Determining Organizational Culture

Here we show how to use repertory grid to capture a representation of an organization's culture or corporate culture - the organization's construct system - in the context of effectiveness. Then you will see an overview on how to analyse that data and, from that, develop a set of competencies that match the organization's strategic direction.


Organizational Culture, Competencies and Repertory Grid

This is to show where Repertory Grid fits in as part of a process for determining an organization's culture and from there, if required, develop a set of competencies that match the organisation's strategic direction. But it is not a consulting `how to'.

We assume that you are familiar with the concept of competencies and how they are determined and used. It also assumes that you already know how to use repertory grid. It places repertory grid in the context of the overall process.

Consulting Environment

Determining organizational culture is a simple but powerful application of grid that doesn't need detailed statistical analysis but it assumes that you have:-

  • senior management support for the project as an important strategic intervention, and
  • effective practical consulting and influencing skills with business discernment

Otherwise you run the risk of the project being nothing more than a Human Resources Department exercise.

Project Scope

You will have determined the scope of the project.

  • Intervention limited to a few levels or departments or organisation wide
  • Know why the organization's culture is needed - what are the pressures and the organisations responses (ie for preparation on competencies)
  • Know what is the history of intervention - is there mistrust of like processes?
  • Know what are expectations for the future - closures and redundancies?

You will need to develop effective strategies for the environment you are working in.

Interviewing Environment

Sample size is an important early consideration. Some points to consider:-

  • In a group of similar people few new constructs will arise after 20 interviews
  • In a highly risk averse culture you may need to interview everyone to get management buy in
  • The target group and its customers or those with whom the group interacts may need to be interviewed
  • The process will engender stress and will require personal interviews

If you are going on from determining organizational culture to developing competencies then you need to take into account that competencies are a way of describing what constitutes effective and ineffective performance in the context. That means uncovering the language used to distinguish between performance that is effective and that which is less so and the possible future effect of revealing that on the participants.

Considering the Interviewee

To be effective, grid requires concrete elements for the compare and contrast process and in this case they are the people to whom the competency criteria relate. That means that people will be asked to differentiate between colleagues and subordinates in terms of effective performance and less effective performance. But it is the language that is used to describe effectiveness rather than how individuals are described that is important.

That will require ensuring confidentiality if an adequate number of in-depth constructs that are not merely propositional are to be obtained. Thus:-

  • Rapport-building skills will be required
  • Privacy will be essential
  • Time to concentrate will be essential
  • The ability to use nicknames or initials to represent colleagues will be essential
  • The knowledge that names of colleagues will not be used after the end of the interview will be essential.

The Organizational Culture Interview


The repertory grid interview process provides a structured way of comparing effective and less effective performance and capturing it in the interviewee's words without imposing someone else's model or way of thinking. Repertory grid facilitates the application of that interview structure.

It is over to you, the consultant, to ensure that the process is safe for the interviewees while at the same time meeting your objectives of discovering what it means to be successful or unsuccessful in the organisation using the language of that organisation.

It is the language that is used to describe effectiveness rather than how individuals are described that is important.

Any grid interview will have a purpose for which you are carrying out the interview and, at a higher level, a superordinate purpose about the project as a whole.

In this case the superordinate purpose is to develop a view of the organizational culture which may proceed to the development of a set of competencies that relate to the strategic direction of the company.

The Purpose statement defines what you want to achieve in the interview and the most important rule is to keep that personal. The purpose of this interview is to explore the language the interviewee currently uses to define effectiveness (competence) and lack of it. That is `to explore my perceptions of colleagues at work'


It is most important to determine `what is the immediate end you want to achieve?'. Determining a clear purpose is one of the most important actions to take. If that is not right the end result won't meet your needs.

To determine the organizational culture relative to effectiveness, the immediate end would be `To explore my perceptions of colleagues at work.'


In this case the elements are the people we are going to compare and contrast and to determine a range of elements, fully covering the area of exploration (effective - ineffective), the following Element Creation Questions might be used.

  • give the name (or initial or nickname) of a colleague you regard as very effective (two or more)
  • give the name (or initial or nickname) of a colleague you regard as much less effective (two or more)
  • give the name (or initial or nickname) of a colleague you regard as middling effective (two or more)

As a further protection for the interviewees Enquire Within doesn't keep data about which elements are related to which element creation questions.


These are the `in terms of qualifiers used in our compare and contrast questions. In this case they would be:

  • In terms of how they do their job
  • In terms of their kills and abilities
  • In terms of how they achieve

During the interview it can be useful to use cards for the interviewee to write, first the effective people and then the rest and hand them back shuffled to destroy the order

Developing Constructs

The normal compare and contrast process is used.

For example:

  • How are Tim and Rose similar in terms of how they achieve?
  • How are they different from Andrew?

In the early stages, if the interviewee has difficulty, it may be useful to use shuffled element cards and move them around on a table top into two against one patterns to find a triad that will produce a result. Asking for a pairing of the two most effective and a contrast of the least effective will most likely get the process going.

Propositional constructs are constructs which are based on universally observable characteristics such as hot - cold, male - female, black - white.

They contain little or none of the interviewees personal construct system - little of what is personally perceived or felt. That limits their usefulness.

Nevertheless propositional constructs can be useful in the early stages to get the interview going. Some will produce useful information when laddered down from later in the interview.

Additionally, in the early stages of an interview when interviewees are not used to the process or are nervous about it (as they will be in the circumstances), they are likely to produce only propositional constructs.

To move on from propositional constructs you will need to remind interviewees of the built in protections. Use of the full range of qualifiers will help.

If the interviewee gets stuck it can be useful to try laddering up to get more detail. Global constructs will need more work using laddering down.

Constructs can be noted for revisiting with the interviewee later rather than interrupt a flow of constructs.

When finished, to protect the interviewee, destroy all record of the elements (Enquire Within has a built-in facility to do that, where needed, in front of the interviewee so he/she knows it has been done - otherwise use a shredder!)

Analysing the Construct Data


Peoples' construct systems reflect what they have been exposed to and what is most important to them. So, for instance, the number of constructs relating to customer relations as compared to management relationships would indicate their relative importance.

Content analysis is the simplest, most robust, obvious, transparent and defendable way of analysing the data. Since it can involve the interviewees as a group it can generate organisational ownership of the results.

Analysis of results is possible by use of statistical methods, a consultancy service to provide analysis or a content analysis software programme, but these methods distance the organisation from the results. A skillfully facilitated series of group content analysis sessions will provide far better understanding of the data for management and those designing the systems arising from the data.

Data Categorization

The construct categories used for categorization of the data for content analysis will generally be obvious and will include:-

  • Experience
  • Technical Skills
  • Relationships
  • Management/Leadership Skills
  • Personal Skills/Qualities
  • Communication

Making Sense of the Data

What you will have captured is a representation of the organisations culture - the organisation's construct system. The relative importance of the categories and what is missing will say a lot about the organisation and provide many insights to the teams. You will have uncovered, through the bipolar nature of constructs, a lot about the negative behaviours requiring change and the positive behaviours that may also need change to meet the strategic needs of the company.

You have uncovered the influence of the past and what qualities are currently required to be successful. The big question to then start asking is – "How do these qualities about how they judge each other's effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, help or hinder the organisation reaching its strategic goals?"

What Has Been Achieved

This is not a consulting tutorial so it is not intended to show how this data on the organisational culture points to what needs to be changed. But you will have revealed where the emphases and priorities currently lie. An experienced consultant will readily infer how categories and their relative proportions fit the organisation's future strategic goals and how to translate this, through further group work, into new competencies.

If you carry the process through to conclusion, you will have achieved a number of goals:

  • The new organisational competences;
  • Organisational ownership of the new competences;
  • Competences linked to the strategic goals;
  • A clear distinction of the difference between the new competences and that related to past organisational behaviour;
  • Using the organisation's own language.

Ten Resources on Organisational Culture


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