In most cases, you will struggle to complete the organizational assessment alone, not because you are inept but because you are too close to the source. Culture manifests itself in special types of behavior patterns that are exhibited by nearly all members of the organization and are based on key underlying beliefs or values.
When you have been in a company for more than six months, you may be unable to see the critical issues because you've spent so much time learning to ignore them, though not necessarily consciously. It's difficult to be brutally honest about the shortfalls of your own organization, especially if you contribute to those shortfalls, which is why it is imperative to hire someone from the outside to help with the assessment.
In almost every company for which we've done assessments, inevitably management identifies a broad array of questions, typically covering one or two delicate areas, that it wants to strike from the employee surveys. Typically these efforts have to do with internal politics. Management might say that an objectionable question deals with a subject that's too sensitive, but what if the question is important to the cultural assessment of the company? Usually it is, but on their own, they'd never ask those questions.
In most organizations, management assumes certain things about its employees or customers, and if it surveys at all, it's to validate what management already believes. You may be surprised at what you find out.
For example, Chris Butler worked with a building-materials manufacturer that wanted its research and development and engineering departments to be better at helping their internal customers. To get a feel for the relationships and attitudes that existed within the organization, he surveyed all the manufacturing facilities to which this group provided expertise.
The responses were dramatically revealing . The members of the engineering group didn't have a clue as to how the plant people felt about them. These employees operated under the belief that the quality of their work spoke for itself. Its leaders were stunned to learn that most of the plant people found them arrogant and insensitive. When Butler delivered the results, he included a lengthy list of recommendations that he was able to generate from the data-collection process. The vice president who requested the assessment said,"I expected pretty good information, but what you've given me is a five-year strategic plan."
Easily 25 percent of the questions Butler asked the plant personnel were originally opposed by the executives in the engineering group. Had he not asked the questions, he never would have developed the data that lead to our enthusiastically received recommendations.
Discoveries like these are what make assessment so critical. The exploration of your company's culture and value systems will unearth deeply ingrained biases and attitudes that exist but are never mentioned. The data you collect will be the blueprint for your strategic plan, so be sure your team has the necessary objectivity to accurately assess the environment ” otherwise , your information will be incomplete and misleading, which will have a deleterious effect on the transformation process.