The Semco Style 5 Principles to transform the way we work

Organizational Climate Evaluation

Don’t stop with just the diagnosis

So we did what we always do when there is dissent: nothing. We believe blindly in the virtues of dissent. We don’t want a crowd of brainwashed workers. We don’t want them to sing company songs, memorize company mission statements, and learn to speak only when spoken to. – Ricardo Semler

In a Nutshell

Organizational climate, much like environmental climate, often gets relegated to the background of everything that happens around us. But both have the capacity to build up into something that can no longer be ignored. Fortunately, there are ways to measure, predict and prepare for whatever they bring – be it be tropical storms or employee dissatisfaction.

The climate in an organization feeds off the various things that affect the motivation of employees to do their jobs. There’s plenty of research that shows that employee engagement tends to be greater in companies where the leadership fosters autonomy, trust and transparency.

But it’s not a simple undertaking to gauge the climate in a company: It’s a massive exercise that requires a sound knowledge of work environments, survey methodologies, statistical evaluation and human psychology. And the process doesn’t stop at sending out climate evaluation surveys or the diagnosis of underlying issues.

The people who are affected by the various issues need to be given the space, resources and safety to debate upon what needs to be done and come up with tangible solutions. Assuming the conventional top-down approach will only band-aid the issues.


Conduct an organization-wide climate evaluation survey to identify issues and allow relevant stakeholders to resolve them.


No amount of strategic planning can make up for the holes in performance caused by a bad organizational climate. It’s no longer viable to ignore the link between employee engagement and company success and making the effort to be aware of underlying issues is the first step towards a positive organizational climate. It may be true that large corporations have the economic strength and market inertia to ride them through some amount of employee disengagement, but it’s not sustainable on the long run.



Craft a crisp survey: Keep the length of the survey to about 50 questions and ensure they cover aspects like employee satisfaction over benefits, leadership style and practices that defined company culture. Most of the survey should comprise multiple choice questions, but it’s important to include a few open-ended questions, as well, to gain a deeper insight about employee engagement.

Merge very small departments and survey them together: If there are very small departments, made up of just a couple of employees, then it makes sense to merge them with departments they work closely with. While the survey questions remain the same for employees across departments, the merging of smaller departments with bigger ones makes for a more diverse discussion on solutions.

Follow-up to ensure critical mass of respondents: It’s quite common for employees to put the climate evaluation survey on the backburner – especially when they’re overloaded with work. So, it’s important for the HR department to choose a time of the year when there’s less pressure on people and to follow-up regularly to ensure that at least 80 percent of employees respond to the survey. Getting past that critical mass of respondents ensures there’s proper representation of the whole workforce on all issues.

Share results at the company and departmental level: After consolidating the survey results, organize a general meeting with all employees to share the key learnings and facts. Start promoting a few discussions on solutions at the general meeting but conduct meetings at the department level, as well, to have a more relevant debate on the issues and the best ways to solve them.

Create small task forces to discuss issues and resolve them: The point of the climate evaluation survey is not just highlighting the problems, but promoting and empowering small task forces to find their own solutions. People in smaller groups usually feel more comfortable and safe about discussing solutions and there tends to be a greater confrontation of ideas and solutions. So, it’s important to give these smaller task forces all the power, time and resources they need to be effective.

Create a track record of problems and solutions: Create a track record or history that allows you to compare previously raised issues with current issues. It also helps you gauge if you’re getting better at solving these issues or not. To do that, it’s crucial to keep the structure of the survey the same over the years, with the same kind of questions and categories. In that way, it becomes easier to compare the results every year and to see if there’s been an evolution in specific areas or not.

Level to implement



Reinforce communication and follow-up to get an overall feedback

Put more energy on action plans and creation of task forces to solve the problems

Keep the size of task forces small to promote safety

Ensure the teams have power and resources to come up with their own solutions

Be flexible on when to conduct the survey



Conduct the survey during high levels of business activity or when teams are overloaded

Restrict discussions on key learnings and findings to the management alone

Propose top-down solutions

Stop with just diagnosing the problems



Reality check for company leadership about the success of their various plans and measures

Shows that the company is committed to setting things right

Employees feel empowered when they’re allowed to come up with their own solutions

Improves employee engagement and workplace happiness



Time consuming for HR department to follow-up and sometimes they might need to police people into answering the survey

People might feel overloaded with the additional responsibility of being part of task forces to solve problems

Might lead to some heated discussions





In 2009, when Semco conducted it’s yearly climate evaluation survey, it was found that although people felt the office was an open environment where they could share their opinions, not everybody was actually expressing their opinions transparently. The survey results revealed that just about 60 percent of the respondents said they expressed their real opinions at work and the management felt concerned about it. About 40 percent of the employees weren’t being transparent about their thoughts even if they technically knew they could be transparent at Semco. The management took note of the inherent contradiction and wanted to immediately address it.

Once they revealed the complete survey results in the general meeting, this issue was flagged for further discussion. They came up with a couple of ideas to improve the number of people who were actually expressing themselves without holding back. Firstly, they decided to organize training workshops to improve people’s communication and feedback skills. The aim was to show people how they could express themselves in more open and transparent ways. Employees were also shown why it was important to give constant and open feedback and were shown how they could take more initiative to communicate better. The purpose of the workshops was to give people the relevant tools required to start giving open and transparent feedback.

To complement the improvements brought about by the workshops, the management also actively reinforced the practice of speaking up during meetings. They named it parla che te fa bene, which is an Italian expression that meant, “Take the opportunity to speak up”. (The expression is quite popular in Brazil, thanks to certain soap operas.) The idea was to encourage people to speak up in any kind of situation. All leaders and managers reinforced the practice at meetings by asking people to share, telling them that there is no right or wrong opinion and reassuring everyone that there won’t be any judgement. At every meeting the manager(s) would officially block some time for this practice. They would say, “Guys, now it’s time for parla che te fa bene so let’s hear all your thoughts!”

In essence, a lot of effort was put into creating a safe space for people to speak up and the mixed approach of active training and reinforcement proved quite effective. Although it was a challenge to encourage people to speak up, the number of people doing so went up to 80 percent over the next few years.



Expert avatar

Borges, Ian

Co-founder at LeadWise | Partner at Semco Style Institute | Entrepreneur | Lifestyle Strategist | Digital Nomad

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Portuguese, English, French, Spanish

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