The Culture Club

James Tickell, introduces the CT Culture Scan – an innovative survey tool for measuring internal organisational culture.

A few years ago, nobody talked much about organisational culture. Sure, there was always “the way we do things round here”, but culture was one for the opera buffs. Now things have moved on. A nod to the importance of organisational culture is pretty much obligatory for management writings. More importantly, leaders and Boards know that if an organisation’s culture is right, whatever that may mean, this creates the conditions for wider success.

But what does it actually mean? Ask the senior executives about the culture of their organisation, and chances are they’ll tell you it’s all pretty positive. That’s the view from the bridge. At the front line, or out in a regional office, things may seem pretty different. The truth is that those at the helm of an organisation will always find it hard to challenge a rosy view, as news is filtered on its way up through the ranks. Organisational culture is important, but notoriously hard to define, and above all, to change.

Unique personalities

So the starting question for Campbell Tickell was how to support our clients in getting a reliable fix on the realities of their own organisational culture. It seemed to us that each organisation, like a person, had its own unique personality. As recruiters, we often use psychometric testing to explore the suitability of candidates for certain roles; the tests have their limits, but often provide useful insights, and certainly inform a helpful discussion.

Further reading and research showed us that there has been much academic thought into similar questions, with any number of theories and models on offer. You can take your pick as to how many types of culture exist, from four up to twelve. Key factors, scales, indices, all are there for the taking. Added to that was our own practical experience of cultural audits, typically carried out to support mergers of organisations with initially different ways of doing things.

The ‘Big Five’

So that was the genesis of our CT CultureScan – a survey tool for our clients, based both on practical experience and the best theoretical thinking we could identify. As with most psychometric testing for individuals, it’s based on a ‘Big Five’ set of attributes.

The first, and perhaps most important, of these we have named as the Autonomy-Control scale, which places each organisation on a spectrum between 100% tight hierarchical control (think North Korea!), and at the other extreme, an organisation where each employee has the autonomy to do as they see fit, and management controls are loose or even non-existent. In practice of course, very few of our clients will even approach the extremes, although certain teams within them may tend in one direction. Indeed a reasonable balance between the two may be the best place to sit.

The other four of our Big Five are more evidently on a positive to negative spectrum. We have them as:

  • Engaged – Detached, largely to do with people focus, caring, friendliness, respect and ‘fun’;
  • Agile – Rigid, around attitudes to change, creativity and resilience;
  • Progressive – Protective, learning, improvement, performance and communication; and
  • Aligned – Fragmented, about values, confidence, integrity, consistency and trust.

Between them, these bring out an organisation’s attitudes to the key cultural attributes, and allow for differentiation between different teams, offices and staff demographics. Most importantly, this gives leaders the tools and understanding needed to plan and guide change. We’ve successfully piloted the scan with a number of clients, all of whom were satisfied and ready now to vouch for its insights and usefulness.

To find out more about the CT CultureScan, contact Francesca Stanyer or James Tickell on or +44 (0)20 8830 6777.

This article also appears in CT Brief 39- Charities edition

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