What If Your Culture Assessment Results Are Negative?

January 18, 2023 Jamie Notter


A good culture assessment gives you the straight truth about what your culture IS right now, and if there are parts of your culture that are “negative,” then you simply need to change them. The longer you wait to see that, the worse things will become.

  • Understanding the troublesome parts of your culture is much more effective than ignoring them.
  • Pointing out (and addressing) the trouble spots will make the staff trust you more.
  • Our culture assessment reveals your patterns, which makes it easier to make the most impactful improvements quickly.


Some leaders I talk to want to put off doing a culture assessment because they think the scores will be unduly influenced by internal or external factors:

  • There’s been a lot of staff turnover, and the staff who’ve been around longer are stressed.
  • The pandemic has as all reinventing what work looks like, so measuring now won’t give an accurate picture of the culture.
  • We’re in the middle of (or about to start) some big initiatives, so staff won’t be able to give the assessment proper attention.
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In the end, these concerns seem to boil down to one thing: what if we do the assessment and get “bad” scores? This reminds me of that old professional development maxim:

Leader 1: “What if we invest lots of money in training our people, and then they leave?”

Leader 2: “What if we DON’T invest in them—and they stay?”

Ignoring your culture because you’re afraid that the results will not be as “positive” as you hope they could be is a big mistake. A good culture assessment doesn’t tell you if your culture is good or bad—it tells you exactly what your culture IS. Sure, if staff is burnt out because you have more vacancies than usual so people have to double up on work, you will likely see that in your assessment results. But that isn’t “bad,” it’s just true right now, and this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, because you’re all aware of the vacancies.


If that’s the case, your assessment might reveal a pattern around agility, where your culture values speed and quality, but doesn’t take the time to fix things that are broken or stop things that are no longer producing value (this is a VERY common pattern, by the way). That might be driven by the situation—the vacancies mean no one has time to do things like after action reviews or program evaluation. Or it could be a core piece of your culture that has been slowing you down for years. Once you see and discuss your results, you’ll begin to see which one of those narratives is more accurate, and then you can do something about it.

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Whether your assessment results are “good” or “bad,” the whole point of them is to figure out what needs to change to make your people more successful. As long as you take the results and translate them into meaningful action, there is no need to be afraid that the assessment results will be “negative.”

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.