Organizational Climate Surveys
by Merrick Rosenberg
you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up right where
you are. And, if you don't know where you are, then where does that
While managers may have a strong sense of their organization's strategic
direction, they often lack a fundamental understanding of the
perceptions, feelings and attitudes of their employees. This lack of
understanding often leads organizations to waste their most valuable
Studies demonstrate over and over again that low morale and lack of
motivation have a significant negative impact on productivity. A 2000
Gallup poll found that 19% of the U.S. workforce is "actively
disengaged." This means that they are not enthralled by their work and
feel disconnected from their work. These workers were found to have
dramatically higher absentee rates than engaged workers and
significantly lower productivity rates.
Successful organizations understand the needs and desires of their
employees and they work to create a positive environment where people
can thrive. Organizational climate surveys are a powerful tool for
identifying organizational strengths and weaknesses. The results of
these surveys also provide a basis for effective action planning for
employee development and organizational change.
Organizational Climate Surveys
So what exactly is an organizational climate? At its most basic level,
organizational climate refers to employee's shared perceptions of their
work environment. Climate is an enduring state that impacts behavior and
how the work gets done. Some aspects of the environment that effect the
culture include, morale, trust, leadership, teamwork, rewards,
recognition, benefits/compensation and conflict resolution. Basically,
climate is the internal atmosphere of the organization. Is it sunny and
warm or overcast? Is it raining or at worst, constantly storming?
An organizational climate survey is like a weather report that
quantifies attitudes and beliefs. The results can help to create a
holistic picture of the organization and allow the company to leverage
its strengths. The feedback also highlights issues that may be
inhibiting individual and organizational success.
While individuals may feel inhibited to be open and honest in one-on-one
interviews, anonymous surveys can help to identify the cause of employee
turnover and describe the impact of current programs and policies.
Surveys also give employees the opportunity to describe their desired
culture. And organizations can establish a benchmark for evaluating
changes in overall performance over time. Finally, management can
demonstrate that they care about their employees by taking action based
upon the feedback.
The Survey Process
There are several key steps in conducting a successful organizational
climate survey. First, the organization must determine the goals and
objectives of the survey process. Second, the organization must develop
a survey based upon these goals. The next step is critical but often
skipped - organizations must conduct an orientation to explain the
purpose and importance of the process. Confidentiality measures must be
explained and raters must be told what will happen with the final report
and who will receive the results. Employees are typically given two
weeks to complete the survey and if it is conducted through a web-based
system, results can be generated almost immediately.
The reporting phase of the process is critical to action planning. The
report should be divided into departments or divisions and should
include both numeric ratings and comments. A systematic analysis of the
results should identify specific departments or levels within the
organization and their respective strengths and challenges. Managers
from each area need to set specific goals and action plans for
Everyone in the organization should receive a summary of the results
with accompanying improvement strategies. And, all actions based upon
the results need to be publicized. People need to know that they spent
their valuable time filling out a survey and they were heard. If
employees do not feel that the survey changed things for the better, at
best, they will not want to complete future surveys and at worst, they
will become even more actively disengaged.
A climate survey should be conducted on an annual basis, as
organizational development is a process not an event.
Conducting your own
employee climate survey
Confidentiality is one of the most critical factors in gathering
feedback. Employees tend to be more candid and open when they know that
their name will not be linked to comments and ratings. Returning a
survey directly to a coworker can generate the perception that their
results are not confidential. This trepidation can be removed by dealing
with an experienced third party consultant.
Also, an experienced outside consultant can objectively read the report
without rationalizing the results. Finally, professionals specialize in
survey design and analysis. They are able to design a statistically
valid survey and generate unbiased analysis of the results.
If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up right where
you are. But if you know where you are, you can better determine where
you want to go and how to get there.