How and why we created a culture diagnostic as survey sceptics

culture Feb 11, 2019

Unlike many in the leadership and culture space, we are pretty sceptical of the value of most 360-degree feedback and culture surveys.  We have found that most diagnostics and surveys have a fixed or mechanistic view of human beings and culture, inbuilt assumptions about a final destination, or assume that all perspectives are equally informed.

Any observation we make of others or a culture is informed by our own beliefs, worldviews projections and judgements.  A person with a worldview which values individual achievement might feel they thrive in a competitive environment, whereas an individual with a worldview based on collaboration might find it toxic.  A person with a view that great leadership is synonymous with setting clear direction might value a highly directive leader, whereas others who like more autonomy might find this direction stifling. 

In any intervention which does not account for these challenges, there are likely to be a range of unintended consequences which are counterproductive to enabling more adaptive leadership and culture.

Due to our scepticism, rather than relying on surveys, we have tended towards supporting organisations and leaders to build self and organisational awareness as well as critical thinking skills. 

This work has often included developing shared systems awareness, personal development and becoming good at having transparent and purpose-led conversations with stakeholders inside and outside the organisation. It has also included developing robust perspective sharing to drive innovation.

Our experience is that in doing so, far greater capacity is unleashed in individuals and collectives than through traditional measurement and feedback approaches based on survey results.

Why create a diagnostic?

In co-creating the Adaptive Cultures diagnostic, we set the intention of creating a diagnostic which was different from anything else available (certainly from traditional culture surveys) and provided insights to help to evolve a system over time.

As culture is complex, to effectively transform culture to enable an organisation’s strategy and purpose we believe it is essential to gain a systemic view of culture.  To ensure cultural transformation activities are directed in a way that is effective, we believe it is also essential to find ways to uncover inhibitors and leverage points towards the cultural aspiration.

The Insights Diagnostic differs from most other culture surveys in the following ways:


From good or bad to continual evolution

Many culture surveys are based on a world view of “good” or “bad” culture, leadership behaviours, or one size fits all.  The world view that underpins the Adaptive Cultures diagnostic is one of whole living systems and the evolutionary potential of human beings and systems.  It gathers insights into aspects of an organisation’s culture which support adaptation and evolution and aspects which limit these. 


From focus on the current climate to a view of the emerging future

The diagnostic provides a developmental pathway that enables practical and contextualised activities to most effectively evolve the culture.   This developmental pathway reveals the weights of the past, the current reality and the emerging future.

By transforming inhibitors and engaging with what is emerging in line with organisational aspirations, cultural evolution occurs more rapidly and deeply.


From a focus on parts to a systemic picture

The Insights Diagnostic gives deeper insight into HOW the current culture is being shaped by the organisation’s collective beliefs, systems, ways of working and actions as well as the worldviews that give rise to these actions.  It reveals intentions AND execution, surfaces aspirations AND defence mechanisms allowing people to feel the system as a whole.


From internal focus to external influence and impact

The Adaptive Cultures framework starts from how the external world influences and shapes who organisations need to become and sees the organisation as part of broader systems which impact and can be impacted by the organisation.  The capacity for effectively responding to and influencing these wider systems is part of the diagnosis.


From reinforcing a culture of complaint to enabling personal agency and responsibility

 Many culture surveys end up as a mechanism for people to “complain” about culture and this is further supported by pre-communication and post-survey activities.  The Adaptive Cultures Insights diagnostic and the work we do with clients around pre and post communication and activities support respondents to 1) reflect on culture 2) understand culture more deeply 3) engage people in their responsibility for influencing culture 4) provide people with a sense of what is possible as culture evolves.


From action plans to impactful interventions

Culture survey results often create a list of action items for leaders and HR managers to execute.  The Adaptive Cultures insights diagnostic helps people in the organisation to recognise and prioritise cultural interventions that are likely to generate the greatest positive ripple towards evolutionary potential across the entire system.


From a survey of opinions to a robust diagnostic

As we created the insights diagnostic, we had a long discussion about whether to call it a survey or a diagnostic.  We settled on diagnostic as we believe the Adaptive Cultures insights diagnostic can be used much like an integral health practitioner assessing the health and wellbeing of a patient.  While symptoms might emerge in various areas, it is important to understand the whole system and interactions between different parts of the system in order to understand how to enable greater health.


From a 2-day accreditation to a 12 month and ongoing developmental experience

 Another pivotal point of difference exists in the practitioner understanding that underpins the way the diagnostic is used.  Adaptive Cultures practitioners are educated in pattern recognition and how to identify pivot points which can release the energy of evolution in the broader system.  To be able to run and debrief the diagnostic, practitioners have been through a 12-month accreditation program which includes their own personal development and deep systems awareness.   They are then re-accredited every year dependent on ongoing application and personal development.

You can find out more about the Adaptive Cultures Insights diagnostic here.

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