Sustaining Top Talent through Positive Culture and Leadership

Q&A with Dr. Linda Sharkey

Personal Note from Dr. Linda Sharkey

I hope you enjoyed the webinar on Sustaining Top Talent through Leadership and Culture last week. I had a chance to review the many thoughtful questions that you all posed and between Human Synergistics and myself, we posted answers below this note. Culture is such a powerful part of any organization and in many cases not very well understood. As we noted from the survey we took during the webinar there is lots of room to learn more about how culture works and how it impacts performance and the bottom line. It is gratifying to see how many people are interested in the topic and trying to make a difference in their organizations or those organizations that they work with from a consulting perspective.Best of luck in your continued journey to make your organization great.


Quantifying Culture

Q: There is a lot of talk about engagement as well as culture. How do you think about these in the context of measurement?
Q. We do the Gallup engagement survey in our organization—which gives a snapshot.

A. Engagement is an outcome of culture. After you’ve measured engagement, you can measure culture in order to identify means for strengthening engagement.

The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) and Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI) help you understand two key things: Is your workforce engaged, and if yes—what are the underlying factors driving engagement; If no—what are the factors you need to address in order to ensure a more engaged team?

Q. What does the Survey consist of, and who in an organization takes it?

A. The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) consists of 10 items per style. More information about the survey can be found here.

What you are trying to achieve and your strategy will determine who should participate in the survey. For example, the approach will differ if you are trying to understand the culture of two merging organization vs. if you are trying to develop a small department. Other factors include population size and budget of an organization.

Q: This isn’t the only culture assessment instrument out there. How is it better than/different from the leading two competitors?
Q. What other instruments are there for this type of measurement?

A. The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) is one of the strongest statistically valid and reliable surveys. We pride ourselves on the high-quality research showing the relationship between the styles and effectiveness (i.e., engagement, profitability, quality, etc.). The OCI is based on years of research around what types of corporate culture are effective vs. ineffective. In addition, the Ideal version of the OCI enables you to capture the organization’s view of the ideal culture, which helps groups gain vision, focus, and consensus around what the future should look like. See The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate for information on the OCI and other surveys as well.

Q: The Circumplex makes sense, but how do you make the initial assessments (interviews, self-assessments, focus groups, etc.)?
Q: We use both qualitative (focus groups, etc) and quantitative (surveys based on Gallup research). I think that triangulating methods is considered a best practice, yes?
Q: Can you tell me more about how you use the same dimensions to measure culture, leadership, management, teams and individuals?

A. We recommend triangulation in the OCI Leader’s Guide. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative data is considered best practice. The system of HS surveys enables you to quantify individual behaviors, leader and manager impact, teams, and organizational culture and effectiveness. Results are always plotted on the circumplex, providing you with a consistent model and language. Specifically, the Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI) measures individuals in terms of how they exhibit personal styles. The Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) measures culture to the extent which styles are expected of members. Leadership/Impact® and Management/Impact® measure the extent to which leaders and managers impact others to exhibit certain styles. The Group Styles Inventory™ (GSI) focuses on the extent to which members exhibit the styles in problem-solving situations.

Q: If you’re familiar with the OCAI, can you speak to its use vs. the use of this model?

A. The OCAI is a very interesting survey based on competing-values model and categorizes organizations into one of four types. The OCI, instead, is based on a styles circumplex and characterizes organizations in terms of multiple styles related to effectiveness.

Q: If there is a limited budget, where should one start with this analytical approach?

A. Begin with a small sample, or alternatively, focus on a single unit of the organization.

Q. I work for a fairly small company. Less than 40 people. Is it possible to get an intuitive idea of the culture in this circumstance or are quantified evaluations needed?

A. You can certainly guess what the culture profile might look like. However, quantifying the culture using a statistically reliable and valid survey, such as the OCI will provide you with an accurate picture of the organization’s operating culture and takes out the guess work. It puts facts on the table, as opposed to hunches. The facts enable you to move in a more concrete direction.

Moving Towards Your Ideal Culture

Q: Can you give us some suggestions on how we can change our organization’s culture?
Q: What are good ways to fix the disconnect between operating culture and the desired culture?
Q. Once the OCI has determined your company’s cultural style and you want to shift it, what support is there from HS as far as prescriptives?
Q. What could be the more efficient ways to shift from passive/defensive cultures to a more constructive one, any magic potion?

A. The best ways to shift culture is to look at what is driving the current culture. Per the “How Culture Works Model,” you can measure and benchmark 31 drivers or levers for change to see exactly what to do. These levers, as well as outcomes of culture, are based on 20 years of research and measured by the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®. In addition, the HS system includes surveys for measuring and developing leader/manager impact, teams, and individual styles as well. For example, you can use Leadership/Impact® 360 to see exactly what leaders are doing to impact and create the culture. You can then begin to shift this behavior using existing levers such as training and development, coaching and your performance and rewards systems to make sure they are all aligned and reinforcing the desired behaviors. We have found that alignment is key to successful culture change. But remember it takes time.

Q: Assuming the first survey is the baseline, how soon thereafter should the next one be given?

A. Depending on the commitment to executing the action plan, organizations can re-survey one to two years after the initial survey.

Q. After measuring the culture, what are some concrete examples of helping organizations/leaders to embark on a shift in their culture?
Q. What do you have for consultants to sell in effectively, the org. culture tools to companies?

A. The research and case studies findings are very powerful proof for the connection between constructive culture, as measured by the OCI, and engagement, profitability, innovation, etc. We also have PowerPoint® slides highlighting the key findings as well as books on successful culture change initiatives.

Research—Reliability and Validity

Q: Are all of these research stats & findings published? If so where?

A. Yes. A partial list of research articles is available on Human Synergistics’ website here.

Where permission has been granted, links to full-text, electronic articles are provided. Please contact us if you are interested in receiving a specific article.

Culture, In General

Q. Can one organization demonstrate more than one culture style. Perhaps by department?

A. Yes. “Subcultures” oftentimes exist, based on department, tenure, function, etc. The extension (amount of shading) in each style represents a percentile score, and shows to what extent an organization demonstrates that particular style. HS feedback reports can be expanded to include profiles for subunits and subgroups.

Q. Military organizations are often thought of as aggressive/defensive organizations. Why are some many of them listed on the Federal Government best places to work?

A. Our Constructive benchmark for the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) includes at least one military organization, and based on our research, members are highly effective and engaged. It would be interesting to measure these military organizations with the OCI and partner survey, the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory® (OEI), to see what their cultures look like and to benchmark how effective they are, in terms of member satisfaction, quality, adaptability, and innovation compared to other organizations.

Q: In this environment, “security seekers” (the 4,5,6 positions on the circumplex) which is where we are, also seem to be retained by the organization. We haven’t seen a retention problem. Any thoughts?

A. Research on 1,000+ organizations shows a statistically significant negative correlation between Passive/Defensive culture types and employees’ intention to stay. In short, the more Passive/Defensive an organization, the less employees intend to stay. While these are the statistical findings, in general, there are situational biases. For example, the current state of the economy may explain high current retention rates in non-constructive organizations.

Q: What type of culture do the big 5 consulting firms fall into per the Towers Perrin survey?

A. It sounds like you’re inquiring about the profitability research, conducted by Human Synergistics and Towers Perrin. This research looked at approximately 100 organizations and found a positive correlation between profitability and the constructive styles, as measured by the OCI®. Whereas this research did not focus on the Big 5 consulting firms, per se, our other studies indicate that each firm would have its own, unique culture profile, just like any other organization.

Q: What is the single best thing a training professional can do to improve the culture? Thanks!

A. It varies from one organization to the next, but overall, the most important levers include leadership development and reward systems.

Q: How important is accountability within a Constructive organization?

A. Accountability would be part of a Constructive Culture. Lack of accountability is associated with a Passive/Defensive culture (specifically the “Avoidant” style).


Q. How do non-leaders encourage change in the culture to a more constructive style without suffering consequences of not “conforming” to the culture?

A. Non-leaders should focus on developing their immediate workgroups and teams. However, ideally, top leadership should get involved in the process. Once leaders understand the difference between the type of culture they’re creating compared with the type of culture they’ve all agreed they want to create (through the use of Leadership/Impact® 360 and the OCI® Ideal), they usually get on board.

Q: When you can’t make the profitability plug for driving a constructive culture, as in the public sector, what would you suggest as a strategy for getting leadership on board?

A. Focus on the other positive outcomes that the leaders would like to see, including adaptability, innovation, engagement, quality of customer service, etc. Have the leaders complete an OCI® Ideal to quantify what they feel the culture should look like in order to achieve the goals they’ve set for the organization.

Q. But should the HS surveys be used to weed leaders? This would be difficult for a consultant to sell in?

A. HS surveys are normed and applied for development purposes, not for selection and placement.

Q. How do we screen out aggressive/passive leaders?

A. Certain consultants have developed interview protocols that can be used for screening purposes (outside the context of HS surveys).

Q: How much has this leadership assessment been used in other countries or cultures? The ideal shows that very few people want to be “dependent, conventional, or approved of” and in the US that makes sense but what about elsewhere?

A. International data collected using the OCI® Ideal shows that Constructive norms are viewed as ideal across countries, although societal values in the Far and Near Eastern as well as Latin America regions show up in the Defensive styles. Nevertheless, the constructive styles are the most desirable and effective, worldwide.

Q: What strategies would you recommend where there are pockets of poor leadership in what is essentially an organization with an excellent reputation?

A. Intensive leadership development using a combination of assessments and one-on-one coaching is usually an effective tool. And of course you need to make sure that your rewards are aligned with the new behavior.