Shining Light on Industry Culture Clouds

by Laura Santiago

What You Can Learn Through the Words of Top Workplaces Employees 

In an earlier post, we introduced our culture cloud research, shared what the clouds look like at Top Workplaces organizations, and explained what culture clouds tell us.

Now let’s examine culture clouds by industry. Over the past 12 months, we analyzed the results of nearly 7,000 organizations and 900,000 employees. This represents 1.4 million words used to describe culture.

Culture clouds use size, placement, and color to illustrate the frequency of terms. The result is a compelling, high-level narrative about the reality of an organization’s culture as seen through employees’ eyes.

They also reveal how employees describe the culture of healthy and successful organizations, as we are exploring those terms that appear frequently in Top Workplaces and infrequently in low-engagement organizations.

Hospitality is caring

Take the hospitality industry (Figure 1). Here, one culture word stands out — caring. It’s far and away the most critical value cited by employees when describing the culture in successful hospitality organizations. It’s also suspiciously absent in low-engagement hospitality companies.

Additionally, this sector cloud contains seven words unique to hospitality:

Hospitality Culture Cloud

Figure 1: Hospitality Culture Cloud

  • Care
  • Love
  • Unique
  • Warm
  • Cool
  • Team-work
  • People



Some industry sectors don’t have any unique terms in their word clouds. But here, even the word unique is, well … unique! From this, we can infer successful cultures in hospitality look very different from other sectors.

So, if you work in hospitality and are not seeing, hearing, or feeling that sense of caring, warmth, and teamwork, you may need to lean in with your teams as these strongly correspond with being a successful hospitality organization.

Nonprofit is compassionate

Employees at nonprofit Top Workplaces (Figure 2) use an interesting mix of words. Several refer to caring for people, such as compassionate, loving, and kind. Another cluster of words refers to being successful, including innovative, excellence, and motivated. Yet another involves acceptance of others, such as inclusive, understanding, open, and accepting.


Nonprofit Culture Cloud

Figure 2. Nonprofit Culture Cloud

The nonprofit sector is the only one we found where its biggest word differentiator — compassionate — is also unique to its sector. No other sectors include this word in the list of top differentiators.

Culture clouds of other sectors

Word clouds in other industry sectors have interesting stories to tell as well. Check out the links below to find out what differentiates the Top Workplaces in your industry, and then ask yourself: Do these words describe our culture?

We encourage leadership teams to put their industry culture cloud up on a screen and ask, Is this how our employees describe our culture? Try it and see what debate it sparks for you.

Culture is far from static

Culture clouds, like real clouds, are dynamic. They morph — and sometimes quickly. This bodes well for organizations that want to change the narrative and tone of their workplace.

Culture clouds also vary by sector, and even within an organization. Subcultures can emerge within departments or locations, so it’s important that leaders understand the subtleties of their organization’s culture.

If management has a good handle on the words employees are using to describe culture, they can spot potential problems and issues. Using the insights drawn from culture clouds, management can identify patterns, make better decisions, and influence engagement.

You may have data, but you may lack knowledge

The question you need to answer is this: What does our culture cloud say about our culture?

Chances are, you’re using an employee survey to gather valuable feedback. But not all of them deliver a visual snapshot of culture that can be benchmarked against other organizations by industry, size, or level of success.

Culture clouds are an important tool that can help senior leaders to craft an intentional and purposeful culture. Words and language matter. Telling the story of your culture helps people relate to it. So, if your employee survey doesn’t give you the kind of instant clarity and insight provided by a culture cloud, get one that does.