About the SOQ®: understanding your working environment
The Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ) is an assessment instrument that examines the psychological aspects of the work environment – more commonly referred to as atmosphere or climate. In a way, the SOQ helps us make the invisible more visible.
Climate is connected to culture but it is not the same as culture. Whereas culture is difficult to change, climate is far more definable, measurable, and readily changeable.
Climate refers to the everyday paterns of behaviour that characterise life in a defined workarea. Culture concerns the values and beliefs that reflect the deeper foundations of the organisation.
Climate versus culture
The two terms culture and climate are often used interchangeably however, the folowing three distinctions are useful to anyone interested in change, innovation, productivity, or just creating a great place to work.
- Culture is a broader concept which if you need to understand it means you will need to look at the entire organisation. If you focus on climate it is much more situational and so you can use individuals and their perceptions of a group or division or other units of analysis. Climate is scalable.
- Culture tends to be relatively descriptive meaning that one culture and its atendant asumptions and values are no better or worse than another. Whereas climate is more normative meaning that we are looking for environments that are better for certain things. Climate is measurable.
- Climate is distinct from culture in that it is more easily observable and more amenable to improvement efforts. Climate is changeable.
Uses of the SOQ
The SOQ is typically used in three ways:
- Leadership development –as a 360 leadership development tool, leaders complete the SOQ rating the climate around them. Then five to twenty observers complete the SOQ rating the climate as they see it. Leaders can then examine the gaps in perception and develop steps to improve.
- Team development –research shows that the difference in climate scores between the best and worst teams is striking (for example in the best teams, trust and opennes is 3x higher than in the worst teams) so the SOQ can greatly help identify areas for improvement that need to be addressed for a team to be more productive.
- Organisational development –at the organisational level, climate has been shown to influence many economic and social factors such as quality, return on capital employed (ROCE), employe engagement, and innovation. The organisational use of the SOQ provides results that help inform where to target precious resources for maximum return.
The nine dimensions of climate
The nine dimensions of a healthy or unhealthy working environment are:
- Challenge and Involvement –the degree to which people are involved in daily operations, long-term goals, and visions.
- Freedom –the independence in behavior exerted by the people in the organisation.
- Trust and Openness –the emotional safety in relationships.
- Idea Time –the amount of time people can use(and do use) for elaborating new ideas.
- Playfulness and Humour –the spontaneity and ease displayed in the workplace.
- Conflicts –the presence of personal tensions in the organisation.
- Idea Support –the ways new ideas are treated.
- Debates –the occurence of encounters and disagreements between viewpoints, ideas, experiences and knowledge.
- Risk Taking –the tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity in the workplace.
Validity and reliability of the SOQ
Any safe assessment needs sound psychometric properties of reliability and validity. Ingeneral, an instrument is reliable when it measures what it is supposed to measure and it’s valid when it acurately predicts performance.
The gold standard for the evaluation of assessments is The Buros Institute and their summary of the SOQ is as folows:
“Ekval, Isaksen, and asociates make a strong argument for the effect of organizational climate on change, creativity, and innovation. The developers of the SOQ provide a solid foundation for the theory, nature, and context for change, including a useful distinction between an organization’s climate and culture. The history for the identification of dimensions and items for the SOQ are supported by more than adequate attention to reliability, validity, and related analysis.”
“Fifty years of documented research and development provide a level of confidence for both qualified practitioners and their clients. The SOQ is recommended for its intended purposes.”