Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Leadership Culture Assessment


Our research, which builds on that of others, has shown that companies that are more agile – that is, better at responding to accelerating change and mounting complexity – outperform their less agile counterparts. We’ve also found that the most powerful leverage point for increasing organizational agility lies in a company’s leadership culture.

A company’s leadership culture is a distinct and powerful part of its organizational culture. It’s the system of often unspoken norms, usually shaped by the top executive group, a that guide what managers assume to be good leadership in a particular organization.

An unbiased assessment of your organization’s current leadership culture can be an extremely helpful step in developing a culture that powerfully supports agile organizational functioning. In conducting a Leadership Culture Assessment, we always work with our clients to customize our focus and to determine the optimal level of client involvement and ownership in the diagnostic process.

Levels of Agility in Leadership Cultures

Among other things, our assessments identify the current and the desired “levels of agility” in the leadership culture.

As with individual leaders, leadership cultures are capable of evolving through distinct levels of agility.

  • In Expert leadership cultures managers operate within silos with little emphasis on cross-functional teamwork. Organizational improvements are mainly tactical and incremental. Managers are overly involved in their subordinates work, fighting fires and interacting with direct reports one-on-one. As a result, managers have little time to approach their own role strategically.
  • In Achiever leadership cultures managers articulate strategic objectives and make sure they have the right people and processes in place to achieve these objectives. Managers work to develop effective teams, orchestrating them to achieve important outcomes. This is a culture that encourages and rewards customer-focused cross-functional teamwork. Change initiatives typically reflect an analysis of the larger environment, and consultation with key stakeholders is a cultural norm.
  • Catalyst leadership cultures are animated by a compelling vision that includes high levels of participation, empowerment, and teamwork. Collaboration; decisiveness; and candid, constructive conversation are norms. Senior teams become living laboratories that create this kind of culture within the team and then work together to promote and encourage this culture in the organizations they lead. Leaders not only coach their people, they also actively solicit informal feedback and work to change their behavior in ways that are beneficial to the organization and themselves.

So far, the most common configuration we’ve found is an Achiever-level culture at the executive levels and an Expert-level culture at the middle levels. Yet, in most instances, sustained high performance in today’s increasingly complex, fast-paced business environment requires a Catalyst-level culture at the top levels and an Achiever-level culture at the middle levels:

Assessing the Current Leadership Culture

We tailor our Leadership Culture Assessment to our clients’ needs, drawing on those diagnostic methods that are most suited to your particular situation. These methodologies include:

  • The ChangeWise Leadership Agility Bench Strength Assessment™. This web-based survey, which utilizes the same questions employed in our Leadership Agility 360, generates an aggregate assessment of the individual agility levels of leaders at one or more tiers of management (for example, middle-level leaders). This assessment takes the form of a cascading top-down evaluation, in which multiple executives comparatively assess managers at the next level(s) down. (This methodology can also be used to support succession planning efforts). For more information about this assessment, contact Debbie Whitestone: dw@changewise.biz
  • Perception Sharing Sessions. In these live sessions (often about a half-day) we gather employee perceptions about key organizational issues. We have found that these sessions can generate a great deal of insight about an organization’s leadership culture, and they are much more involving and informative than traditional group interviews or focus groups.
  • Consultant Assessments with Facilitated Action Planning. We have decades of experience doing tailored qualitative assessments of the strengths and limitations of leadership cultures. This diagnostic work typically focuses not only on the culture as a whole, but also on significant dynamics within and between key organizational groups (e.g., between owners and top management, between top executives and those at other levels, between different divisions of a corporation, etc.)

These assessments typically include (1) data collection using some combination of interviews, brief questionnaires, and observation of key meetings, (2) a written report with analysis of the data and recommended action steps, and (3) a facilitated Feedback and Action Planning Meeting, where a client group works through its own assessment of the data and commits to action steps, informed by consultant findings and recommendations.

Client Stories

Sample engagements that have included Leadership Culture Assessments:

Next Steps

Learn more about our approach to leadership culture assessment by using the form on the contact us page to request a copy of Bill Joiner’s article, “Creating a Culture of Agile Leaders.”

See Transforming Your Leadership Culture