Culture assessment to drive organisational change

Andres Fossas

Assessing your company culture is essential when driving organisational change because you need to understand where you’re starting from. Diagnosing your culture’s key characteristics, finding out what’s causing them, and the impact they are having are all vital steps to undertake in order to successfully shift your current culture to the desired state. 

Gaining an accurate view of your culture is also critical when deciding on who to bring into your organisation, so you can assess people on the kind of impact they will have on both the current culture and the future direction it needs to go in.   

In this article we will look at why culture assessment is important, what we mean by it, and how to do it effectively. This will include an overview of the three main products we at Walking the Talk use with our clients to help them on their culture change journeys.   


The importance of Organisational Culture Assessment  

Culture is complex  

Culture is complex. It’s driven by values, beliefs, and mindsets, and manifests in behaviours, systems, and symbols. I often compare it to an octopus with many arms, or to a multi-sided prism with many sides. And a lot of this activity is intangible – for example, you cannot always touch or clearly see the deeply embedded values, beliefs, or mindsets that are behind the visible behaviours.   

Address the underlying issues  

So, to make smart decisions about culture, including how to steer or transform it, you need to properly understand it. Otherwise, you run the risk of making knee-jerk reactions, which only prolongs the issues as they don’t address the hidden, underlying causes and effects.   

For example, we worked with a company which described its culture as very fast-paced, constantly jumping from one project to another without pause. When we asked them about the impacts of that pace, they said it made it very difficult for them to collaborate internally, which had a negative impact on their customers’ experience. It was only when we dug deeper into the hidden reasons why they felt they had to maintain this pace that we discovered the truth. They didn’t want to stop because there was a culture of sharing only good news. Slowing down to pause and reflect meant possibly discussing ‘bad news,’ such as areas in need of improvement, which was not an option – so they felt they had to move on to the next project asap, resulting in their need for speed. 

In this example, the real issue was not a genuine need for pace or a high ambition to deliver, but a lack of transparency with each other. But this wasn’t obvious before doing the assessment. That’s why we have our suite of assessment tools to help organisations understand their culture better, take the right decisions, and fix the real issues — even those that aren’t obvious — that will enable sustainable change.   


What do we mean by assessment in culture change?  

We describe culture assessment as understanding your culture deeply to make properly informed decisions about what you want to change about it, why, and how. It takes a variety of forms:  


For example, surveys across an organisation or targeted to particular groups.   


For example, focus groups or one-to-one interviews with leaders.   

As I wrote earlier, culture is so complex that the most effective way to assess it is to integrate both methods. If you just use quantitative, you won’t go deep enough into the issues to get a clear enough picture. And if you solely do qualitative, you won’t have a sufficiently large sample size to say your results are an accurate representation of all your people.   


Using assessments to measure company culture  

Walking the Talk has a variety of products on assessment:  

Culture Insights Survey (CIS)  

CIS is a great place to start when assessing your culture. This is an online survey of company culture that goes to all employees in your organisation. It’s a quantitative tool, and the questions (of which there are more than 60) are based on our six proprietary culture archetypes. We then ask people how often they see evidence of the healthy behaviours associated with each archetype in your culture. The survey only takes 15-20 minutes to complete and gives you a clear sense of how your people are experiencing your culture.   

For example, if you have low numbers on a particular archetype, you know that there is an issue with your cultural health in that area.   

Assessing leadership qualities  

The survey also includes a set of questions assessing leadership core qualities, and whether their behaviours are healthy or unhealthy regarding them. Through our more than 25 years’ experience in this field, we have identified these qualities as the most important for leaders to have when leading, supporting, and/or role-modelling culture change initiatives.   

Overall, the survey results tell you which culture archetypes best characterise your company, and how equipped your leaders are to drive the culture you want.   

View across your organisation  

CIS is a useful tool because it gives you a view across your entire organisation. We can also split the results by demographic, to see if there are consistent patterns regarding healthy or unhealthy behaviours in a specific subset of your company.   

So, you have the high-level overview covering the breadth of your organisation. Now you also need the depth.   

Discover Culture Diagnostic  
To get to why your culture is the way it is, CIS on its own is not enough. You need qualitative data, which is what our Discover Culture Diagnostic (Discover) is all about.  

Discover includes our focus group methodology and one-to-one interviews with leaders. This unique product was created by us close to a decade ago, and we have been constantly improving it since. It is a rigorous, systematic approach to conducting and analysing focus groups that gets you to your cultural why.   

How it works  

All our facilitators undergo three intensive training sessions on the process for conducting a Discover focus group, and the probing questions to ask to get to the why.  
  1. The 90-minute focus group is recorded (with consent, names anonymised) and transcribed.  
  2. The transcript is sent to our team of qualitative analysts, who have also been extensively trained on our culture frameworks, including the 6 archetypes.   
  3. This team go through the transcript line by line and classify responses according to our archetypes (main theme) and sub themes, and do a sentiment analysis based on a range of options. This can also be cut by levels within the organisation.    
  4. We run these results through our Be-Do-Have model to determine whether the responses represent an underlying mindset or belief, a visible behaviour, system, or symbol, or an outcome of the culture on the business.   
  5. A detailed report, including qualitative and quantitative data, highlights the full picture of your culture – what it is, why, and recommendations on how to change it.   

The rigour, breadth, and depth of Discover is unrivalled in the market. In combination with CIS, it provides a comprehensive overview of your culture, arming you with the data and insights you need to make deep, sustainable changes.     

The Taylor Assessment – Measuring Culture Contribution  

Hiring and developing your leaders based on potential culture contribution is crucial when you are attempting to enhance or evolve your culture. However, in our experience, organisations often struggle with finding the tools and support they need to measure these effectively. This is where The Taylor Assessment comes in.   

The Taylor Assessment is our tool that measures the likely contribution that any leader, whether a candidate or existing employee, is currently making or will make to your culture and working environment. This quantitative tool is not about measuring perceived culture ‘fit’, but about assessing the kind of culture the person will naturally help build, develop, and contribute to.    

It is borne from the experience, research, and data we have built up over more than 25 years, spanning all types of organisational cultures. During this time, we have encountered and worked with the full range of behaviours, values, and mindsets that you're likely to find in individuals, and mapped these to the six cultural ‘archetypes’ we have created.    

How it works  

  • Candidates and leaders take approximately 30 minutes to complete the online questionnaire, which has 27 questions.   
  • The questions are all about their behavioural preferences at work according to our six culture archetypes.  
  • Candidates rank their preferences between eight attractive statements.   
  • The statements are exclusively positive to reduce the risk of candidates answering in what they consider to be a socially acceptable way.  
  • This forced ranking reliably reveals how the candidate will likely make trade-offs in real life.    

Leadership development   

As well as recruitment, the tool is also used for leadership development and team building. By assessing leaders, it enables your company to map their scores against your desired future culture. Given the importance of leaders in setting the culture, understanding how they are or are not contributing to it is a critical step on the culture change journey.     

Team building   

Using the tool can help teams to better understand the impact their behaviours are having on the culture, the contribution they are making, and where their blind spots are.    

How do organisations know which assessment solution to use for their challenge?  

The best solution is to use all three products in a combined way, because they are complementary to each other. We call this an ‘integrated assessment.’ This will give you the clearest and most accurate picture of your culture. As I wrote above, culture is so complex that you need to use all the various assessment products to take the most effective decisions for your company. This is why our products can be deployed simultaneously.    

What’s the difference between TA/Discover/CIS?  

  • The Taylor Assessment is aimed at individuals, leaders, and small teams. It Is focused on assessing personal cultural contribution, not your company culture.  
  • Discover assesses company culture through small group discussion, with some one-to-one interviews as well. It is designed to go deep and expose the root causes of your company culture.   
  • CIS goes out to all your people and gives you the broadest possible spectrum of views on your organisational culture.   

To begin your Culture Transformation Journey, contact us.  

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