Corporations have been attempting to officially measure and evaluate their own cultures since around the 1960s, when social movements were in full swing and businesses were starting to really expand internationally. Leaders were becoming more aware of their companies as social actors and were beginning to see how important corporate culture could be when expanding into new markets.
Since then, plenty of academics and experts have studied corporate culture and theorized about what defines an organization’s culture and how to measure its benefits.
At The Receptionist, we believe that being intentional about business values and culture is the best way to attract the best talent and deliver the best customer experience.
Although there may be as many ways to define culture as there are businesses, it can help to think about corporate culture in terms of the most common factors that tend to set those cultures apart from one another.
The Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument
A popular method to classify corporate culture is The Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, which was developed by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn at the University of Michigan.
This method plots corporate culture across two dimensions: stability vs. flexibility, and internal validation vs. external validation.
Stable corporate cultures value rules, procedures, and preparedness, while flexible cultures value adaptability, quick thinking, and creativity. Externally validated companies act based on outside forces, such as the market and customer behavior, while internally validated companies focus primarily on changing how they operate internally.
In the OCAI, this is called the “competing values framework.” The nature of the values on each axis is such that a company can’t be at both ends at once — it must settle on a particular spot on the spectrum at any given moment.
Depending on which end of each spectrum your company falls on, it is identified in one of the following quadrants:
- Flexible and Externally Focused companies have a Create Culture, which tends to be dynamic and entrepreneurial, and employees see their work as visionary.
- Flexible and Internally Focused companies have a Collaborate Culture, which ends up being people-oriented and friendly, and teamwork is rewarded.
- Stable and Externally Focused companies have a Control Culture, in which leaders value attention to detail, and day-to-day operations are process-oriented and structured.
- Stable and Internally Focused companies have a Compete Culture, which is results-oriented and competitive, and prioritizes speed and measurable results when rewarding success.
The “Integrated Culture Framework”
Another model that defines corporate culture along the framework of two axes is the one described in this Harvard Business Review piece by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng.
Like the OCAI model, this model also uses “response to change” as one of the main factors in identifying culture. (Flexible companies respond to change by innovating, while stable companies tend to rely on procedures and hierarchies.) However, instead of internal/external motivation, this model uses the dimension of “how people interact” on a scale ranging from independence to interdependence.
Just like with the OCAI model, each corporate culture has a certain set of advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the benefits of one culture means missing out on the benefits of a different culture.
This model’s authors identified eight cultural characteristics in their framework:
In the Flexible and Interdependent Quadrant:
- In a Caring culture, interdependence is the dominant trait and flexibility is secondary. In this culture, relationships and mutual trust are the most important thing and leaders emphasize teamwork and compassion.
- In a Purpose culture, flexibility is the dominant trait with interdependence secondary. This culture is exemplified by idealism and altruism and the goal is to tackle big-picture, meaningful problems.
In the Flexible and Independent Quadrant:
- In a Learning culture, flexibility is the dominant trait with independence as the culture’s secondary trait. Learning culture is characterized by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity, and company leaders emphasize innovation.
- In an Enjoyment culture, independence is the dominant trait and flexibility is the secondary trait. In enjoyment culture, work environments are fun and playful and leaders emphasize humor and spontaneity.
In the Stable and Independent Quadrant:
- In a Results culture, independence is the primary value, followed by stability. These workplaces are very goal-oriented and focused on winning.
- In an Authority culture, stability and then independence are the most important values. These workplaces celebrate bold leaders and foster a sense of competition among employees.
In the Stable and Interdependent Quadrant:
- A Safety culture is first defined by stability, then interdependence. Leaders value planning, caution, and preparedness and are averse to risk.
- In an Order culture, interdependence is the primary trait, followed by stability. In these workplaces, leaders emphasize respect, structure, and shared norms.
What Defines Success at Your Company?
Culture can be difficult to define, and definitions may vary from one expert to the next. But perhaps one simple way to define culture is as “a collection of encouraged behaviors.”
If you want to characterize your corporate culture more clearly, determine which behaviors lead to employees getting promoted, and which behaviors lead to employees feeling like they don’t belong.One simple way to define corporate culture is as “a collection of encouraged behaviors.” Click To Tweet
It may also help to take a closer look at which group has the biggest role in deciding what success looks like at work.
Here are four culture types based on who is really calling the shots:
- Leadership-driven culture – Some companies thrive almost exclusively on the vision of a charismatic leader. This leader makes the decisions on the direction of the company based on their own vision, and if they’re good at their jobs, they can keep both employees and customers happy as a result.
- Employee-driven culture – Some companies tend to focus first on attracting the best talent and keeping employees happy. Both profits and customer experience can improve as a natural result of having the best people on board.
- Customer-driven – Customer-focused companies answer to the customer first. Of course solid leadership and amazing talent are crucial, too, but when it’s time to set goals and define success, they go with what improves customer experience.
- The shareholders – Shareholder-focused companies must keep an extremely close eye on profitability, and their primary goals almost always involve hitting the financial goals that will keep shareholders happy first.
At The Receptionist, we consider our culture to be Customer-Driven. We find that focusing closely on customer needs and experience is what keeps us ahead of competitors and keeps our retention rate high.
Plus, as we wrote in our post on Properly Dealing With Employee Conflict, choosing to always focus on what’s best for the customer keeps employees from wasting time on posturing, competitiveness, or unhealthy arguments.
In the end, using a specific model to classify business’ culture is kind of like typing human personality: It can provide some insights, but businesses are all so unique that lumping them into categories only goes so far.
The most important thing is to become clear about what kind of culture you want your workplace to have. For more on how to cultivate an intentional culture at your workplace, here’s what to read next:
- The Relationship Between Leadership and Company Values
- Avoid These Culture-Building Mistakes at Your Office
- Podcast: How the Vision Traction Organizer (VTO) Transformed Our Business
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