What Is a Culture Survey?

Posted on June 6, 2019 by Liz Ferron, MSW, LICSW

Physicians rate the institutional culture of their organizations as the most important promoter of their well being. In turn, well being is a key factor in physician engagement and retention.1 The culture-retention connection is one major reason why organizations are rightly concerned to understand their culture—its strengths and weaknesses—and how to improve it.

VWL-19-001-blog-graphic-3BThere are informal ways for leaders to assess how their institutional culture is affecting the people in the organization. The most basic is the “walking around” method: as they pass through the rooms and halls of the organization, leaders observe interactions (are they respectful or problematic?) and emotions (do people look engaged, happy, cooperative?) 2

Culture Survey

A more focused tactic is to use some form of culture survey. It may involve interviews, responses to written questions, or both, and can take various forms.

Questions to Ask

One example: In a 2018 post on Inc, HR professional Alison Davis lays out a sequence of survey questions designed to elicit truths about culture.3 These include:

  • What actions are needed to improve the current culture?
  • Is the organization’s purpose/mission memorable?
  • How about the organization’s values? Are they distinctive and memorable?
  • What does each value mean to you?
  • How do leaders exert their authority through formal practices?
  • What are some informal practices leaders rely on?
  • How is success rewarded?
  • How is failure addressed?
  • Do leaders behave in a way that's consistent with the organization’s values?
  • What motivates leaders?
  • If the organization could do one thing to improve its culture, what would it be?

Analysis Is Next

Davis then recommends that leaders analyze the responses. “Pay particular attention to what employees care about most, what motivates them, and what they perceive the organization's strengths and weaknesses to be,” she writes. “These insights will form the foundation for developing both immediate and long-term action steps for taking your culture from where it is today to where it needs to be.”

Your culture survey doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It simply needs to be focused on what’s important to you and your people: mission, values, rewards and what it’s like to work in your organization. The results can be eye-opening.

For more on institutional culture in health care, and the crucial role that communication plays in it, see our article, “Organizational Retention: How to Build a Culture Optimal for Physicians.”

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*VITAL WorkLife and Cejka Search, Physician and Advanced Practitioner Well Being Survey, June 22, 2017

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