The Constitution as Culture Audit

One of my favorite tasks as an organizational psychologist is to design, administer, and evaluate culture audits.

The design process is the most important part because it entails asking the people in an organization to create norms and values of their own choosing. In focus groups, I ask people to share what they believe are the desired and required norms for their organizations, i.e. what kind of work environment would they find most exciting and what kind of culture is needed to implement the strategy. After I gather their input, I construct a measurement tool that summarizes the most important norms and values they put forth. Then, I send it out for a round of review to ensure that I have accurately captured the intent at all levels. After administering the survey and analyzing the results, I bring the entire organization together to review the findings; identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps; and form teams to close the gaps and strengthen the most important norms and values.

Due to recent controversies about the norms and values in our constitution, I decided to read it carefully in an attempt to understand our founders’ intent. What I found remarkable is that the founders were able to produce a document that has withstood the test of time.

Even though not intended as such, it could be one of the most powerful culture audits ever created.

I believe their intention in creating the document was to articulate the key values that would anchor decision-making as the country grew and matured.

In reviewing the first 10 Amendments of the Bill of Rights, I tried to discern the intended value of each Article.

I designed the Culture Audit below around the values and norms contained in the Bill of Rights.

A few words are changed to reflect my biases, but I tried to stay as true to the original words as possible. I also incorporated language from the remaining Amendments to reflect changes over time.

It’s amazing that the core values turn out to be very similar to the values current organizations aspire to institutionalize: Freedom, Security. Respect, Fairness, Objectivity, Dignity, Openness, and Trust.

The two missing values from this list — that usually appear in organizational culture audits — are collaboration, credibility, and creativity.

As it turns out, it would have been well to include them!





I. Freedom

We experience freedom of religion

All voices are heard

All persons are able to vote at age 18

We exercise free speech

We assemble peacefully

II. National Security

Our military is well regulated

We have the right to bear arms as prescribed by law

We feel secure

III. Respect

We honor people’s private spaces

We don’t impose our needs on others

We ask for consent before taking action

IV. Individual Security

We feel secure in our homes

The privacy of our possessions is honored

We do not engage in unreasonable search

V. Fairness

We are not asked to incriminate ourselves

We experience the right of due process

We receive adequate support when we are accused

Slavery and indentured servitude are not tolerated

Any person born here is a full citizen

VI. Objectivity

We have the right to speedy and public trials

We have the right to an impartial jury

We are informed of the nature and cause of any accusations

We have a right to know and face any witness against us

VII. Peer Review

We have the right to trial by a jury of our peers

VIII. Human Dignity

We do not impose cruel and unusual punishments on any person

We do not make unfair demands on people

We do not impose excessive fines

IX. Openness

We honor human rights

We are open to differences

We disclose our income and pay our taxes

X. Trust

We trust people to use power appropriately

We trust people to respect the spirit of the law

We pay our debts

I would love to administer this culture audit to all US citizens to see how we are doing on the values and norms our founders created.

You may want to complete the audit yourself to capture your own views:

  • On a 1–5 scale, rate the strength of each norm: (1 = Strongly disagree it currently exists, 2= Disagree, 3 = Somewhat agree, 4= Agree, and 5 = Strongly Agree).
  • Now rate the importance of each of these norms: (1 = Not important for a healthy, functional,democratic civilization, 2 = Somewhat important, 3 = Important, 4 = Very Important, and 5 = Critically important)
  • Finally, rate the directionality of each norm: (1 = Getting much worse during this administration, 2 = Getting a little worse, 3 = About the same, 4 = Getting better, 5 = Getting much better).

When I took this audit, I found every norm to be very important or critically important for a healthy civilization with the exception of the right to bear arms as proscribed by law (particularly given the current law.) I was dismayed, however, to confront the fact that we are not doing very well on many of these norms, particularly those under Respect, Dignity, Objectivity, Openness and Trust. And I feel depressed that many of these values are getting weaker.

We are clearly heading in the wrong direction.

Title: New York City's daily carbon dioxide emissions as one-tonne spheres. | Author: Carbon Visuals | Source: carbonquilt | License: CC BY 2.0
Title: New York City’s daily carbon dioxide emissions as one-tonne spheres. | Author: Carbon Visuals | Source: carbonquilt | License: CC BY

While all of these norms and values are important, it may be time to ask what additional norms should be added to create a more utopian civilization. I might want to add norms like:

Title: Seeking Human Kindness | Author: Almond Butterscotch | Source: almondbutterscotch | License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Title: Seeking Human Kindness | Author: Almond Butterscotch | Source: almondbutterscotch | License: CC BY-NC-ND
  • We have access to quality health care at an affordable cost.
  • Everyone has the opportunity to earn a living wage.
  • Everyone has access to a quality education at an affordable cost.
  • No child goes hungry.
  • We work together to find creative solutions.
  • Our public servants earn our trust every day.
  • We think interdependently.
  • We are good stewards of our environment.

Yes, I know I am revealing my beliefs and biases here.

The real purpose of this post is to make the point that our founders bequeathed us with an incredibly enduring set of principles for a healthy functioning civilization.

I would be delighted if we actually relied on the Constitution to establish rules of engagement and to guide our behaviors.

What has always disappointed me in my work with organizations is that they rarely exercise the discipline to administer and use culture audits on an annual basis to assess progress and to remind them what is most important in the way we treat each other as human beings.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our government would honor and employ the gift we have been given by our founders?

We have a time-tested culture audit — let’s use it!

Originally published at Perspectives & Possibilities.