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18 Jul 2016

Pros and Cons of the Two Types of Corporate Culture Surveys

In a previous post I described the two major types of surveys to assess corporate culture. This post will dive deeper into the pros and cons of these two types of corporate culture surveys. It’s important because their results can vary.

Different Surveys, Different Views

What is the governing view of human behavior guiding your corporate culture surveys?

Corporate culture surveys each have a governing view of human behavior. This can cause surveys to color the same group differently.

The two different surveys are self-reporting and projective. They have different views of human behavior.

The first assumes employees are largely aware of the culture. If we want to know the culture, just ask the employees. If a majority feels a certain way, then that must be the culture. For instance, if a majority says the culture is hardworking, then it is.

The second assumes unconscious forces exist. For the most part, employees aren’t aware of them. For instance, a minority as small as 5-10%  can set the tone for the group. Employees can’t easily see this. The survey will need to do more than just ask employees direct questions to get a sense of these forces.

Corporate Culture Surveys, Pros and Cons

Each type of corporate culture survey has its pros and cons.

Self-reporting Surveys

By far the most common are self-reporting surveys. Their pros are:

  • Ease of delivery and understanding
  • Quantifiable and objective results
  • Low cost
  • Computerized tabulation

Their cons are:

  • Questionable accuracy and thoroughness
  • Requiring employees to be aware of cultural influences
  • Close-ended questioning methodology
  • Inability to follow up answers

Projective Surveys

Projective surveys are less common, less known. Their pros are:

  • Comprehensiveness and accuracy
  • Capturing unconscious influences
  • Professional delivery and tabulation
  • Open questioning methodology

Their cons:

  • Qualified professional needed
  • Moderate to high cost
  • Labor-intensive tabulation
  • Difficult to quantify results

Challenges of Surveying Cultures

There is more to a forest than the sum of its trees. Likewise, there is more to a culture than the sum of its people. Corporate culture surveys have to capture this. This is hard.

For instance, anthropologists don’t just look at cultures’ histories and traditions. They look at their structures, goods, services, tools and much more.

The same holds true in work cultures. Processes, hierarchies and even internal regulations influence culture. Most employees aren’t aware how.

Finally, most of all, it’s not the majority that sets the culture. It’s the passionate minority. It sets the culture. It gets things done. Unless the survey taps into this group and weights it more, it is doomed to report how the dispassionate majority sees the culture.

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