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The Climate for Transformation: Lessons for Leaders
By: Scott G. Isaksen, Creativity Research Unit, The Creative Problem Solving Group, Inc.

The purpose of this article is to outline the important of considering the context within the general system of change.  Since context includes a number of key areas, the next section will differentiate culture and climate as two key concepts within the domain of context.

The importance of context when managing change

Those who lead change often find that the actual change they are trying to implement is influenced by many other factors that make a difference.  As we discussed in our introductory chapter, taking a systemic approach to guiding change includes considering the people involved in the change, the method or approach you are taking and the situation surrounding the effort.  Each of these areas provides an entire domain for inquiry and consideration.  How much effort you choose to put into each one (or any) depends on how important the change is and how much time and energy you have.  Any successful change will require some knowledge and use of each of these areas.

One of the broadest factors to consider is the context for creativity and innovation for transformation.  The word context can be taken to mean something as broad as society or national culture as well as something very limited, like the working climate within a team. 

Culture versus climate

Two main constructs provide most of the literature on context. 

Culture consists of deep and enduring patterns of how individuals and groups make decisions and demonstrate priorities about value differences.  These value differences can be organized into dichotomies like people are good versus people are evil.  Cultures can be more or less synergistic depending on the extent to which those who hold contrasting value orientations can and do work with each other.  Cultures that hold strictly to one value polarity to the point that the opposing value is consistently put down and not tolerated can become stagnated. 

In general, culture is something that:

• Is shared by all or most of the members of some social group.

• Older members usually try to pass on to younger members.

• Shapes behavior and structures perceptions of the world. 

As such culture can be described as collective programming of the mind or as Geert Hofstede has called it, “software of the mind.” 1 This collective software of the mind distinguishes the members of one social group from another.

Many writers see culture as something that is stable, deep, and reinforced by a history of decisions, use of power, and learned strategies for answering fundamental questions.  The earliest meaning associated with the word culture was the way in which people in a particular area took care of the soil – as in cultivate, plant, etc.  How people worked with soil in the region was influenced by a number of key factors and was aimed at producing the best yield possible given those conditions. Just as this early use reflected the development of a specific way of dealing with certain environmental conditions, our current use of the word culture has been formed based on how different societies have chosen to deal with certain similar issues.  In a way, what defines a culture is how those within it have chosen to answer certain basic questions, particularly when they must confront similar problems (dealing with the external environmental forces) as a society.

1.  What is the nature of humans?  Are people good or evil?  Can people change or are they resistant to change?

2.  What is the nature of our relationships to each other?  Is the focus on me, as an individual or me as a member of a group?  What are the implications of being born a male or female?  How do we deal with the unequal distribution of power?

3.  How do we consider time?  Do we make choices about our efforts based on the past, present or future?

4.  How do we deal with space?  Do we think about our personal and private use of space or do we think in terms of the public domain?

5. What is the nature of human activity? How do we deal with authority or control?  Are we more about doing or being?

6.  What is the nature of reality and truth?  How do we face an uncertain or ambiguous future?

7.  What is our relationship to nature?  Do we think we should control or dominate it or live in harmony with it?

Cultures differ in their responses to these questions, but the questions are the same for each.  The choices certain cultures have made regarding these questions reflect the shared values and deeply help assumptions they hold.  Research has identified a number of different dimensions upon which cultures differ.

Organizational culture is a different concept from culture.  Most people have exercised a choice to join a place of work whereas people are born into particular societies.  People who work in organizations usually have limits on how much time they spend there (or at work) and have other discretionary time available.  People are generally free to leave an organization and may do so more easily than leaving a society.  In any case, we have seen an increased interest in the idea of organizational culture.

Organizational cultures should describe the shared mental programming of those within the same organization, particularly if they share the same nationality.

According to Edgar Shein, one of the most cited writers in the field, there are three main sources that form any organizational culture. 2  First, there are the beliefs, values and assumptions of the founder.  Next, the learning experiences of members as the organization evolves and grows can also influence culture.  Thirdly, organizational cultures can change as a result of new beliefs, values, and assumptions brought into the organization from new members and leaders.  The most profound of these tends to be the founding leaders.  They have strong theories about how things should be done and these get tested early in the organization’s life.  If the organization makes it through the many early tests of the Founder’s theory the beliefs and assumptions of that Founder exert a profound influence on the culture of the organization.  If circumstances change, and those assumptions are not longer viable, then the organization must change its culture or die.

During the founding stage, the culture is formed primarily by what the founding leader does and pays attention to.  As the organization grows, and the founders may no longer be in the picture, it creates smaller units based on the needs for functional specialization, geographic decentralization, and by creating divisions to deal with unique product, market or technology areas.  These smaller units begin the process of culture formation with their own leaders making it even more complex to manage culture change.

Since culture is such a deep, stable, complex set of shared assumptions that are built over relatively long periods of time, it is not an easy task for new leaders to change it.  Further, many definitions of culture specifically exclude behavior.  When we see what leaders have done to actually influence culture change, they have actually focused their efforts more on the working climate.  For example, Schein identified six primary mechanisms the leaders use to embed a culture.  These include things like what leaders pay attention to, measure and control, as well as a number of other observed behaviors like the criteria leaders use to allocate scarce resources and rewards. 

Climate is defined as the recurring patterns of behavior, attitudes and feelings that characterize life in the organization.  At the individual level of analysis the concept is called psychological climate.3  At this level, the concept of climate refers to the intrapersonal perception of the patterns of behavior, attitudes and feelings as experienced by the individual.  When aggregated the concept is called work unit or organizational climate.4  These are the objectively shared perceptions that characterize life within a defined work unit or in the larger organization.  Climate is distinct from culture in that it is more observable at a surface level within the organization and more amenable to change and improvement efforts.5 Culture refers to the deeper and more enduring values, norms and beliefs within the organization.6

The domain for our inquiry into the climate for creativity and change is the organization.  Climate is a scaleable concept, in that it can be examined at the level of the work unit or group, the division or function, or at the entire organizational level.  As such, it is influenced by the culture and other factors on the Model for Organizational Change (MOC).  Together, these factors create the larger context, within which climate in one key intervening variable.

The climate for creativity and change is that which promotes the generation, consideration, and use of new products, services, and ways of working.  This kind of climate supports the development, assimilation and utilization of new and different approaches, practices, and concepts. 

We see organizational climate as an intervening variable that affects individual and organizational performance due to its modifying effect on organizational and psychological processes.  The climate is influenced by many factors within the organization and, in turn, affects organizational and psychological processes.  Organizational processes include group problem solving, decision-making, communication, and coordination.  Psychological processes include learning, individual problem solving, creating, motivating and committing.  These components exert a direct influence on the performance and outcomes in individuals, working groups and the organization.  The model outlines a few of the more important organizational factors that affect climate, which in turn, impact the results and outcomes of the organization.


Leader’s role in climate creation

Deliberate climate creation is the main responsibility of leadership within any organization.  Some argue that it is the only major thing leaders do.  But how can busy leaders who must manage the day-to-day business of the organization deliberately and consciously create the climate for creativity, innovation and transformation?

First, the reality is that all leaders within all organizations are already creating a climate, whether they do it deliberately or not (Shalley & Gilson, 2004).  Unless leaders are totally invisible to others, what they say and do is observed by others and is the greatest influence on the perceived patterns of behavior that characterize life and the atmosphere within the organization.  Of all the factors that influence climate outlined in the earlier chapters, leadership behavior is generally the most potent.

Ekvall and Ryhammar (1998) found that leadership behavior accounts for a great deal of the variance on climate assessments.  In one study, they found a direct relationship among leadership, climate and productivity.  When they removed (partialed out) the variance from climate, they found a very weak direct relationship between leadership and productivity.  Although this was a very preliminary study, it does raise an interesting and provocative issue.  Perhaps the most important thing a leader of any organization does is to obtain productive results is create the climate and working atmosphere (Ekvall, 1997).

Working to deliberately create a climate that is conducive to innovation and change is emerging as a critical factor for organizational survival and growth (Shalley & Gilson, 2004).  There may be differences in both the degree and style of creativity demanded from employees who face diverse tasks and desired outcomes, but there is an emerging consensus that there is room – in nearly every job – for more creativity.  Creating a working atmosphere that allows for creative behavior is one of the biggest opportunities for those who choose to meet the innovation challenge.

One example supporting the need for deliberate climate creation comes form the PwC Innovation and Growth survey described in Chapter One.  As you may remember, those organizations earning the highest percentage of revenue from new products and services demonstrated that they were more effective on three capabilities.  They demonstrated a more inclusive and creative kind of leadership, took deliberate steps to manage their creative and idea management processes, and did not leave their climate or working atmosphere to chance.

The researchers also studied the idea management processes in a representative set of organizations in the sample.  They found that those organizations earning more from new products and services were nurturing 115 ideas per day.  The average organizations captured and managed 18 ideas per day.  The lowest performing organizations only nurtured about one idea per day.

Support for an idea rich environment is also provided by research into the success curves for industrial innovation.  One study found that it took 3,000 raw ideas to produce one substantially new and commercially successful new product (Stevens & Burley, 1997).  Although their research applied to most industries, they indicated for others, including drug companies, the number of raw ideas may actually be higher (6-8,000). 


What do we know about leadership behavior?

We have already reviewed the historical and current literature on leadership in Chapter Five.  We have also maintained that founding leaders and managers of organizations have a profound affect on the culture and therefore the climate of their organizations.  Finally, research and practice indicates that new and emerging leaders can also influence the climate within their teams, divisions, or entire organizations.  Kouzes and Posner provide one example of how this happens.

Kouzes and Posner (1987) began their inquiry into leadership because of their disbelief in the popular myth that only a lucky few can decipher the mystery of leadership. Their fifteen years of inquiry, and research has produced information that suggests leadership is not a mystery. Their Leadership Practices Inventory is based on a huge amount of data—from more than 3,000 cases and 100,000 surveys - showing that leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices.

After assessing all of this information, the conclusion they came to was that: “Leadership is everyone's business. Everyone must function as a leader at some time and in some arena—whether in an organization, an agency, a task force, a committee, a community group, or even a family setting—and everyone can learn to lead effectively.”

The 30 items of the LPI are divided into the five practices that were found to occur most commonly in the research Kouzes and Posner conducted. These five practices are described again below with a few implications for climate creation.

Challenging the process. Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to im the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.  If leaders can demonstrate the effective deployment of this practice, the effect on the climate could be encouraging people to ask questions about the ways things are being done, take initiative to try new ways of working, and occasionally make some bold changes.

Inspiring a shared vision.  Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

When leaders inspire a shared vision they can raise the level of energy and commitment in their organizations.  If leaders can couple their communicating about the vision and big picture with effective management tactics surrounding good project management, providing the appropriate level of resources and guiding direction for key projects (without micromanaging), people within their organizations can take initiative to turn the visions into reality.

Enabling others to act.  Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

When leaders enable others to act they bridge the traditional view of leadership with effective management.  As we outlined in our Model for Creative Leadership explained in Chapter 5 on Leading and Managing for Transformation, leaders model the behaviors that illustrate appropriate levels of involvement and engagement in change efforts.  But this kind of behavior need not stay at the highest levels of the organization.  Including those involved in the change effort is one of the best ways to overcome many of the barriers to implementing the desired outcome of the change.  Going a step further, and working to provide people the tools, training and resources they need to do a good job is a natural implication of this leadership practice and management competency.

Modeling the way.  Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.

When leaders and managers model the way, their words and behavior are seen as consistent.  This breeds a higher level of trust and emotional safety in relationships because the rules of the game or clear and consistent.  Furthermore, by breaking down larger and more complex projects and initiatives, leaders and managers can reinforce the direction for new initiatives, individual and team problem-solving efforts.

Encouraging the heart.  Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

When leaders and managers encourage the heart by providing a range of reward and recognition for the efforts people take, clear messages are sent about the kind of behavior or initiative that is invited and welcomed within the organization.  If the learning that comes from both successful and unsuccessful risk taking is rewarded, people will engage in the kind of risk taking that can bring value to the organization.  Further, by encouraging the heart, people within the organization can become more committed and challenged by continuing their efforts to produce meaningful work.

Leaders create the working climate by using all the levers within the Model for Organizational Change outlined in Chapter 11 on Transforming the Culture and Climate.  For example, when leaders create and communicate mission and strategy they can influence the climate.  Restructuring is one lever we have witnessed that is utilized very often to create change in the way people interact (perhaps an overused lever).  Leaders and managers can also focus on the transactional elements of the model to create climate.  By providing clear task requirements for projects and tasks they can set the tone for the kind of change required. 

When leaders want to focus clearly and deliberately on creating the climate that supports change, creativity and innovation, they can also apply the Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ).  The dimensions and design of the SOQ is described in more detail in Chapter 12 on The Climate for Innovation and Growth.  The following sections of this chapter will focus on some case studies in which a variety of organizations have applied the SOQ in a deliberate change effort.  These case studies are not offered as absolute proof of the effectiveness of the SOQ, but are shared to help you better understand what it will likely take to make meaningful and significant changes in your climate.


Case 1: A Symphony Orchestra

A major world-class orchestra in the North East of the US had been invited to prestigious festivals all over the world.  It was housed in an impressive building in the downtown area of a major metropolitan area and had over 100 musicians and 75 staff, and an operating budget of nearly $30 million.  The Orchestra had been in existence for over 100 years and had an excellent reputation and programs for classical music, Broadway, jazz, and pops.

We started working with the organization to help them develop a strategic architecture in 1997.  In the process of this strategic planning effort, the leadership team identified a number of opportunities and threats facing the organization.  One of the major threats was their over reliance on the endowment to fund their operation.  The leadership team identified 11 strategic growth opportunities and initiated a number of assessment efforts to determine their position in the market and their relevance to the community.  Over the next year, the leadership team decided to involve their board and address a number of key strategic growth projects.

As a part of their effort to engage the entire organization in their change efforts, the SOQ was administered in January of 1999.  The following month, the results of the SOQ were shared with the entire staff and they participated in a workshop to identify improvements that would help the orchestra in the short, medium and long term.  Follow up workshops were held with the senior management team, and each department.  We assembled cross-functional teams to address the dimensions of freedom, idea time, conflict, debate and risk taking.  Each team identified actions that needed to be taken to improve the results on one dimension and presented to the senior management team.

A number of the actions were implemented over the next year.  A leadership development workshop was held and included the senior management as well as department heads.  Workshops on delegation and empowering people were held. The dress code was changed to allow for less formal attire during non-performance days.  Staff meetings were restructured to allow for more participation and to encourage follow up on many of the actions and projects.  Emphasis was placed on more deliberate communication of the strategy and progress on the strategic goals.  One team addressed the issue of staff shortages and more effective use of volunteers to ease the pressure of a very heavy work-load.  Another cross-functional team was charged with the task of “unclogging the information arteries” by exchanging information across departments.  The senior management team also chose to address the need to become less reliant on the endowment.  They created a research and development function to explore numerous alternatives.  They took a bold suggestion to the board to allow the symphony to extend beyond its education and non-profit mission and create some for-profit centers.  For example, a retail store was created adjacent to the performance hall. Another project was created to review human resource practices and make improvements in staffing, pensions, personal and vacation time.

All of these efforts were linked with the overall strategy of the orchestra and addressed during special and regular meetings of the senior leadership and departments.  The follow up assessment of the SOQ, 21 months later, showed some improvement on most of the targeted dimensions.

During the presentation of the data on the second administration of the SOQ with the senior management team they noticed a major decrease in conflict.  They also noticed some improvement in trust and risk taking.  People were putting more thoughts and suggestions forward and the working relationships between managers and employees were improving.  The quantitative scores were supplemented, once again, with narrative feedback from 75 people who took the assessment. 

As a result of examining the quantitative and qualitative findings, they reported that people within the organization seemed much more receptive to the changes and the new strategic direction.  The management team changed their perception of the employees to reflect much greater respect for their talents and motivations.  Communication was improving within and across departments.  They were also able to see an improvement on the over reliance on their endowment.

The senior management team also identified needed additional steps to be taken to continue to improve the organization’s readiness, willingness and ability to implement the changes.  They recognized that idea time had not improved.  The feedback from the SOQ detailed the reasons for the lack of improvement being an ever-increasing work load and demands from the projects and community.  As of this writing, progress continues.  But between the two administrations of the SOQ, they had increased the revenue and decreased dependency on the endowment to a large degree and other new services and sources of revenue streams were under consideration.


Case 2: A Medical Technology Company

A Finnish-based global health-care organization had 55,000 employees and $50 billion in revenue. The division we worked with was located in the mid-west employed 700 people.  It’s mission was to develop, manufacture and market products for anesthesia and critical care. 

During January of 1999, the senior management team of the mid-west division conducted an SOQ assessment.  They had been doing well on quality and operational excellence initiatives in manufacturing and had improved their sales and marketing results, but were still concerned that there were many other areas on which they could improve.  They approached the SOQ assessment as a means to find out what was working well and what needed to be improved.

We held a workshop with the senior team to present the results and engage them to determine what they needed to do to improve their business.  We met with the CEO prior to the workshop to highlight the overall results and share the department comparisons.  She was not surprised by the results but was very interested to see that some of the departments had different results.

During the workshop, the team targeted challenge and involvement, freedom, idea time, and idea support as critical dimensions to improve to enable them to meet their strategic objectives.  The organization was facing increasing competition in their markets and significant advances in technology.  Although major progress had been made in the manufacturing area, they needed to improve their product development and marketing efforts by broadening involvement internally and cross-functionally and externally by obtaining deep consumer insight.  The main strategy they settled upon was to “jump start” their innovation in new product development for life support.

Key personnel in new product development and marketing were provided training in Creative Problem Solving, and follow up projects were launched to apply the learning to existing and new projects.  One project was a major investment in reengineering their main product line.  Clinicians were challenged with the current design of the equipment.  The initial decision was to redesign the placement of critical control valves used during surgery.  The project leader decided to apply CPS on the challenge and used a number of the tools to go out and clarify the problem with the end users.  The sessions were videotaped and small-group sessions were held involving project team members from research and development as well as marketing.  The result was a redefinition of the challenge and the decision to save the millions of dollars involved in the reengineering effort and instead develop a new tactile tool to help the clinicians’ problem of having their hands full.

During this process, the employees were involved in the working sessions and were able to observe progress due to a deliberate effort to display and communicate the results.  Since the professionals in the research and development lab were also directly involved in obtaining and interpreting the consumer insight data, they understood the needs of the end users and displayed an unusually high degree of energy and commitment to the project. 

There were other spin-offs as well.  Other employees were trained in the tools and techniques and Creative Problem Solving.  Many of the employees started taking other initiatives to transform their use of space into community sharing events and resources.  On one visit to the facility we observed a resource exchange for employees with children in which they could purchase new learning games or exchange their used ones with each other.  We also observed a much greater amount of cross-functional and informal working across departments. Some human resource personnel were replaced and new forms of reward and recognition were developed.  Not only was there more consumer insight research going on, but there were more and closer partnerships created with clinicians and end users of the products.

Another SOQ assessment was administered about 18 months later and the results are shown in the table below. During this period of time the CEO tracked revenue growth and profitability of the division and reported double-digit growth. 

Based on the observations with the symphony orchestra, we decided to see if the changes in the climate results were significant and if the SOQ assessment scores were reliable.  These data are reported in the tables below.

This case, coupled with earlier cases and applications of the SOQ assessment approach provided an increasing degree of confidence that the measure could be very useful for informing and guiding change efforts.

Case 3: An Electrical Engineering Division

This organization was a division of a large, global electrical power and product supply company headquartered in France.  The division was located in the South East of the USA and had 92 employees.  Its focus was to help clients automate their processes particularly within the automotive, pharmaceutical, microelectronics and food and beverage industries.  For example, this division would make the robots that put cars together in the automotive industry or provide public filtration systems.

When this division was merged with the parent company in 2002, it was loosing about $8 million a year.  A new general manager was bought in to turn the division around and make it profitable quickly.  The general manager attended a senior management development program and learned about the SOQ.  He decided that this measure and approach might be helpful to him and his team when doing a short-term turnaround.

In August of 2002, the first general climate assessment was conducted with all the employees of the division.  The management team worked to integrate the results on the SOQ with their current understanding of what was needed to make the turnaround work.  The team reviewed the results and identified that they were strongest on the debate dimension but were very close to the stagnated norms when it came to challenge and involvement, playfulness and humour, and conflict.  They indicated that the quantitative and qualitative assessment results were consistent with their own impressions that the division could be characterized as conflict driven, uncommitted to producing results, and people were generally despondent.  Their quantitative results are presented in the table below.

The leadership decided, after some debate, that they should target challenge and involvement, trust and openness, playfulness and humour, and conflicts in order to help them implement the needed turnaround.  They set a very specific target of obtaining a score of 195-205 on challenge and involvement.  This dimension also fit the strategic emphasis on a global initiative on employee commitment.  We were a little uncertain about their ability to deliberately affect the trust and openness dimension due to the lack of a significant improvement with the previous cases.

It was clear to them that they needed to soften the climate and drive a warmer, more embracing, communicative and exhuberant climate.  They developed and then implemented a plan for short-term climate change.

They committed to increase communication by holding monthly all-employee meetings, sharing quarterly reviews on performance, and using cross-functional strategy review sessions.  They implemented mandatory “skip level” meetings to allow more direct interaction between senior managers and all levels of employees.  The general manager held 15-minute meetings will all employees at least once a year.  All employee suggestions and recommendations were invited and feedback and recognition was required to be immediate.  A new monthly recognition and rewards program was launched across the division for both managers and employees that was based on peer nomination.

At a time when making the division profitable was the highest priority, the management team re-established training and development and encouraged employees to engage in both personal and business-related skills development.  They also provided mandatory safety training for all employees. 

Another category of initiatives included providing a clear and compelling mission, strategy and values for the division.  The management team formed employee review teams to challenge and craft the statements in the hopes of encouraging more ownership and involvement in the overall strategic direction of the business.

In general, they focused on relaxing the climate.  They used the suggestions provided by the narrative parts of the survey to identify actions that needed to be taken.  They modified rules regarding the dress code, adapted more flexible working hours, and allowed plants and flowers in the workplace.  They scheduled parties and social events, and fostered open debate and feedback without repercussions. Managers who could not follow the new behavioral norms were coached and some were removed from their positions.  It was critical to encourage everyone to understand how their specific role and responsibilities fit into the overall flow of the business so they did extensive work on detailing the definition of roles and process ownership.  Their stated aim was to create an unstoppable “bubble of excellence” in North America and to challenge the “tyranny of the average.”

In September of 2003, the leadership team wanted feedback on how they were doing in their efforts to change the climate, so they requested a second administration of the SOQ.  The results of this second assessment, along with the comparison to their first is included in the table below.

The four dimensions they targeted improved significantly.  In addition, two additional dimensions showed significant improvement, even though they were not specifically targeted.  The conflict dimension showed the largest change in the more positive direction.  We also noticed a significant improvement on the trust and openness dimension.  This could have been the result of the level of intensity with which the management drove the climate change.

The division showed a $7 million turnaround in 18 months and has now begun to deliver profit much closer to projections.  In 2003, the division won a worldwide innovation award.  They are building specific innovation metrics into their balanced scorecard and continue to identify areas of improvement, despite a promotion of the General Manager to a national position.

General themes across cases

Each of the organizations identified above were very different.  Despite the different purposes, industries and sizes, there were some common themes that may help you take deliberate efforts to improve your own climate.

Leaders and managers accepted their key role.  In each case, those charged with the strategic responsibility and day-to-day work owned up to their role in climate creation.  They faced both the good and bad news that came with the assessment and then focused on what needed to be done to make improvements.

Those who owned up to change, and took their sponsorship and clientship responsibilities seriously were able to accomplish their desired outcomes, involve people, and make progress on their deliberate methods.  Having access to climate data helped them celebrate what was working and remove the barriers within the context to create an atmosphere conducive to the release of creativity.  They did not try to discount the data or measure (or the people presenting them).  Instead, they faced the reality of the climate data with a positive attitude.

Focused on interpretation and integration.  The leaders and managers sought to understand both the numbers and narrative results and then carefully considered which dimensions and actions could help them move the organization forward.

Climate creation was not a goal or objective all on its own.  The results from the SOQ assessment served to provide leadership teams with important insights to help them look at the current organizational context in light of the direction they needed to go, the quality of the working relationships among people, and how well their current methods or approaches were working.  Based on these insights, the leadership teams were able to engage others (usually on a cross-functional level) to make the needed changes and improvements.

Targeted key dimensions.  In each case the leadership and management teams selected dimensions of climate that were critical to their own unique purposes and markets. 

The SOQ provides quantitative data on nine dimensions and narrative comments and themes in response to what is helping or hindering creativity and what specific actions need to be taken to improve the situation.  This amount of information could overwhelm an already over burdened management team.  The teams in these cases certainly paid attention to all the data, but they were able to take advantage of the understanding of the business needs and integrate these with the critical insights about the climate.  As a result, they focused their efforts on a selected number of high priority dimensions and actions that helped them achieve results and improve the climate.

Demonstrated follow through.  Each of these cases demonstrated the value of taking actions over time.  Rather than using the SOQ as a report card or a short executive intellectual exercise, the management teams understood that it was all about changing behavior.  This often required the leaders to transform their own behavior first, but nearly always cascaded through the organization.  Rather than thinking that climate creation was a single event, they knew that this kind of work was a process or journey – and they stayed the course.

Used external resources. Although the ultimate value of any climate assessment must be internally relevant to the organization, each of these organizations saw value in using an external assessment that was normative and having the results presented and interpreted by an objective outsider.

Each of the senior leaders and members of the management teams realized the benefit of using a well-developed assessment tool and qualified individuals who knew how to use the measure to help obtain results.  Having access to clear benchmarks and, often, results from other organizations in similar industries, helped the management teams and employees understand the importance and value of the climate creation efforts.

Our experience has shown that it is necessary to work with a qualified user of the SOQ.  One very large organization with which we work conducted an SOQ assessment within one of its divisions.  When the results were shared the key leaders wanted to focus on only those dimensions on which they scored below the more productive norm.  What they missed was the most significant (and meaningful) difference:  that they were scoring well above an appropriate score for debate.  The heart of their need for improvement turned out to be the productive avoidance created by too many diverse opinions and no clear strategic direction.  This was confounded by the fact that most people in the division really enjoyed a good debate.  It certainly was more fun than doing any productive work!

Climate creation enables a systemic approach to change

We have asserted the value of taking a systemic approach to change.  Change efforts that only focus on a single element of the organizational system are far more likely to fail.  When leadership teams take deliberate steps to examine their climate, they open themselves up to the entire system.

Since climate is an intervening set of variables, when you target specific climate dimensions, you are very likely to be able to create and implement actions that will not only improve those selected dimensions, but others as well.  This is the nature of climate. It is the patterns of behavior that characterize life within the organization.  Many factors affect the climate, and the climate influences the organizational and psychological processes throughout the organization.

Firestien (1990) conducted a study that demonstrates how systemic change can happen.  He studied the effects of almost a full semester of training in CPS on the communication behavior of small groups.  Hotels in the Western New York area have a real problem with occupancy rates during the winter months, so a number of area hotel managers served as clients for a real problem-solving session.  Each session was recorded and each group received the same instructions for the outcome and the way they were to work together.

After analyzing the communication behavior of the groups, Firestien found that there were significant differences between the trained and untrained groups (Firestien & McGowan, 1988).  The trained groups generated more responses to the task, had fewer verbal criticisms and more verbal support and laughter.  The members of the trained group smiled more frequently and generated more ideas.  These findings clearly illustrate a link between training in deliberate process tools and approaches and the effects on working climate.

This illustrates a key link among two of the elements of the system described in this book.  Deliberately developing the CPS skills of people not only raises their level of creativity*, it also affects the working climate within the teams.  The next table shows the results from the evaluation by the client team of the ideas generated during the small-group session.

Although the CPS trained groups enjoyed working together and generated more ideas than the untrained groups, the differences did not end there.  As you can see from the table below, there were significant differences in the quality of the ideas they generated.

The management of the hotels rated the ideas on a five-point scale.  One was the lowest value, and five was the highest.  The trained group generated many more lower quality ideas than the untrained group, providing support for the key guidelines of brainstorming, allowing for silly ideas and deferring judgment7.  The trained groups also significantly outperformed the untrained groups when it came to the higher quality ideas.  If you consider those receiving a ranking of four or five higher quality ideas, the trained groups produced more than 250% more high quality suggestions.

Deliberate training of CPS tools and skills not only had an impact on the climate within the groups.  There were meaningful and significant differences in the quantity and quality of the outcomes.

Conclusions and Implications

Leaders and their behavior are a major force in creating the context for change and creativity.  The purpose of this chapter has been to outline a number of other factors that can make a difference as well as share some specific strategies that can be employed to improve the situation.  Rather than focus on only one strategy, it may be helpful to have a number at your disposal.

The most common mistake managers make is to use only one approach or a limited set of them regardless of the situation.  A surprisingly large number of managers have this problem.  This would include the hard-boiled boss who often coerces people, the people-oriented manager who constantly tries to involve and support his people, the cynical boss who always manipulates and co-opts others, the intellectual manager who relies heavily on education and communication, and the lawyer-like manager who usually tries to negotiate. 8

The key is to examine the situation.  This examination can be done from a cultural perspective and from the point of view of values such as those surrounding the use of power, dealing with uncertainty, the tension between individuals and community, and masculine-feminine issues.9  From this examination of the culture and climate, a better decision regarding the use of any particular strategy can be made.10

The value in using a deliberate assessment approach is that you can increase the likelihood that you will consider more factors while guiding significant change.  Knowing more about your situation will help you decide how quickly you need to take action, the needed level of preplanning, and the degree of involvement from others

Only a few years before the fall of Rome, Sidonius (a key historian of the Roman empire who write circa 467 AD) wrote how normal everything was.  Within a decade, the Roman empire was swept into the pages of history.  Sidonius was too close to the center of power to observe the forces bearing down upon Rome.  These forces were anything but normal, but an individual’s perspective can be so inwardly focused or limited in scope that the reality of the situation is overlooked.  The same thing happens in some of the largest and best-run organizations in the world today.

If you, as a leader of change, really want to pay attention to the many forces that are already at work within your organization, then one of the best things you can do is to formally assess the climate around you.  Rather than trying to measure or understand all relevant factors within the MOC, a single, broad measure can pick up those factors that are most relevant to your particular situation.  As Kanter described:

…we need to create conditions, even inside larger organizations, that make it possible for individuals to get the power to experiment, to create, to develop, to test – to innovate.  Whereas short-term productivity can be affected by purely mechanical systems, innovation requires intellectual effort.  And that, in turn, means people.  All people.  On all fronts.  In the finance department, the purchasing department, and the secretarial pool as well as the R&D group.  People at all levels, including ordinary people at the grass roots and middle managers at the heads of departments, can contribute to solving organizational problems, to inventing new methods or pieces of strategies. 11

The experiences outlined above indicate that the SOQ helps leaders and managers understand the readiness, willingness, and ability to transform their organizations.  The SOQ has shown that it measures nine key dimensions of a climate that supports creativity and change.  In addition, the narrative section picks up factors that are included within the MOC and points out unique ingredients within the situation that can really make a difference.12  As a result, the SOQ offers an excellent starting point to help you understand the situational outlook surrounding the change effort you wish to implement.

The three cases in this chapter all use the SOQ for organization wide change and transformation. The SOQ has also shown itself to be useful on a number of other levels.

The SOQ has been used to help teams function more effectively.  You would expect that improvements in the overall organizational climate would also have a general positive effect on teamwork.  The SOQ has been able to distinguish between best and worst case creative teams, and has been used by teams who were charged with helping to make organizational transformation happen.

The SOQ has also been applied to help develop leaders.  A number of organizations have incorporated the SOQ as an assessment in their leadership development programs.  The participants in these programs take the SOQ as a self-assessment and then invite those who are good observers of their leadership behavior to take the assessment as well, prior to the program.  During the program the participants are provided their quantitative and qualitative results so they can compare them with those of their observers.  They can also compare their results with the norms from innovative versus stagnated organizations and best and worst case teams.  The exercise usually provides those who are developing their leadership talents with powerful insights and implications for further skill development and behavior change.



1. Shalley, C. E., & Gilson, L. L. (2004).  What leaders need to know: A review of social and contextual factors that can foster or hinder creativity.  The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 33-53.

2. Ekvall, G., & Ryhammar, L.  (1998).  Leadership style, social climate and organizational outcomes:  A study of a Swedish University College.  Creativity and Innovation Management, 7, 126-130.  Ekvall, G.  (1997).  Organizational conditions and levels of creativity.  Creativity and Innovation Management, 6 (4),  195-205.  Ekvall, G., Arvonen, J., & Waldenstrom-Lindblad, I.  (1983).  Creative organizational climate:  Construction and validation of a measuring instrument. (Report 2). Stockholm, Sweden: FArådet - The Swedish Council for Management and Work Life Issues.

3. Shalley, C. E., & Gilson, L. L. (2004).  What leaders need to know: A review of social and contextual factors that can foster or hinder creativity.  The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 33-53.

4. Stevens, G. A., & Burley, J. (1997).  3,000 raw ideas = 1 commercial success.  Research Technology Management, 40, 16-27.

5. Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z.  (1987).  The leadership challenge:  How to get extraordinary things done in organizations.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

6. Firestien, R. L. (1990).  Effects of creative problem solving training on communication behaviors in small groups. Small Group Research, 21, 507-521.  Firestien, R. L., & McCowan, R. J. (1988).  Creative problem solving and communication behaviors in small groups.  Creativity Research Journal, 1, 106-114.

7.  Isaksen, S. G., & Gaulin, J. P. (2005).  A reexamination of brainstorming research: Implications for research and practice.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 49, 315-329.

8. Kotter, J. P.  (1999).  John P. Kotter on what leaders really do.  Boston:  Harvard Business School Press. P. 43

9. Offerman, L. R., & Hellmann, P. S.  (1997).  Culture’s consequences for leadership behavior:  National values in action.  Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 28, 342-351.

10. Coyne, K. P., & Subramaniam, S.  (1996).  Bringing discipline to strategy.  The McKinsey Quarterly, 4, 3-12.

11. Kanter, R. M.  (1983).  The change masters.  New York:  Simon and Shuster. P.23

12. Sobieck, M. A.  (1996).  Examination of cross-site narrative responses on the CIQ and SOQ. Unpublished master's thesis, State University College at Buffalo, New York.


1. Hofstede, G.  (1997).  Cultures and organizations – Software of the mind:  Intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival.  New York:  McGraw-Hill; Hofstede, G. (2001).  Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  SAGE; Trompenaars, F. & Hampden-Turner, C. (2004).  Managing people across cultures.  West Sussex, England: Capstone.

2. Schein, E. H. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership (2nd ed.).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

3. Isaksen, S. G., & Kaufmann, G.  (1990).  Adaptors and innovators: Different perceptions of the psychological climate for creativity. In T. Rickards, P. Colemont, P. Grøholt, M. Parker, & H. Smeekes (Eds.), Creativity and innovation: Learning from practice, (pp. 47-54). Delft, The Netherlands: Innovation Consulting Group TNO; Isaksen, S. G., & Lauer, K. J.  (In press).  The relationship between cognitive style and individual psychological climate:  Reflections on a previous study.  Studia Psychologica.

4. Turnipseed, D.  (1994).  The relationship between the social environment of organizations and the climate for innovation and creativity. Creativity and Innovation Management, 3, 184 - 195.

5. McNabb, D. E., & Sepic, F. T.  (1995).  Culture, climate and total quality management:  Measuring readiness for change.  Public Productivity and Management Review, 18, 369-385.

6. Ekvall, G.  (1996).  Organizational climate for creativity and innovation.  European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5 (1), 105-123; Schneider, B., Brief, A. P. & Guzzo, R. A.  (1996).  Creating a climate and culture for sustainable organizational change.  Organizational Dynamics, 24, (4) 7-19.



Shalley, C. E., & Gilson, L. L. (2004).  What leaders need to know: A review of social and contextual factors that can foster or hinder creativity.  The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 33-53.

Ekvall, G., & Ryhammar, L.  (1998).  Leadership style, social climate and organizational outcomes:  A study of a Swedish University College.  Creativity and Innovation Management, 7, 126-130.

 Ekvall, G.  (1997).  Organizational conditions and levels of creativity.  Creativity and Innovation Management, 6 (4),  195-205. 

Ekvall, G., Arvonen, J., & Waldenstrom-Lindblad, I.  (1983).  Creative organizational climate:  Construction and validation of a measuring instrument. (Report 2). Stockholm, Sweden: FArådet - The Swedish Council for Management and Work Life Issues.

Shalley, C. E., & Gilson, L. L. (2004).  What leaders need to know: A review of social and contextual factors that can foster or hinder creativity.  The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 33-53.

Stevens, G. A., & Burley, J. (1997).  3,000 raw ideas = 1 commercial success.  Research Technology Management, 40, 16-27.

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z.  (1987).  The leadership challenge:  How to get extraordinary things done in organizations.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.


Firestien, R. L. (1990).  Effects of creative problem solving training on communication behaviors in small groups. Small Group Research, 21, 507-521. 

Firestien, R. L., & McCowan, R. J. (1988).  Creative problem solving and communication behaviors in small groups.  Creativity Research Journal, 1, 106-114.

Isaksen, S. G., & Gaulin, J. P. (2005).  A reexamination of brainstorming research: Implications for research and practice.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 49, 315-329.

Isaksen, S. G., & Tidd, J. (2006).  Meeting the innovation challenge:  Leadership for transformation and growth.  Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Kotter, J. P.  (1999).  John P. Kotter on what leaders really do.  Boston:  Harvard Business School Press. P. 43

Offerman, L. R., & Hellmann, P. S.  (1997).  Culture’s consequences for leadership behavior:  National values in action.  Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 28, 342-351.

Coyne, K. P., & Subramaniam, S.  (1996).  Bringing discipline to strategy.  The McKinsey Quarterly, 4, 3-12.

Kanter, R. M.  (1983).  The change masters.  New York:  Simon and Shuster. P.23

Sobieck, M. A.  (1996).  Examination of cross-site narrative responses on the CIQ and SOQ. Unpublished master's thesis, State University College at Buffalo, New York.