Why Organizational Climate Surveys May Do More Harm Than Good — Part 1

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Several divisions in both DuPont and Clorox commissioned annual climate surveys to give them guidance as leaders to improving the organization. Once they evaluated the effects they were producing with the survey, however they found far more effective means of achieving their intentions and getting more “bang for the buck”. In fact, one DuPont Senior Vice President ruefully acknowledges, “we have learned, the hard way, that climate surveys are not neutral means of getting information. They actually may have created more harm than good in some cases, and for reasons we did not understand. We better achieved our intentions through “deliberative group processes”; and in that way avoid the unintended consequences of surveys and similar instruments.

A manager who is accountable for the “culture change process” in one DuPont sector explains why the concern developed regarding surveys:

What we are trying to develop are self-reliant individuals, who apply good judgment on behalf of the organization, who wisely apply resources and capabilities to improving the effectiveness of stakeholders such as customers, and who initiate and sustain efforts to make the organization work to produce results. We want this to happen within the context of a business strategy and while considering the ever-changing dynamics in the marketplace. But if that is what you want, you have to question whether every action you take is moving you in that direction or away from it. Along with many other typical organizational initiatives, we found that climate surveys and other similar surveys were not supportive.

The organizational aim that the DuPont manager stated is probably also an aim, perhaps unarticulated, for many organizations. Self-reliance as a way of working, i.e. working as if the business belonged to the individual making a judgment call, requires a very different kind of workforce, a different organizational approach and culture, and ultimately a different business philosophy. Some DuPont sectors now seriously question whether each proposed initiative or program is “right” for their organization, given this aim of self-reliance. Unlike the DuPont sector, most organizations have not reflected on the degree to which their actions arise from the very culture and philosophy they seek to change, and why each such action may therefore be a lost step or even a backward step.

“The difference is truly a matter of paradigm difference. We are working to create processes that cease to foster what we call “other-reliant prescriptions” and instead have individuals and teams which are self-reliant and directed by the same values and motives as our best and most effective hierarchical leaders. We have been working to create a workforce that is 100% self-motivated and entrepreneurial in relations to each of our product offerings and all of our stakeholders,” explains the Senior Vice President of DuPont. “The type of organization we believe everyone is going to have to evolve to is one in which everyone is not a suggester, a recommender, nor even a participant, but a full partner in the business.” Climate surveys are not generated in order to achieve such a goal but rather are, as we shall see, based on a different set of expectations and philosophies about the working of people and organizations.

Climate surveys are very popular and are conducted by 52% of Fortune 500 companies in any given year, according to the American Management Association. This fervor in regard to surveys, according to the sponsors of such efforts, is based on three points of rationale that seem quite logical on the surface. In spite of the good intentions of such surveys, when the rationale is viewed from a paradigm such as that chosen by DuPont, they are based on assumptions that result in partial truths or ideological myths.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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