It seems like everyone is obsessed with culture these days. The latest organization development (OD) research and trends can’t stop talking about it, many organizations are training for it, and some companies are trying to create it with trendy initiatives like lunchtime yoga and pizza Friday.

I suspect culture is such a preoccupation largely because it’s also a pain point for many organizations. Leaders across sectors and industries seem to understand that the key to greater organization effectiveness lies in culture transformation. Yet, try as they might, they can’t unlock that key.

I believe leaders must get to the root of the issue by uncovering their culture’s DNA.

Components of culture

As you well know, the concept of culture is abstract. To make it easier to identify and transform organizational culture, American management professor Edgar Schein divided it into three levels:

  • Artifacts and symbols: the visible elements in an organization such as logos, architecture, structure, processes, and corporate clothing
  • Espoused values: standards and rules of conduct
  • Assumptions: deeply embedded and experienced as self-evident and unconscious behavior

It’s simple to see artifacts and symbols and not too difficult to identify shared values. But when you get to assumptions, you’re really digging into your organization’s culture DNA. Often it takes guided facilitation and targeted assessment to get to the core of cultural norms.

Organizational Culture Inventory

I’ve found one leading organizational assessment to be widely effective when used at both a team and organizational level: the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI), a flagship product of organizational development firm Human Synergistics International.

The OCI is the most widely-used and thoroughly-researched tool for measuring organizational culture in the world. It can identify a potential need for cultural transformation, create and improve organizational development programs, enhance managers’ understanding of culture and sustainability, and manage diversity and corporate responsibility. OCI measures culture in terms of shared behaviors to show the degree to which Constructive, Passive/Defensive, and Aggressive/Defensive cultural norms exist within your organization.

Using assessments such as the OCI to quantify and manage organizational culture is critical for awakening your organization’s values; supporting implementation of your strategies; and promoting adaptation, goal attainment, and sustainability.

I look forward to speaking more on this topic at Maryland Nonprofits’s 25th Annual Conference. As CEO and President of Brighter Strategies, LLC, I have the pleasure of working with a variety of nonprofit organizations to help leaders like you make the most of your people, processes, and plans so you can deliver on your promises and perform at the top of your game. Through customized organizational development and change management work, Brighter Strategies has helped many agencies in the DMV get clear about their organization’s culture.

I look forward to seeing you in Baltimore in October!