Isn’t climate and culture the same thing?

The meaning of a word can make us lose the plot

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The literature on the subject of organisational culture and climate is awash with riveting research on the one hand, and bogged down with conflicting appraisals of what each term means on the other. In my experience, it doesn’t really matter what you call them – as long as you recognise the difference between the two and you are measuring the right thing!

Several years ago I was involved in designing, setting up, and delivering an organisational development programme for one of our clients. I painstakingly did all of the groundwork to stitch together and refine the suite of questionnaires, surveys, focus groups, workshop materials, and so on. Seeing the potential in adopting some of these materials for other clients, I was asked if I could ‘upgrade’ them to produce an off-the-shelf product. We were particularly interested in the development of an organisational culture survey.

Now, gathering together the ‘feedstock’ for the survey was the easy part. I dipped into existing question sets, evolved clusters of cultural themes, utilised insights from research findings, and mapped this against all our personal experiences in the field. The difficult part, at least for me, was the number-crunching: I therefore asked a colleague who was well versed in numbers and passionate about statistical analysis to take away the pain.
As I fed through the topics, themes, and dimensions, he consistently asked questions such as:

  1. Are we talking about culture or climate?
  2. Doesn’t that behaviour emerge more from the effects of climate than culture?
  3. Are you sure that symptom is indicative of a culture – it looks more like climate to me!
  4. That description captures climate more – don’t you agree?

It soon became apparent that we were using the terms ‘culture’ and ‘climate’ interchangeably, so we had to take time to more fully research and settle on one definition for each term and proceeded to develop the survey with little cross-interference as a consequence.

As practitioners in the field, we can sometimes get tied up in knots in jargon, terminology, buzz words, or definitions of which ‘organisational culture’ and ‘organisational climate’ are prime examples.

Culture is a set of values, beliefs, approaches and behaviours that are the norms in an organisation


Climate is the psycho-social atmosphere created by the culture in which the staff work on a daily basis.

If you build an effective culture, you will have an effective climate, and with the right people in place, performance and success will outstrip your competition.


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Antony Profili is our Chartered Occupational Psychologist, culture change and leadership development specialist. With over 20 years’ experience in organisational development, primarily working in technically orientated sectors, he has a reputation for helping leaders think and behave differently. Antony has a passion for getting under the skin of organisations and their leaders to create performance orientated solutions that help leaders change the culture of their business and achieve their goals and aspirations.