The Big Miss

Over the last twenty years, researchers and business professionals alike have been smitten by the construct of corporate culture.  Study after study has identified organizational culture and an “X factor” capable of positively shifting organizational growth and performance.  With an abundance of laudatory data, organizational development and leadership development experts have worked to assess the construct within their own organizations.  However, these internal evaluations continuously miss the mark, effectively measuring corporate climate as opposed to corporate culture.  

The Big MissIn common managerial argot, the terms culture and climate are often misused and misinterpreted.  Most executives misidentify an organization’s environment, mood, and feel as culture, when they are best described as climate.  Organizational culture, on the other hand, refers to underlying qualities that impact productivity, structure, and strategy within an organization. 

Culture is an elusive construct that is rarely accurately evaluated, understood, or manipulated.  For instance, managers in high risk industries often hope to enhance the safety of their organizations.  To this end, they proactively work to modify their facilities, guidelines, mission statements, and reward programs.  However, very few consider how cultural assumptions about individual success, responsibility, and masculinity may be thwarting their efforts toward a safer work environment.

Climate & Culture – Etymology

The construct of corporate climate was first identified in 1950s and 1960s as school researchers questioned and evaluated the psychological effects of diverse educational settings.  Researchers labeled the variances in educational environments (approach, decorations, clothing, language, etc) as climate. As the concept matured through research and became focused on organizational settings, investigators began to identify a distinction between the following organizational features:

  1. The characteristics, behaviors and feelings that are universally supported by an organization’s workforce
  2. The values and beliefs held by most of an organization’s employees. 

The Big MissThis recognition of difference led to the identification of corporate culture as opposed to corporate climate.  Globally, corporate climate refers to the overt characteristics of an organization’s environment, while corporate culture references a given organization’s underlying values and beliefs.  It is clear that the constructs of corporate culture and corporate climate are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are inter-connected, influencing one another as a company grows and works through challenges (Schien, 2004).

Confusion between culture and climate is understandable for business leaders.  They are tasked with being as effective and profitable as possible. They need not be concerned with the semantics associated with constructs like culture and climate.  However, it is critical that consultants and executive coaches alike are able to proficiently advise organizations in the selection of culture assessments.  An effective assessment must evaluate underlying values and beliefs (culture), along with observable behaviors and environmental features (climate).

What test do you recommend?  


David Colarossi, Ph.D. is an executive coach who has an exceptional ability to quickly assess and understand the crux of his clients' interpersonal challenges and their key opportunities for change and development. He has coached and consulted with organizations in a variety of industries (healthcare, transportation, construction, consulting, engineering, non-profit, and finance). David's coaching experience is augmented by a robust research and assessment background.


Career Partners International provides top quality talent management services to organizations of all sizes. Their offices around the world help assessengagedevelop, and transition talent in any industry. To find out more about Career Partners International and how you can maximize your organizational performance, reach out to an office near you or contact us today!

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