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The Difference Between Organizational Culture and Climate and Why it Matters.

In Blog, Organizational Change, Organizational Development, Research by David Wilkinson -

Organizational climate vs. change

What is the difference between culture and climate?

Mixing up the difference between culture and climate can be very expensive! Following on from the last post about What is an organizational culture, today I thought I would explore what the difference between organizational culture and organizational climate is.

Many people use the terms climate and culture interchangeably. It does matter however, and it can be expensive to get them mixed up. Organizational climate change and organizational culture change are two pretty different prospects, so it matters that you are changing the right thing.

Organizational Culture

Edgar Schein descries culture is “a pattern of shared basic assumption that have been invented, discovered or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration… that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relationship to those problems.

In effect, Culture is the commonly or underlying shared:

  1. Beliefs

  2. Values

  3. Norms of behavior, thinking and emotional intelligence

  4. Routines

  5. Traditions

  6. Sense-making

  7. Perspectives

Culture is infused through the organization.


The organizational culture is a pretty rich, deep and describable but somewhat immeasurable emergent property. It is a result of the many interconnections and relationships in an organization.

Organizational Climate

The organizational climate on the other hand is the sense, feeling or atmosphere people get in the organization on either a day-to-day basis or just generally.

You know when you walk into a place, and you think:

‘"Wow this place has an amazing energy, the people are really friendly, and it feels positive."


"Wow it feels like something has happened here. I don’t think these people like each other, and it feels like everyone is scared. This atmosphere stinks.’"


Essentially, the climate are the perceptions and attitudes of the people in the culture.

Organizational Culture vs. Organizational Climate

“A climate can be locally created by what leaders do, what circumstances apply, and what environments afford. A culture can evolve only out of mutual experience and shared learning.”

~ Edgar Schein ~

Obviously, organizational climate and culture are connected and feed off each other. It should be also apparent that the climate can often change pretty quickly.

The climate is often based on events, people's reactions and incidents between people.

The culture is less dependent on individual events but tends to drive people’s interpretation, thinking and perspectives of events that occur.

Getting the difference between culture and climate mixed up.

It is fairly common for people to mix up and confuse the distinction between organizational culture and organizational climate.

There are many examples where organizations embark on a culture change program and then stop the program once the climate has changed, assuming that the culture has changed also. As you can see above events can easily change the organizational climate.

Conversely organizations can set off an entire organizational culture change program because they don’t like the organizational climate.

It matters and can be very expensive to confuse the two.


Schien E: Organizational Culture and Leadership. 1995, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

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