Strategy and culture are among the primary levers at top leaders’ disposal in their never-ending quest to maintain organizational viability and effectiveness. A strategy offers formal logic for the company’s goals and orients people around them. Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms.
Culture is the tacit social order of an organisation. It shapes attitudes and behaviours in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organisation’s capacity to thrive.
Culture can also evolve flexibly and autonomously in response to changing opportunities and demands. Whereas strategy is typically determined by the C-suite, culture can fluidly blend the intentions of top leaders with the knowledge and experiences of frontline employees. Culture is a group phenomenon. It cannot exist solely within a single person, nor is it simply the average of individual characteristics. It resides in shared behaviours, values, and assumptions and is most commonly experienced through the norms and expectations of a group—that is, the unwritten rules.
Types of culture
An organizational culture can be defined by the absolute and relative strengths of each of the eight and by the degree of employee agreement about which styles characterize the organization. A powerful feature of this framework, which differentiates it from other models, is that it can also be used to define individuals’ styles and the values of leaders and employees.
Caring focuses on relationships and mutual trust. Work environments are warm, collaborative, and welcoming places where people help and support one another. Employees are united by loyalty; leaders emphasize sincerity, teamwork, and positive relationships.
Purpose is exemplified by idealism and altruism. Work environments are tolerant, compassionate places where people try to do good for the long-term future of the world. Employees are united by a focus on sustainability and global communities; leaders emphasize shared ideas and contributing to a greater cause.
Learning is characterized by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity. Work environments are inventive and open-minded places where people spark new ideas and explore alternatives. Employees are united by curiosity; leaders emphasize innovation, knowledge, and adventure.
Enjoyment is expressed through fun and excitement. Work environments are lighthearted places where people tend to do what makes them happy. Employees are united by playfulness and stimulation; leaders emphasize spontaneity and a sense of humour.
Results are characterised by achievement and winning. Work environments are outcome-oriented and merit-based places where people aspire to achieve top performance. Employees are united by a drive for capability and success; leaders emphasize goal accomplishment.
Authority is defined by strength, decisiveness, and boldness. Work environments are competitive places where people strive to gain personal advantage. Employees are united by strong control; leaders emphasize confidence and dominance.
Safety is defined by planning, caution, and preparedness. Work environments are predictable places where people are risk-conscious and think things through carefully. Employees are united by a desire to feel protected and anticipate change; leaders emphasize being realistic and planning ahead.
Order is focused on respect, structure, and shared norms. Work environments are methodical places where people tend to play by the rules and want to fit in. Employees are united by cooperation; leaders emphasize shared procedures and time-honoured customs.
The eight styles can be used to diagnose and describe highly complex and diverse behavioural patterns in a culture and to model how likely an individual leader is to align with and shape that culture. Using this framework and multilevel approach, managers can:
- Understand the company’s culture and assess its intended and unintended effects
- Evaluate the level of consistency in employees’ views of the culture
- Identify subcultures that may account for higher or lower group performance
- Pinpoint differences between legacy cultures during mergers and acquisitions
- Rapidly orient new executives to the culture they are joining and help them determine the most effective way to lead employees
- Measure the degree of alignment between individual leadership styles and organizational culture to determine what impact a leader might have
- Design an aspirational culture and communicate the changes necessary to achieve it
At Connector, we believe work culture is everything! We work as partners to deliver results above and beyond expectations with excellent communication and transparency during projects.