing, pr and advertising.

Without viewing sustainability through the Five Ps, the value of sustainability may be seen as a fragmented add-on having limited impact–rather than a value that is core to the organization and embedded in all the Practices and Projections of it.

Clarify organizational identity during change

Avoid changing organizational identity.

When going through change, avoid changing organizational identity. Identity is the organization’s Purpose–the fundamental reason why the organization exists–and its distinctive Philosophy–its enduring, guiding principles. When these few attributes change, employees will need to re-consider if the workplace is right for them because identity changes are like changing the company. It will feel like a different place–especially to loyal employees who were connected to it.

Clarify organizational identify if going through change.

In a merger/acquisition, a corporate spin-off, or other major change, where organizational identity may change, be sure to handle this change with care. Any confusion that employees have about the Purpose or Philosophy of the organization will cause tension, uncertainty, and even fear. This is not good for an organization or its employees. As soon as clarity can be provided–with a defined Purpose and Philosophy that employees understand–employees will be able to evaluate if the workplace is the right place for them. And only then, will momentum be achieved to move forward. Likewise, if the organizational identity is not going to change, that should also be communicated as quickly as possible. Ambiguity in organizational identity is destructive to an organization.

The Five Ps: an organizational change model

Use the Five Ps to understand your organization and manage change

The Five Ps–Purpose, Philosophy, Priorities, Practices and Projections– is a model that depicts a system-wide view of an organization. You can use this model to understand your organizational culture and to use culture to manage change.

At the very center, which is shaded in the image below, is the core culture–the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities. These are the principles and values guiding all facets of the organization. The Purpose and Philosophy are typically stable. But the Priorities can change as the strategy changes and as new areas are identified for employees to focus on and pay attention to.

The Five Ps
The Five Ps

Once you have defined the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities–the Core Culture–you can bring change by aligning the Internal and External Practices and the Projections with the Core Culture attributes. The diagram below shows examples of Internal Practices, External Practices, and Projections. Each must be aligned with the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities.

Alignment of the Five Ps
Alignment of the Five Ps

Use this organizational change model as a simple tool to understand the different facets of your organization and guide change.

A four-step organizational change process

The Building a Culture of Distinction program is a four-step organizational change process. Use this process to guide you in using culture to drive change.

An organizational change process: The Culture of Distinction Program Cycle
Organizational Change Process

Steps of the organizational change process

The four steps of the organizational change process are as follows:

1. Define the Core Culture of your organization

  •  Define your organization’s central principles—its Purpose and Philosophy—that describe the organization’s contribution to society and distinctive character.
  • Build on that identity-​​defining foundation by establishing the strategic Priorities that will enable your organization to compete and thrive.

2. Audit for alignment

  • Audit your Internal and External Practices and Projections to evaluate their alignment with the Core Culture–the Purpose, Philosophy, and Priorities.
  • Calculate your Alignment Index and provide recommendations to improve alignment.

3. Develop a plan to improve alignment

  • Develop a Core Culture Alignment Plan to improve alignment of Practices and Projections with the Core Culture.
  • Set measures to improve alignment.

4. Implement the plan and monitor success

  • Execute the plan to weave the Core Culture principles throughout the organization so everyone lives by the principles that will generate success.

Any organizational change process is ongoing. This is not a project; instead, it is a new way to view your organization and embed change, as needed, rather than at specified periods.

Organizational culture assessment questions to consider

When conducting an Organizational Culture Assessment, use these organizational culture assessment questions as a guide when collecting information through interviews, open-ended surveys and/or focus groups. During interviews, be sure to ask follow-up questions to enrich the information you collect. Encourage examples and stories.

Although the organizational culture assessment 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 response in the most appropriate attribute category. Review the explanation of the Five Ps to ensure you understand these concepts.

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

Organizational culture assessment questions

Below are some organizational culture assessment questions to consider asking employees in your process for conducting an organizational culture assessment.

Introductory Question

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

Purpose Questions

  • What is the purpose of this organization?
  • Why is the work you do important? (Ask this question up to five times in an interview.)
  • How are you making a difference to society through your work?
  • What is your contribution to society through your work?

Philosophy Questions

  • What special attribute does the founder/leader possess that has influenced the character of the organization? Explain.
  • Describe the ideals that drove the founding of this organization.
  • What value is fundamental and distinctive to this organization since its founding? Give examples.
  • What makes this organization feel different or unique from our competitors?
  • Describe the personality or character of this organization.
  • What is central to who we are as an organization that should never change?

Priorities Questions

  • What should we focus on and pay attention to?
  • To effectively achieve our strategy, what principles should guide how we work? Explain.
  • What key values, if followed, would help the organization compete and thrive?


What is an organizational culture assessment?

An organizational culture assessment is a process for defining and shaping the culture of your company. The outcome is a well-defined set of Core Culture principles and values (the vital Purpose, the distinctive Philosophy, and the strategic Priorities) that center the organization and provide the criteria for all employee practices.

Options for conducting an organizational culture assessment

If you’ve never conducted an organizational culture assessment, now is the time to consider it. There are several options for conducting a Core Culture Assessment. Choose the option that works best for your organization.

  • Option 1: Conduct a Comprehensive Core Culture Assessment. This comprehensive culture-defining process requires the support of a consultant with this specialty. A trained professional has an outside view of the company which is often clearer than the perspective of a company employee. First, collect data (see sample questions) through interviews and open-ended surveys and/or focus groups. Next, triangulate the data with a closed-ended survey (based on the analyzed data) for all employees. Then, conduct a facilitated session with the leadership team to review data collection results and decide the Core Culture.
  • Option 2: If you cannot afford an outside consultant, consider using this option. First, conduct a Core Culture Assessment Workshop with the leadership team using the Building a Culture of Distinction workbooks. The facilitator will use the text: Building a Culture of Distinction: Facilitator Guide for Defining Organizational Culture and Managing Change. Participants will use the Participant Workbook. Next, collect views from all employees through a closed-ended survey (based on the core culture options that came from conducting the workshop). Then, conduct a follow-up facilitated session with the leadership team to review the closed-ended survey results and decide the Core Culture.
  • Option 3: This option works well in a relatively small organization where employees will feel comfortable sharing their views openly. First, conduct a Core Culture Assessment Workshop with the leadership team using the Building a Culture of Distinction workbooks. The Facilitator Guide will be used by the leader of the process. Workshop participants will use the Building a Culture of Distinction: Participant Workbook. Then, have an open session with all employees to discuss and alter or confirm results.
  • Option 4: If the organization has fewer than 25 employees, you might consider conducting a Core Culture Assessment Workshop with all employees. The Facilitator Guide will be used by the leader of the process. Workshop participants will use the Building a Culture of Distinction: Participant Workbook.

An organization that has not taken the time to define its core culture principles lacks a clearly-defined identity. And with that lack of clarity, the organization will struggle to be successful. It will experience inadequate performance and unattained goals. In successful organizations, employees are united in shared principles.

Take the time to assess your organizational core culture. It will jump start a process for positive change. Contact me for information on the best way to conduct an organizational culture assessment for your organization.

What is organizational culture change?

Organizational culture change process

When things are not going well—for example, good employees are leaving, commitment seems lacking, productivity is not up to par—an organization needs to make some changes. But where do you start? Unless the remedy is clear, rather than making isolated changes, the smarter strategy is to examine the culture of the organization.

When you incorporate change through a culture-defining and alignment process, the organization clarifies the desired values, reviews current practices, and creates a plan for more effectively living those core culture principles. Through this process, expectations for behavior are understood. Any behaviors that are not in sync with the core values are seen as a gap that must quickly be remedied.

Many believe that organizational culture change is a long and involved process. But when employees participate in defining and molding the culture to enhance the organization’s ability to succeed, then the changes that emerge are easier to implement.

Use organizational culture change to bring needed change to your company. Let change management really be a process of defining your core culture, auditing your Practices and Projections, and executing a plan to live the core culture principles and values better each and every day. Bring change from the inside out. Treat your organization as a system. Link organization change to the culture that is valued.

Use organizational Purpose to unite employees

Organizational purpose: why is this work important?

The purpose of an organization is the most central component of its culture. The organizational purpose defines why the organization exists. The purpose of the organization is not the answer to the question “What does the organization do?” That typically focuses on products, services and customers. Instead, the Purpose is the answer to the question, “Why is the work of this company important?” This may sound like a simple question, but in its simplicity, lies tremendous significance for the organization and for each employee.

The purpose is the cause that defines the contribution an organization makes to society through its work. Of course, businesses exist to make a profit, but they also exist to make a difference. Through their firm’s work, employees can make a difference and be part of a meaningful legacy. When an organizational purpose is meaningful to an employee, that person feels a connection to work that is not only rational—it’s also emotional.

Purpose statement: be brief in length and broad in scope

A purpose statement is a few, crucial words that inspire and motivate employees who care about making that contribution. For example, the Purpose of a bread company might be, to nourish life. And the purpose of an entertainment company might be, to make people happy. The purpose statement is brief so employees can remember it and use it to guide their daily actions. Additionally, the purpose statement is broad in scope to allow the organization to adapt over time to a changing world while keeping a constant, consistent central focus. Products and services often change, but the purpose endures. Think of your company as a living entity; it is a vehicle for improving individual lives, and the world we live in.

Defining the organizational purpose: include everyone in the process

When defining your organizational purpose, be sure to include everyone in the process. Participation in the process builds commitment. Use small group discussions to come up with possible purpose statements. Then, let everyone respond to a collection of options to see the statement that best conveys the fundamental reason why the company exists.

A purpose statement does not have to be unique. Other organizations doing similar work may have a similar purpose. Your purpose should use words that are meaningful to employees and appropriate for your organization.

Purpose statement: screen using the six criteria

Be sure your organizational purpose meets the six purpose criteria:

  1. It is a contribution to society—not a product or service.
  2. It answers the question: Why is this work important?
  3. It is inspirational and motivational.
  4. It uses powerful words.
  5. The statement is brief in length so employees will remember it.
  6. The statement is broad in scope to allow for future opportunities and change.

A source of meaning: unite employees with the purpose

Take the time to unite employees around the organizational purpose so that work is more than daily tasks. Work should be viewed as a contribution to society and a source of meaning for each employee.


Organizational alignment and Southwest Airlines

Organizational alignment means no mixed messages

Yes, organizational alignment is a beautiful thing. When the image that a company projects to consumers is consistent with both the customer experience and the values of the company, you have alignment. No mixed messages.

Think about your company:

  • What are your company values?
  • How do employees behave with each other?
  • How do employees behave with customers, suppliers/vendors, and partners?
  • What is your company’s image?

Are they consistent? Are they aligned?

For example, if you’re a hotel that projects an image of great service, and customers rave about your service, that’s alignment. Or, if you’re a hospital that touts an image of safety, and patients observe and experience superior safety practices while staying at your hospital, you have alignment. Yes, alignment is a good thing.

What should Southwest Airlines do? It has a reputation for delivering great service and having a fun-loving attitude, but Southwest also has a reputation for low fares. Yet, according to a Wall Street Journal article, the average ticket price for a Southwest flight has been climbing and in some markets, a Southwest flight is higher than its competitors. Southwest price increases have been due to fuel prices (no more fuel hedges), longer flights and new ways for pricing tickets.

Southwest currently does not charge fees for checking baggage or for changing tickets. If you compute those benefits, it might explain why a higher ticket is not really higher when you add up all the charges. But for the customer who either does not check baggage or have to pay for checked baggage (due to frequent flyer status or the credit card used) and for the person who rarely changes their flight plans, this explanation does not justify a higher ticket price.

Southwest Airlines must rethink who they are as an airline. Are they like the big airlines? Do they only differentiate themselves by their fun-loving attitude and service? Is that good enough?

Southwest has much to consider as they merge with AirTran, but reflecting on their organizational identity might be something at the top of the list. The organization’s identity must be clear. When you change the essence of who you are as an organization, it has an impact on your customers and your employees.

So, organizational alignment is important. Know who you are and consistently be it. Otherwise, you will have a confused identity that can negatively impact employee engagement, customer satisfaction and your reputation.