Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework

Michelle A. Maher (George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Maher, M.A. (2000), "Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 300-303. https://doi.org/10.1108/jocm.2000.13.3.300.1



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Early in this book, these authors press home their primary point: organizational culture matters, and it matters a great deal. It’s not about what you produce or with whom you compete; if you want your organization to succeed in today’s world, you need to manage your culture. Unfortunately, the journey to successful cultural management usually begins, by necessity, with cultural diagnosis and change – and that’s where the path gets treacherous.

Cameron and Quinn note that those individuals most likely to be on this path – managers, change agents and scholars – are their intended audiences. Near the beginning of the book these authors list what they have to offer to these audiences: a theoretical framework, a sensemaking tool, a set of steps intended to induce change, and a measure designed to target needed individual changes. Their book therefore doubles both as a workbook, with diagnostic tools and activities embedded in the text, and a textbook of sorts, complete with a theoretical framework and detailed explanations of varied organizational cultures.

If you believe culture matters, where do you go from there? The authors suggest that first you need to know the current nature of your organizational culture, and then you need to consider how you want that culture to change. To generate this baseline information, the reader is encouraged to complete the organizational culture assessment instrument (OCAI), a questionnaire designed to elicit current and “should be” ratings across six dimensions (e.g. dominant characteristics, management style of employees) thought by the authors to be critical to understanding organizational culture. These dimensions originate from psychological archetypes, briefly explained in the text and in an Appendix. The skeptical reader is provided with additional references on this topic, but a more complete discussion of these archetypes and justification for their use would have been helpful.

To their credit, Cameron and Quinn provide a fairly comprehensive Appendix in which definitional and psychometric issues of the OCAI are discussed at length. While the information is of a scholarly nature, it is presented in a straightforward manner; individuals planning to administer the OCAI would benefit from a careful reading of this section to understand fully exactly what they are measuring and how successful they can expect to be at doing so.

Readers interpret their OCAI scores using the competing values framework, which Cameron and Quinn introduce by noting that it was developed through empirical research on organizational effectiveness. These authors also note that, because organizational culture is broad and inclusive in scope, many alternative cultural frameworks exist, leaving the reader wondering why a new one is needed. Additionally, a thorough review of the relevant literature is missing, and readers unfamiliar with this area will be left to wonder what else is “out there” competing with the competing values framework.

The authors state that previous research suggests that measures of organizational effectiveness can be categorized into two major dimensions, flexibility versus stability and internal versus external focus, which in turn can be formed into four quadrants, each representing a distinct set of organizational effectiveness indicators. The authors name each quadrant; the first is the Clan quadrant (high flexibility and internal focus), next is the Adhocracy quadrant (high flexibility and external focus), next is the Hierarchy quadrant (high stability and internal focus), and finally there is the Market quadrant (high stability and external focus).

Briefly, main characteristics of the Clan culture, so named because of its similarity to a family‐type orientation, include empowerment, teambuilding and employee involvement; main characteristics of the Adhocracy culture include adaptability, creativity, and a propensity for risk‐taking; this type of culture is often found in cutting‐edge industries. Main characteristics of the Hierarchy culture include standardization, predictability, and multiple management levels; the authors suggest that this type of culture usually exemplifies government agencies. The authors finally suggest that the Market culture, with its characteristic external orientation and competitive stance, is often found in organizations functioning in unstable and crowded operating environments. The four orientations are intuitively appealing, perhaps validating their origin within psychological archetypes; most people can probably identify the culture of their current organization somewhere within this taxonomy. It is up to the reader to decide if the dimensions of flexibility versus stability and internal versus external orientation which form the basis of this framework are relevant to the case at hand; if not, the reader may need to look elsewhere.

However, as Cameron and Quinn note, organizations don’t neatly fit into one or the other quadrant. In fact, these authors suggest that few companies operate solely within the purview of a single culture, and many operate to some degree within all cultures, with some exhibiting a distinct leaning toward one specific culture. While it is suggested that no culture is superior to another, the “best” culture is derived from a close consideration of both organizational and environmental characteristics. Achieving this “best” culture may prove to be harder than it looks.

To diagnose their current and “hoped for” organizational culture, readers are instructed to plot their ratings within the four quadrants of the competing values framework. The authors suggest that, using these plots to create cultural profiles, individuals can gain a sense of their current and desired cultural location within the quadrants. From this point, cultural profiles can be analyzed from a number of angles, including an analysis of the type of culture that currently dominates the organization, the discrepancies between the current and desired culture, the strength of the culture type that currently dominates the organization, and the congruence of the cultural profiles.

Once the diagnosis is complete, it is usually time to consider necessary changes. Cameron and Quinn next outline a series of steps designed to identify needed changes and to facilitate the development of a strategy to make these changes. In the first step, a team of individuals with a perspective of the overall organizational culture are identified and administered the OCAI. This team meets to discuss the ratings and create current overall, consensual culture profile. To their credit, the authors note that team members may differ widely on ratings of both current and desired cultures, and they suggest that it is important that all differences in opinion be thoroughly explored. In the second step, the process is repeated in order to create a desired overall consensual cultural profile. In the third step, both profiles are plotted and the discrepancies are highlighted. Team members identify what it means and what it does not mean to emphasize or de‐emphasize a certain culture type. The team members must come to an agreement in order to create a broad commonly shared vision of the desired organization. Step four encourages team members to identify stories that best portray the key values of the desired culture. Then the work of actually changing the culture begins.

The fifth step involved identifying those specific actions to be taken to facilitate the desired change. What specific actions or behaviors will be undertaken? The authors make several suggestions to keep in mind, such as celebrating small wins, and keeping everyone informed. The final step in this series is to create an implementation plan with timetables and benchmarks. Included is the plan used by a large manufacturing company in which teams or “family groups” were exposed to the new culture through learning about it, forming action plans to achieve it, teaching it to others, and assessing the key criteria that indicated success.

At times the measures and methods offered appear to be quick and easy – a little too quick and easy. The authors acknowledge that the real catch is that organizational change depends squarely on personal behavior change. To this end the authors provide another measure through which individuals can contemplate necessary changes in their own managerial behaviors. Skills and competencies identified in managerial leadership studies are clustered into competency categories for mid‐level and upper‐level managers and then these categories are fitted into the competing values framework. To understand how an individual needs to change, the authors provide a copy of the management skills assessment instrument (MSAI) and advocate that managers involved in the cultural change initiative complete a version of this instrument. Next, subordinates, peers, and at least one superordinate rate each manager on the extent to which she or he demonstrates behaviors associated with the critical competencies. Ratings are compared and areas are targeted for self‐improvement according to the competencies most needed to support the organizational cultural change process.

As Cameron and Quinn note, these myriad steps on the path to cultural diagnosis and change work only when both the organization as a whole and each person as an individual are committed to the process. I would suggest that these steps may, in many cases, work only with the help of skilled consultants with expertise in this area. It is somewhat hard to imagine an organization effectively putting these steps into practice without guidance from consultants or change agents close at hand to facilitate and control the process.

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