Walking the Talk Blog

What tools should you use to assess your culture?

[fa icon="calendar"] 27-Nov-2018 09:33:09 / by Jerome Parisse-Brassens

Corporate culture has now become one of the key pillars on the transformation agenda of most businesses. This is because many organisations have realised that to get to the next level of growth, beyond a mere focus on results, they need to develop effective and courageous leaders underpinned by a culture aligned with the strategic objectives.

 The first step when embarking on a culture journey is to assess the current state of the culture. Many leaders and employees will be able to describe their experience of the culture but what is important in culture is patterns, not the experience of isolated individuals. Those patterns can only be uncovered when the diagnostic is broad enough.

 Your current culture assessment needs to be solid because the quality of your culture journey depends on the quality of the assessment. Without the fine details of what your culture ecosystem look alike, you are left shooting in the dark and hoping for the best. One point I always emphasise with my clients is the need to identify the potential blockages in the culture, which may prevent your developmental efforts, or worse, pull you back on your growth trajectory.

You need to look at two important aspects when assessing your culture:

  1. Understanding your culture the way it is at the moment
  2. Conducting a root-cause analysis of why it is the way it is

Let’s consider each element and the tools you can use.

Understanding your culture the way it is at the moment

If you think you need to change the culture of your organisation, it is essential to first understand what the existing culture looks like. This means taking a snapshot of the behaviours and mind-sets that are the norm in the organisation. By recognising the current culture, you can then determine the extent to which it is an asset or a liability, given the business imperatives ahead. This work is descriptive in nature.

Quantitative research can be used in this case. It will give you a good broad-brush picture of the current culture. For example, whether people see collaboration, or innovation, or keeping their word as common cultural characteristics. Or the extent to which damaging behaviours such as blaming, poor safety disciplines, or avoiding risks are tolerated. This type of research is useful when you are considering the culture you need for the future, because you can clearly build and communicate a ‘FROM-TO’ picture.

The best tools to do this are surveys. When considering the use of a survey, it is critical to think about the following three points:

  • Simplicity

Many surveys try to do too much and measure too many dimensions, which often results in analysis-paralysis. They produce complicated sets of data that need weeks to analyse and are hard to turn into simple actions. To be effective when working on culture is about choosing simplicity. You want to develop simple, measurable actions that will shift the culture.

  • Behavioural survey

One weak point of culture surveys is that they often focus on what I call cultural attributes, such as agility, collaboration, competition, or pride, but not so much on the behaviours themselves. It is the behaviours that make culture tangible and do-able. Clearly identifying the behaviours displayed by employees is therefore critical.

  • Cultural survey, not engagement

Our clients sometimes confuse engagement with culture and they use engagement as a proxy for managing culture. Engagement is the motivation that people have to do their best, whereas culture is how they do it. Engagement is often an outcome of culture, a lagging indicator of some sorts. If your desire is to work on culture, then use a culture survey, not an engagement survey.

At Walking the Talk, our survey is called CCI: Culture Capability index. It is a behavioural tool that measures 90 detailed behaviours across six cultural archetypes and three core qualities of courageous leadership for healthy cultures.

Picture8An example of output is show below.




Our survey helps you understand your current culture in terms of attributes and behaviours, and it enables you to compare it with your target culture to measure the gap between the two. The measure of the three core qualities in your leadership give you an insight into the organisation’s preparedness for culture change. 

Conducting a root-cause analysis of why it is the way it is

If you can describe your culture but don’t know what drives it, your interventions will be generic and scattered. The more detail you have on the ‘why’ of your culture, the better you will be able to plan for and implement interventions to build the culture you want. This work is diagnostic in nature.

Root cause analysis requires a qualitative approach. Quantitative research is rarely enough. For example, quantitative research may reveal a culture where people avoid speaking up. But the cultural drivers behind a lack of speaking up are numerous: fear of getting into trouble, a desire to respect elders, or because people are disengaged and feel they are never listened to. The approach to changing the culture is different for each, and so must depend on understanding the root cause through qualitative research.

The best tools to do this are focus groups, interviews and discussions. When considering the use of a tool, once again it is critical to think about the following three points:

  • Identification of the belief system and underlying assumptions

The root-cause analysis needs to give you the complex set of shared organisational beliefs that underpin the way people behave. This is part of your cultural ecosystem. For example, a belief that “what only matters here is to hit our production targets” will lead to people not speaking-up when they see an issue, because this could slow down the production process and they get in trouble. This directly leads to quality issue and customer dissatisfaction.

  • Clarifying the lynchpin belief(s)

There are usually one to three organisational beliefs that are so strong and so deep that they drive everything else. Identifying them is essential because they are your target for change, often regardless of the behaviours you are working on. Some examples are, “I am not valued here”, “Only results matter”, or “More is better”.

  • Turning qualitative data into quantitative data

The data obtained through focus groups may be qualitative in nature, but it does not prevent you from turning it into quantitative data in order to reinforce findings and build your case for change.

At Walking the Talk, our focus group methodology is called DISCOVER. It is a very special approach – not your traditional focus groups – that zooms in on what lies deep inside your ecosystem. Focus group discussions are led by the group, prompted by the facilitator, and are built on the premise that what people choose to talk about is what they value, what is important to them. So, if for example, you have 30 hours of recorded discussions and customers are only mentioned 10 times, it probably means that customers are not front-of-mind, and customer-centricity may be low across the board.


 An example of output is show below.




Our DISCOVER methodology will give you a description of what happens in the business, what behaviours are being displayed, and what symbols and systems are being used to reinforce the messages, whether consciously or not. Importantly, it also gives you the belief system shared by employees, including the lynchpin beliefs, and  their impact on the business.

Be clear about why you want to assess your culture, because it will dictate what tool you should be using. At Walking the talk our recommendation is to use both a survey and a focus group approach to get a detailed description of your current culture as well as the reasons that sit behind it.


At Walking the Talk, we are constantly being asked the question how do you measure culture? In response to this need, Walking the Talk are pleased to host a Webinar on the topic of Culture Assessment on Thursday, December 6th at GMT 12:00/ CET 13:00.

Walking the Talk Executive Director, Amanda Fajak, will be answering your questions and discussing how a culture assessment can help you understand your organisation’s current culture and discover why employees behave the way they do. This data is critical to accelerate the transformation of your business. 


Register for Culture Assessment Webinar



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