Measuring Organisational Culture and Employee Engagement

Most senior executives and business owners have some level of preoccupation with catalysing their culture to higher levels of performance and/or excellence. In a world characterised by exacting deadlines, relentless competition, limited resources, globalisation and unwavering expectations from customers, shareholders and employees alike, “culture” seems to be so much more important these days and must be recognised as a significant enabler of a business’ value proposition.


But measuring culture is no easy task.


One of my mentors many years ago described the challenge via a metaphor. If culture is something that is all around you but you cannot physically see, is it not like a fish in a bowl of water? Then the question is: “Can a fish describe water?”


So what exactly is organisational culture?


According to Professor Rich Hagberg:


“Culture is the 'operating system' of an organisation. It is the living, dynamic interplay of all of the shared beliefs, values, norms, and practices that are operating both consciously and unconsciously within an organisation. Culture guides what people consider important and how they think, act, feel and work.”


Culture is the sum of attitudes, customs and beliefs that distinguish one group of people from another. Organisational culture is no different from ethnic culture except it usually includes people from all different backgrounds and histories.


In an attempt to quantify an organisation’s actual culture, reference to The Competing Values Framework for cultural assessment is useful. This was distilled by Quinn and Rorbaugh (1983) from analysis of Campbell's longer list of effectiveness dimensions into a two axis pattern. From a list of thirty-nine indicators of effectiveness for organisations, Cameron and Quinn found two polarities by statistical analysis that make the difference when it comes to organisational effectiveness.


Organisations have to choose whether they have:

  • Internal focus and integration - or -  External focus and differentiation
  • Stability and control - or - Flexibility and discretion

org cult

From the Competing Values Framework four organisational culture types emerge:

  • Clan culture;
  • Adhocracy culture;
  • Market culture; and
  • Hierarchy culture.


Clan cultures tend to be friendly and a place where people have a lot in common. There is an almost familial feel to the environment. Leaders here are facilitative and supportive often being seen as paternalistic in style.


In Hierarchy cultures we see a respect for position, authority and therefore power. They will usually have very clearly defined policies and procedures which require managers to coordinate and organise others.


The Market organisation is another associated with asserting control but in this case the locus is external. They are heavily biased toward results and have very competitive environments. In an efficient market organisation, value flows between people and stakeholders with minimal cost and delay.


The Adhocracy culture works well in highly adaptive and changing environments requiring quick response. It is even more flexible and independent that the Clan culture. Leadership here is typically visionary, innovative and entrepreneurial.


In measuring your organisation’s culture, it is important to have an understanding about what you want or need it to be – particularly where we accept that an organisation’s culture will be a key contributor to the realisation of strategic imperatives. The purpose of undertaking a cultural assessment is invariably about measuring how far or near the culture is to that which is desired/needed.


So clearly, the question set that is utilised or developed for the survey instrument is of critical importance.  All organisations are different, and this difference is not just limited to their sector, size, and location. Respective management styles and organisational cultures have a substantial impact on how an organisation measures performance. The issue with most cultural and engagement survey platforms is that they use the same structure and questions for all organisations, with no room for flexibility and customisation.


Here are a few tips:


In order to get the most useful data, choose a survey platform that allows you to customise questions. This will help you gear your survey to the right outcome for your organisation

Question Groups

Survey platforms should provide the flexibility to focus on the key areas that are important to each respective organisation. By customising Question Groups and the questions within each group, the resultant survey data will be highly relevant and easier to interpret.


Select a survey platform that allows you to customise language and nomenclature within its body. This allows the adjustment and editing of the key messaging to suit the style of your business and the varying employee levels.


Rating Scales Choose a survey with a flexible rating scale to ensure the scale is relevant to your questions E.g. “Totally Disagree – Totally Agree” instead of “Never – Always”. This will produce more accurate responses and more valuable data.


Include Key Stakeholders

It is advisable to consult with key stakeholders regarding the content of the survey and the areas to be measured. By ensuring that your survey has alignment within the organisation there will be a far lower rate of resistance during implementation.


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