The right tools

Head of HSE, Nuvia
SHE manager, Nuvia

Selecting the right culture assessment tool for an organisation is far from straightforward. David Day and Dan Morphew offer practical guidance on what to look for

The first step before improving an organisation’s culture is to be clear about which part of it you intend to assess. At its most general level, terms such as “health” can be defined widely.

According to James S. Larson’s study, “The conceptualization of health”, published in the Medical Care Research and Review in 1999, health can have medical, social-economic and spiritual components, so clarity about what you mean by the term is essential.

A good place to start when identifying the right tools for an effective culture assessment is to look at these resources:

  • Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion: recommended and promising practices for situational assessment tools ( bit.ly/2WK2CVo);
  • Occupational Safety and Health Culture Assessment – a review of main approaches and selected tools ( bit.ly/2UMceNI);

It is also important to select a tool that suits the context of your organisation. Ask yourself:

  • Does this tool match the prevailing culture?
  • Is this tool suitable for our industry?
  • Has the tool been used in organisations with a similar risk profile to ours?
  • Are the elements measured and assessed on the tool correct for what we are looking for?

It is important also to make sure the tool matches the geographical and cross-cultural requirements of your organisation. Can it be distributed easily across the entire entity? Further, think about how you wish to present your findings and how you will integrate these. This could be an improvement plan or an action plan. The tool needs to match the aspirations of what needs to be gained from the exercise.

It is vital for you to realise that your colleagues are doing you a favour, so ensure the tool is user-friendly. When assessing this, ask these questions:

  • Is it easy to understand? You don’t want to be selecting a tool that people cannot comprehend; it needs to be quick to read and simple to complete. Experience tells us that this will increase the response rate, which in turn improves the quality of findings.
  • Are the instructions clear? This crucial consideration is often overlooked when using culture assessment tools. Empathise with your audience and read the instructions. Are they clear? If you don’t understand them your colleagues probably won’t either.
  • Is the tool set out in a logical format? The tool needs to flow well and have a strong structure; you don’t want colleagues to be jumping about all over the place. The tool must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • Is the language right for its intended audience? Don’t select a tool that uses complex language; this will make it harder for people to complete. If people don’t understand the terms and definitions, they will switch off and won’t complete the exercise.
  • Is the tool concise? A tool that is short is more likely to be viewed positively. If it’s too long, it is less likely to be completed and you will miss out on rich data.

It is important to draw on your own experience when selecting a safety culture assessment tool. In a previous role, we needed to find a tool that would work for our organisation. It had to be simple to understand and preferably provide a visual component, so people could visualise our stage of safety culture maturity. We found the solution in “A framework for understanding the development of organisational safety culture”, published in Safety Science ( bit.ly/2UMeynU).

This tool enables organisations to assess and understand the maturity of their safety culture. The framework features 18 tangible and intangible features of organisational safety culture such as “the balance between HSE and profitability” and “the purpose of procedures”. Once completed, an organisation is given a rating from pathological, to reactive, to calculative, to proactive and finally generative.

People found this tool easy to use because of its logical structure running from pathological to generative; they could perceive how safety culture maturity can progress over time. Also, although the language is it a bit technical in the descriptions of the culture levels, the descriptions offered enough detail to allow them to be transferred into more workable language. Positively, people described the format as concise and quick and easy to read. In short, it wasn’t a burden for employees to complete.

Another tool that we selected was the Organizational Health Audit ( bit.ly/2DYbWNo), developed by Canadian consultancy Tri Fit in 1998. This checklist-oriented aid is completed by members of a workplace health steering committee to help organisations to develop health promotion strategies. The output from the audit grades the healthiness of a workplace in terms of three incremental categories: bronze, silver and gold.

The tool is user-friendly and simple to complete. The category headings are in-depth, covering corporate culture, policies, procedures and work processes, programmes and service and the physical environment. The corporate culture section is detailed, covering areas from the organisation’s mission to management support for health and wellbeing initiatives. The tool is intended for inclusion with other human resources programmes, allowing an organisation to easily integrate the findings into a corporate health strategy.

The tool’s simplicity, breadth and potential for integration into business planning provided a useful insight into what people thought about health and wellbeing.

The culture assessment tool you select must be right for you, your organisation, your colleagues and your culture.  


Head of HSE, Nuvia
SHE manager, Nuvia

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