Organizational Climate Surveys

by Merrick Rosenberg


If 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 leave you?


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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 resource...their people.

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 improvement.

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.

In conclusion...
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.
 

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