Can Culture Assessment Results Be Skewed?

March 3, 2023
March 3, 2023 Jamie Notter


Culture assessments measure one moment in time, so there will always be external factors that can push the scores in one direction or another, but for the most part these variations will be at the edges.

  • A good culture assessment will give you enough data points to paint a clear picture of your core culture, even when there are time-bound exceptions having an impact.
  • Look for the underlying patterns, and you’ll find the right path forward.


Once you run a culture assessment and look at your results, you may be hit with a lingering feeling of doubt—is this really an accurate picture of my culture? It’s a natural reaction. All you can see are numbers, averages of maybe hundreds of individual ratings, but you have no idea what people were thinking when they answered the questions:

  • Were they thinking of the whole organization, or just their team?
  • If there was a recent leadership turnover, is that having an undue influence on their answers?
  • Did they interpret the wording of the question the same way you did?

Suddenly it occurs to you that given these possible variations, you might not be able to trust that these results are accurate!

Before you toss out the results, however, remember that a culture assessment is not designed to give you a single, precise solution to a mathematical equation. There will never be a 100% accurate culture assessment, because that’s not how culture really works. Culture changes constantly, and it is experienced subjectively. Your results will help you understand your culture better, but they don’t “prove” exactly what it is.

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As the saying goes, you never put your foot into the same river twice. Each time you measure your culture, you might get slightly different results because of things that are happening in your environment, and that’s okay. Note that I said “slightly” different, because we have never seen culture assessment results swing wildly because of any of those concerning bullet points listed above. The changes are typically around the edges.


We ran a culture assessment with an organization back in 2020, during the pandemic. Unlike most organizations at the time, this one had made the decision to bring everyone back to the office (for at least a few days a week). We literally ran the assessment within weeks of the date people were told to report back to the office in person.

As you might imagine, not everyone was thrilled with that decision, and, more specifically, one of the statements we measure in our assessment is about “caring for the health and well-being of employees.” That particular question scored very traditional (in traditional management, organizations did not care about employees much). They scored 3.05, where our benchmark for that question is 3.62.

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I have no way of knowing, but it is seems likely that their more traditional score on that one statement was impacted by the recent decision to send everyone back to the office during the pandemic. But remember, that’s just one data point. There are several other questions in the assessment that focus on meeting employee needs (not just health and welfare), and they also scored fairly traditional. In fact their scores overall were on the traditional side, including in areas like agility and technology. Yes, their 3.05 score on health and welfare might have been higher if they had measured pre-pandemic, but it was unlikely going to be a 4.05, given the patterns we can see in the rest of their data.

When you get your culture assessment results, you have to do some dot connecting (and we help you with that in our report). So don’t worry if any individual score is where it “should” be, and instead look for the patterns that shine a light on your employees’ collective experience. When you see those patterns, you’ll be able to figure out what to do next, and it won’t matter if some of your scores around the edges were “off.”

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.