Organiational Climate Assesment - Happy at work - Venn Leader

Organizational Climate Assessments – How to Survey the Climate of My Team


Climate Assessments are an essential tool for leaders.  Much of the work I do is with the Law Enforcement Profession and each day I check my Google Alerts for the latest news pertaining to, “Police Leadership.”  Yesterday, an article popped up about a climate survey conducted by a police union that the results of which surprised the chief.  In the video the Chief of Police appears to have been surprised with the results of the survey and judging by the crackle in his voice and the fleeting expressions on his face, even hurt by what he’s learned.

Leaders assess their organizations

Although I use the example of the most recent article, this leader is not the only one without a finger on the pulse of his organization.  Across the country in every industry senior leaders wander the halls, sit behind their desks, and think they know how their people feel.  But sadly, they have no idea.

Having done hundreds of organizational surveys in my career I can tell you there is more than one way to get after this and in many cases – they can be done at little or no cost.


What is a climate assessment?

Climate assessments provide leaders with a sense of the climate of an organization as perceived by stakeholders.  Generally, such assessments gather input from internal stakeholders (such as members and employees) however, they can also include data from external stakeholders such as customers, recipients of services, oversight committees.  Climate assessments typically focus on matters of equal opportunity, perceptions of fairness, trust in leadership, commitment to the organization, etc.  However, they can also uncover other serious concerns such as likelihood of violence in the workplace, suicidal ideations, drug and alcohol abuse, and unethical/illegal behavior by members of the organization.  In short, a climate assessment is a finger on the pulse of an organization.  Climate assessments provide clarity leaders need to make good decisions.  A properly conducted assessment can provide leaders with the following information:

  • Organizational Commitment and desire to stay
  • Trust in Leadership
  • Organizational Performance
  • Organizational Cohesion
  • Leadership Cohesion
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Diversity Management
  • Organizational Process
  • Help Seeking Behaviors
  • Exhaustion/Burnout
  • Hazing and Bullying
  • Favoritism
  • Discrimination and Harassment
  • Organizational ethics and commitment to values
  • Behavior that threatens organizational character


Who should do climate assessments?

Leaders at all levels need to do climate assessments.   As I’ll point out further into this post, there are multiple ways of doing them and most are not logistically intensive.  Leaders with only one or two subordinates need to practice good communication skills – talk to your people. Most often a small group climate can be determined by regular, authentic interactions – much the same way we know when our children, spouses, or parents are unhappy with how we’re performing – so too will our employees let us know.  For larger organizations, the challenges increase and other tools will need to be used – but don’t underestimate the power of good authentic conversations – they are free and produce much more value than any other method ever will.  Bottom line – if someone is leading others – they need to have a continuous finger on the pulse and occasionally go in for a deep-dive, formal assessment.


When should leaders do climate assessments?

Typically, I recommend conducting formal surveys between 70 and 100-days after assuming a role as a leader.  By formal assessment, I mean a deep dive using multiple instruments and methods I’ll describe in detail below.  This survey will provide incoming leaders with a bench mark of the climate during transition from the previous leadership to current leadership.  If a good exit assessment is done by the outgoing leader then incoming leaders could extend this to 180-days.  Bottom line, leaders need to know the climate of the organization upon their arrival.  After the bench mark assessment leaders should do a formal deep dive assessment annually.   To be clear though, good assessments are constantly on going using a variety of methods and will provide a continuous monitor for the health of an organization.


How do leaders assess climate?

Although surveys will certainly help – they are not the only option.  A good assessment consists of three sources of information:

  • Surveys

Survey data can be gathered by a variety of sources.  Survey monkey for instance, is a free tool that provides leaders with a wide variety of resources.  Leaders should consider bringing in a subject matter expert to help with question design.  But if that isn’t in the budget, simply asking your team what they would improve with a little anonymity will provide a great deal of insight and a place to start…  A properly conducted survey also includes a full scope demographic overlay that includes all aspects of EEO categorization as well as rank within the organization.

  • Interviews and Observations

Interviews can be both formal and informal in this case.  In the informal sense, when a leader is discussing anything with a member of the organization and an opportunity comes up to discuss the organizational climate – don’t waste that opportunity.  Milk it for all it’s worth.  In the formal sense though, interviews consist of two types; individual and group.  An individual interview is generally done with senior leaders from the organization or external stakeholders.  Group interviews are often referred to as focus groups or sensing sessions.  There is both an art and science to these that I’ll follow up on in a future post.  But these are typically done with survey results as a starting point.  Small groups provide a certain dynamic that reduces fear of sharing and good facilitators can glean incredible amounts of information in a short period of time.

Observations include everything the assessor sees during the assessment.  Leaders who conduct a continuous assessment will find this to be part of their daily routine.  Notice what you notice… Who hangs out with who?  When I come into an organization for the first time I look for clustering demographics.  The lunch room is a great place to start.  Who sits with who?  What sort of propaganda is hanging in the cubicles?  Any offensive bumper stickers in the parking lot?  Our environments give us a lot of “intel” on what’s in the hearts and minds of our organizations.

  • Records

When contrasting assessment results with reality leaders will need to refer to substantiated records.  Assessments are often subjective – they are just the opinions of the people in the organization.  But the members of the organization are incredibly observant and although their observations will typically be presented in a subjective way they are often supported by objective information.  The records that leaders should be prepared to pull quickly during an assessment include:

  • Demographic data
  • Discipline reports
  • Pay and benefits
  • Awards data
  • Promotions data
  • Absentee reports and attrition data


What should leaders do with survey results?

Share it.  Bottom line, the best answer is to be as transparent as possible with it.  Leaders should quickly realize that they are the last to know the majority of the information collected during an assessment.  The rank and file is typically well aware of the issues and will embrace a leader who is forthright with them.  On the other hand, a leader who collects the data and even sets out to fix it but doesn’t share the information will be look upon as though they are hiding something.


Where to go for help…

My background with climate assessments comes from doing hundreds of them for the United States Army in a wide variety of organization types.  The website has some tools you can use.  But at the end of the day having a subject matter expert on your team will significantly increase the value your assessment adds to your organization.  Click here to learn more about the Inter-Cultural Skills and leadership program where I teach others how to conduct assessments.  I’m also available for private consultation.  Joe @