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What’s New at Denison. More Latest Thinking.

July 2014

Reading Between the Lines

What are your employees really telling you?

Over the last two decades, business leaders have gained a greater appreciation for the impact of organizational culture on important performance outcomes (e.g., financial performance, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, innovation).

As awareness for the importance of organizational culture has grown, questions about how to measure this valuable, but often difficult to define aspect of an organization have been raised.

An explosion of “big data” has created opportunities for using qualitative and quantitative information from a variety of sources to better understand an organization’s culture.

Qualitative analysis (the collection and analysis of themes uncovered through interviews, focus groups, open-ended survey questions, social media, etc.) is a powerful way of gaining insight into an organization’s culture.

Qualitative analysis can provide a great amount of detail about specific issues that may be disrupting an organization’s ability to operate at full potential.


At Denison Consulting, we can help you through every step of the qualitative analysis process, including which questions to ask, the most effective ways to ask them, and how to take action using the information.

A few ways we help you turn insights into action are through:

Condensing your information into key themes.

  • In the face of several hundred or several thousand comments, we can help you identify the topics that are regularly referred to across individuals. Identifying these major themes allows you to prioritize your organization’s areas of focus. Sure, a few people might be talking about a better parking space, but you may want to address the goal alignment issues that the majority of people commented on before that.

Introducing a framework to help your organization understand the significance of key themes.

  • It is common to see positive and negative comments about certain themes such as communication, leadership, and pay & benefits. For example, “we need better communication,” or “the leaders are great” are commonly seen responses.

  • By themselves, these themes may be difficult to interpret into anything actionable. However, viewing these topics in the context of what is important in driving a high performance organizational culture may bring about a few more clues.

Using the right tools for the job.

  • Reviewing and theming comments can be time consuming work. So why not get help with the heavy lifting? Our tools (including coding software and a comprehensive keyword library with important and frequently cited themes) can help you identify important themes faster and better. For a large volume of comments, this can help you quickly and consistently identify themes across groups. It also helps you see which common themes are missing – what people aren’t talking about can be just as compelling and insightful as what they are talking about.

Here are a couple of example follow-up questions that can be asked within the context of culture:

  1. What type of communication can be improved? Communication around goals & objectives, or for reaching agreement on how things are done?

  2. How can we leverage our positive leader-employee relations toward communicating and aligning the company strategy?

Ultimately, all efforts to define and understand organizational culture serve the same purpose – to act with more awareness and identify areas for improvement.

The deepest part of the cultural iceberg is often manifested in habits, rituals, and routines performed semi-consciously by their constituents. A growing number of data sources, qualitative and quantitative, are allowing us to look deeper into the culture of organizations and help identify areas for action in a quicker and more efficient way.

What are the employees in your organization really telling you?

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