What to Look for in a Culture Assessment

July 5, 2022 Jamie Notter

A lot of organizations are realizing that the craziness of the last two years has had a big impact on workplace culture, to the point where they may not even know what their culture is anymore. That has them thinking about implementing some kind of formal culture assessment. There are many different culture assessments on the market, so here are some questions you’ll need to answer before making a choice.

What’s the model?

All culture assessments have a model, usually based in the research of the people who created it. It is critical that you understand the model and make sure it fits with how you want to use the results of the assessment. Human Synergistics, for example, has an assessment based in research that identified a number of cultural elements that are positive, and a number that are negative. They then developed benchmark scores for all of them based on organizations they defined as high-performing. Your results, then will be either above or below the benchmark, and if it’s off (below for the good ones, or above for the bad ones), you’re supposed to make up that gap.

Our WorkXO culture assessment, on the other hand, maps your culture across 8 Culture Markers (e.g., transparency, collaboration, innovation, etc.) that are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. Your scores tell you whether you lean toward “traditional” or “futurist” in how your culture treats that marker, but it doesn’t conclude whether or not that is right or wrong for you. In fact, we assume that different organizations will NEED to be in different spots on that continuum, depending on their unique success drivers.

Neither model is right or wrong—you just need to be clear on how you want to use the results in your culture change efforts and pick a model that works for you.

How much slicing and dicing of the data do you need?

Different assessments offer different levels of detail in their analysis of the data, particularly when it comes down to comparing subgroups inside your organization. All organizations have subcultures, and much of the time that is perfectly fine, but in some cases the differences among subgroups can be causing performance issues, so you need to understand what level of detail will be available to you in the assessment you choose.

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The big differentiator here will be in the format of the results. For assessments like Human Synergistics or the OCAI, results are delivered in a static document. For OCAI you can pay more to have separate reports done for subgroups within your organization, but they will each be a separate document. Other assessments, including WorkXO or UK-based Culture15, offer the results in an online platform, which enables you to make the specific comparisons you need, when you need them. In WorkXO, for example, you can create groupings based on multiple criteria (for example: women, manager level and above, within a certain business unit) and drill down to how they answered specific questions in the survey, compared to the organization as a whole.

Do you need all your people data in one place?

Perspective on culture is merely one form of data that you will be collecting from your employees over time, so you might not want to look at it in a vacuum. Are you gathering employee engagement data? Are you doing exit surveys or onboarding surveys? What about 360 feedback surveys and other aspects of performance management? If you are, then at some point you’ll be saying to yourself “wouldn’t this be easier if we could see all these results in one platform?”

Well yes, in theory anyway, but the practice can be a bit trickier. Like a lot of organizational data problems, there simply isn’t one perfect tool out there that will do exactly what you want it to, since everyone has different needs and started their different data collection processes at different times. That said, platforms like WorkXO and Culture15 offer some options. Culture15 has employee engagement questions built into their platform, and WorkXO is a part of QuestionPro’s Workforce Platform, that allows you to develop any type of employee survey and view the results in the same platform as your culture data (and they have templates for things like exit surveys and 360s). In some of the large enterprise solutions (e.g., Perceptyx and CultureAmp), culture itself actually takes a back seat to the broader employee experience data in general.

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What do you plan to DO with the data?

This is really the biggest question. All culture assessments are a waste of time and money if you never do anything with the data. In fact, measuring and then doing nothing is worse than not measuring at all. So before you choose the culture assessment, assess your own capacity for embarking on a culture change journey. Do you have senior team buy-in on making changes that will improve the culture? Is there someone on your team who has the band-width to work on designing the changes and then implementing and tracking progress? Can you commit to taking action even if the results of the assessment surprise you?

In some cases, you might need a consultant to help you with the culture change and ongoing culture management, so that should be factored in before you choose a particular assessment tool, and it obviously has a big impact on the budget you need to allocate to this work. Some assessment companies will certify consultants in the use of their products, and some of the larger platforms have staff that can help. In our case, we offer both consulting on culture design and lighter-weight “culture coaching” that could be paired with any platform (though obviously we’re biased in favor of the WorkXO assessment that we created!).

Don’t wait.

So there are clearly important questions you need to answer before choosing a culture assessment, but we strongly encourage you to do that work quickly and move forward. Everyone’s culture changed a lot over the last two years, and employees are paying closer attention to culture during this “great resignation.” Organizations that tightly align culture and success will be the places people want to be.

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.