What a Culture Review is Not

Too often organizations’ confuse employee satisfaction surveys with cultural reviews and become disappointed when they cannot achieve a culture change. So, what is the difference between an employee satisfaction survey and a cultural review?” A culture review is neither an attempt to solicit a list of ideas the organization can implement to improve morale or job satisfaction, nor an attempt to get some sense of what the most popular benefits package would be. A culture review is an examination of specific cultural levers to provide an insight into the organization to understand how the cultural lever composition impacts on the organizations performance.

Below are some of the key differences between cultural reviews and employee satisfaction surveys:

Culture Survey

  1. Collects information about cultural levers and how they impact on an organizations operational ability.
  2. Are based on known cultural levers that impact on 90% of an organizational culture.
  3. Are conducted for the purpose of optimizing the culture to provide bottom line impact.
  4. Are focused on the organizational business drivers and bottom line impact.

Employee Satisfaction Survey

  1. Collects information about employees and how satisfied they are with their work environment.
  2. Are based on reasons why people go to work for an organization and the factors that make them happy with those reasons.
  3. Are conducted to improve the conditions of employment, to increase employee satisfaction, to retain employees, and to reduce turnover.
  4. Are focused on making people as happy as is reasonable in a cost effective way so they will continue to work for the organization.

What’s in a Cultural Review?

A cultural review will examine the key cultural organizational levers, namely: organizational structure, management style, rewards, emotionality, communications and relationships. A brief description of each lever can be found below:


This lever relates to the organizational structure and the levels of control it exerts. Structure can vary across an organization and is especially noticeable when moving between departments. The shape of an organization can establish cultural boundaries and make a clear statement on the cultural identity of an organization.

Management Style

The management style lever relates to the way the company is controlled and how influence is applied. At high level, the style may vary from dictating to guiding but whatever form it takes it will have a profound effect on the culture. This is often a primary determinant in an organizations culture.


This lever relates to the financial and psychological rewards that individuals receive from the organization. This lever can be very revealing in how people feel compensated for their efforts at all levels. This lever has strong links with key business drivers such as productivity, innovation and talent management.


This lever relates to how an individual feels about an organization and their sense of belonging to it. This lever is invariably described as ‘soft’ and addresses one of the least understood aspects of culture but in our opinion one of the most important. This lever tends to provide a wealth of information on an organization at all levels and has been shown to be an effective early warning radar, especially where change is concerned.


The communications lever relates to how people communicate and use information. Information tends to be used as a currency and how it moves through an organization directly impacts on the culture. It is also the life blood of most companies and if the communication arteries are in poor health then the wellbeing of the company will tend to suffer.

The relationships lever relates to the way that individuals and departments cooperate with and perceive each other. These relationships define the cohesion and collective identity of the organization and are impacted on and by the culture. This lever tends to reveal alignments and gaps in the organization with respect to its goals and objectives.

Cultural Review Process

A cultural review will go through a 2-part data collection process. Part one involves collecting quantitative data for each of the cultural levers. This is achieved through on-line surveys and/or OMR forms. This data is then analyzed to establish the cultural skeleton of the organization and helps to shape the qualitative data collection. The qualitative data collection involves a subset of employees being interviewed to add substance to the cultural skeleton. Only then, can an objective analysis and interpretation of the organizational culture be made prior to developing any cultural change strategy.

Accuracy of a Cultural Review

Do you involve all personnel or a sample of the organization in the data collection process? It all comes down to time, money and the diminishing rate of return on your investment costs. As with all data collection techniques you should establish confidence limits associated with the data population. The most common confidence limits used are 95% + or – 5% and 98% + or – 2%. Whatever confidence limit you choose, you must ensure that the sample population is an accurate representation of the organization in terms of age, roles, length of service, gender, ethnicity, departments and locations.

Cultural Review Report

The report will identify the cultural DNA of the organization and the impact the culture has upon the organization both positively and negatively with the following recommended headings:

  1. Scope of the investigation
  2. Cultural overview of organization
  3. Unique cultural DNA and its lever composition
  4. Business impacts of DNA and lever composition
  5. Recommendations and proposed next steps

Cultural Review Business Case

To get senior management on board you will need to provide them with a convincing business case that makes a bottom line impact. Obviously the benefits that may accrue to the organization cannot be fully anticipated at this stage without further investigation. There is however, a body of documented evidence that can be drawn against to support a bottom line business case including “Kotter and Heskett” and “Cameron and Quinn” (inter alia). Another tactic is to identify similar or competitor organizations that have successfully changed their organizational cultures that have delivered bottom line results and to draw an analogy for your organization. One simplistic approach is to look at employee churn costs to calculate what the dollar value of reducing employee churn and improving productivity by 0.5%. Whichever approach you use, make sure that you have a sound basis for the assumptions. I would also recommend that you have worst case, probable and best case figures available.

Please remember that an output of the cultural review should be a solid business case with actual costs and benefits for the cultural change presented as a Net Present Value (NPV) over an appropriate time period, for example 1, 3 or 5-years dependent upon your organizational accounting practices.

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