Best Practices in the Measurement of Organizational Culture:
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The best-designed survey instruments for measuring work culture are BASIC:
Behavioral, Action-oriented, Strategic, Internal, Comprehensive


Some people do see the world through rose colored classes, while for others the glass is always more than half empty. Asking people about their attitudes is simply not as effective as asking them to describe the frequency with which certain key desired behaviors take place. When the desired behaviors closely correlated to the vision and strategy set for the organization, the survey instrument becomes not only a measurement devise but also a clear communication tool.

Action oriented:

Measuring culture simply for the sake of 'taking the temperature' of a work culture, or even worse for benchmarking purposes, can be horribly damaging to an organization. If you repeatedly ask your staff "How are we doing" and repeatedly ignore their input, or repeatedly compare yourself to other organizations without making the effort to do something to improve your own deficits, you not only alienate your employees from the process of organizational development, you also skew your survey results over time. Increasing negativity about a non-productive survey process creates a culture of cynicism and mistrust. There is no reason to measure organization culture unless you're prepared to base specific improvement efforts on your results.


"Off the Shelf" survey instruments which ask the same questions to each organization surely have some advantages. Since they’re a 'commodity', you can easily purchase them and detach yourself from the worry of producing a psychometrically-sound survey instrument and process. A more effective approach, however, is to create a customized survey instrument for your organization which specifically addresses the behaviors required to support your strategy and vision. Your survey instrument itself becomes a way of raising awareness about the behaviors necessary to implement your strategy.


Outsourcing the measurement of culture is almost always dysfunctional. By giving over ownership of the management of work culture to an external consulting company, companies also detach themselves from ownership of the results. An organization can only truly move forward by having an internal measurement competence. The “Best Practices” approach I take is to work closely with a key process owner within your organization and to provide that person with all the necessary training and coaching so that your measurements are valid, reliable, meaningful, and broadly accepted within your organization. Some managers believe that having an external company conduct a survey will increase the validity of the results by increasing openness and honesty. An analogy can be drawn to the role played by a marriage counselor or mediator. In a dysfunctional relationship, an impartial third party is sometimes necessary to facilitate communication. Any marriage counselor will agree, however, that the long-term goal should always be opening pathways of communication so that honest and open communication can happen freely without outside intervention. Continued reliance on external ‘experts’ sends the message to those inside the organization that managing our work culture or our human resources is not one of our core competencies.


Piecemeal measurement of an organization is a nuisance at best, disruptive at worst. Many multinational organizations hesitate to conduct massive worldwide surveys for fear of running into too many logistic hurdles: language barriers, cultural inconsistencies, huge overhead for travel, etc. A strategic internal approach to surveying removes many of these hurdles. Cultural inconsistencies are easily managed by local survey development teams who transcribe the strategic vision of the leadership of the company into behavioral practices. The process of involving a multinational company in creating a common culture is, after all, not one of language barriers but cultural barriers. Working intimately with the strategic vision to create proper wording for survey instruments as well as other communication devises raises the overall 'buy-in' across the board as well as creating a valid and powerful customized global survey instrument.