Summary.

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Executives are frequently confounded by culture, since much of the is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and also social patterns. Numerous leaders one of two people let it walk unmanaged or relegate it come HR, wherein it becomes a second concern because that the business. This is a mistake, since properly managed, society can aid them attain change and build institutions that will grow in even the many trying times.

The authors have actually reviewed the literature on culture and distilled eight distinct society styles: caring, concentrated on relationships and also mutual trust; purpose, exemplified by idealism and altruism; learning, identified by exploration, expansiveness, and also creativity; enjoyment, expressed through fun and also excitement; results, characterized by success and winning; authority, defined by strength, decisiveness, and also boldness; safety, characterized by planning, caution, and also preparedness; and order, focused on respect, structure, and shared norms.

These eight layouts fit right into an “integrated society framework” according to the level to which lock reflect freedom or interdependence (people interactions) and flexibility or security (response to change). They have the right to be used to diagnose and describe highly complex and diverse behavioral patterns in a culture and come model just how likely an individual leader is come align with and shape that culture.

Through research and also practical experience, the authors have actually arrived at five insights concerning culture’s result on companies’ success: (1) when aligned with strategy and also leadership, a strong culture drives hopeful organizational outcomes. (2) picking or developing leaders because that the future needs a forward-looking strategy and also culture. (3) In a merger, making a new society on the communication of safety strengths have the right to speed increase integration and also create more value end time. (4) In a dynamic, uncertain environment, in which establishments must be much more agile, learning benefit importance. (5) A strong society can be a far-reaching liability once it is misaligned v strategy.

What’s your Organization’s cultural Profile?

Leaders can use this worksheet and also accompanying inquiries to identify what kind of culture currently operates in their company.

How to shape Your Culture

Step-by-step advice for arriving at an aspirational target

Convergence Matters

High levels of employee engagement and customer orientation correlate with closely aligned views among employees regarding which social characteristics are salient in the company.

Context, Conditions, and also Culture

When assessing a culture’s strategy effectiveness, leaders have to keep in mind two germane external factors—region and also industry—and three inner considerations: alignment v strategy, leadership, and organizational design.

The complete Spotlight package is easily accessible in a solitary reprint.


Strategy and culture are amongst the main levers at height leaders’ disposal in your never-ending quest to maintain organizational viability and also effectiveness. Strategy provides a officially logic because that the that company goals and also orients people approximately them. Culture expresses purposes through values and beliefs and also guides task through common assumptions and also group norms.

Strategy offers clarity and also focus for collective action and decision making. It depends on plans and also sets of choices to mobilize people and can often be applied by both concrete rewards for achieving objectives and consequences for failing to carry out so. Ideally, it also incorporates adaptive elements that deserve to scan and analyze the exterior environment and also sense when transforms are forced to maintain continuity and growth. Leadership goes hand-in-hand through strategy formation, and also most leaders recognize the fundamentals. Culture, however, is a an ext elusive lever, due to the fact that much of it is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns.

The society Factor: collection reprint

For better and worse, society and leadership are inextricably linked. Founders and influential leaders regularly set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist because that decades. Over time an organization’s leader can also shape culture, through both conscious and also unconscious action (sometimes v unintended consequences). The ideal leaders we have observed are fully aware of the multiple cultures within i beg your pardon they are embedded, have the right to sense when adjust is required, and can deftly influence the process.

Unfortunately, in our endure it is far more common for leaders search to build high-performing establishments to it is in confounded by culture. Indeed, plenty of either allow it walk unmanaged or relegate it come the HR function, where it i do not care a second concern for the business. They might lay out detailed, thoughtful plans because that strategy and execution, but since they don’t know culture’s power and also dynamics, your plans go off the rails. As someone as soon as said, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

It doesn’t have to be the way. Our work argues that culture can, in fact, be managed. The very first and most vital step leaders can take come maximize that value and also minimize its dangers is to become totally aware of exactly how it works. By integrating result from more than 100 of the most generally used social and also behavioral models, we have identified eight formats that identify a culture and can be measured. (We gratefully acknowledge the rich background of social studies—going all the method back to the earliest explorations of human nature—on i m sorry our occupational builds.) utilizing this framework, leaders have the right to model the impact of culture on their business and also assess that is alignment with strategy. We additionally suggest how culture can help them accomplish change and also build institutions that thrive in even the most trying times.

Defining Culture

Culture is the tacit social order of one organization: It shapes attitudes and also behaviors in wide-ranging and also durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected in ~ a group. Once properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, society can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a mutual purpose and foster one organization’s capacity to thrive.

Culture can additionally evolve flexibly and also autonomously in an answer to transforming opportunities and demands. Vice versa, strategy is frequently determined by the C-suite, society can fluidly mix the intentions of top leaders v the knowledge and experiences that frontline employees.


The academic literature on the subject is vast. Our testimonial of it revealed plenty of formal meanings of organizational culture and a variety of models and methods for assessing it. Many processes exist for producing and changing it. Commitment on special, is sparse throughout these definitions, models, and also methods, yet through a synthesis of seminal work-related by Edgar Schein, Shalom Schwartz, Geert Hofstede, and also other top scholars, us have figured out four generally accepted attributes:

Shared.

Culture is a team phenomenon. It can not exist specifically within a solitary person, no one is it merely the mean of individual characteristics. It lives in shared behaviors, values, and assumptions and also is most typically experienced v the norms and also expectations of a group—that is, the unwritten rules.

Pervasive.

Culture permeates many levels and also applies really broadly in an organization; occasionally it is even conflated through the organization itself. That is manifest in cumulative behaviors, physical environments, team rituals, visible symbols, stories, and also legends. Other elements of society are unseen, such as mindsets, motivations, unspoken assumptions, and also what David Rooke and also William Torbert refer to as “action logics” (mental models of exactly how to interpret and respond come the world about you).

Enduring.

Culture can direct the thoughts and actions of group members end the lengthy term. It develops through crucial events in the cumulative life and learning that a group. Its endurance is explained in part by the attraction-selection-attrition model an initial introduced by Benjamin Schneider: world are drawn to organizations with characteristics comparable to their own; establishments are much more likely to choose individuals who seem to “fit in”; and also over time those who don’t to the right in have tendency to leave. Thus society becomes a self-reinforcing society pattern the grows progressively resistant to adjust and outside influences.

Implicit.

An important and also often overlooked facet of society is that regardless of its subliminal nature, human being are successfully hardwired come recognize and also respond come it instinctively. The acts together a kind of silent language. Shalom Schwartz and also E.O. Wilson have presented through their research how evolutionary procedures shaped person capacity; due to the fact that the ability to sense and also respond to society is universal, details themes must be intended to recur across the numerous models, definitions, and studies in the field. That is precisely what us have discovered in our research over the past few decades.

Eight Distinct society Styles

Our review of the literary works for commonalities and central concepts revealed two main dimensions that use regardless of company type, size, industry, or geography: human being interactions and response to change. Knowledge a company’s society requires determining where it falls along these 2 dimensions.

People interactions.

An organization orientation toward people interactions and coordination will autumn on a spectrum from very independent to extremely interdependent. Societies that lean towards the previous place higher value ~ above autonomy, separation, personal, instance action, and also competition. Those that lean toward the last emphasize integration, managing relationships, and coordinating team effort. Human being in such societies tend to collaborate and also to view success v the lens the the group.

Response come change.

Whereas some societies emphasize stability—prioritizing consistency, predictability, and maintenance that the status quo—others emphasize flexibility, adaptability, and receptiveness to change. Those that favor security tend to monitor rules, use regulate structures such as seniority-based staffing, reinforce hierarchy, and also strive for efficiency. Those the favor adaptability tend to prioritize innovation, openness, diversity, and a longer-term orientation. (Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn, and also Robert Ernest are amongst the researchers who employ similar dimensions in their society frameworks.)

The Eight varieties of Company society

By applying this an essential insight about the dimensions of people interactions and response to change, us have figured out eight formats that apply to both organizational cultures and individual leaders. Researcher at Spencer Stuart (including two of this article’s authors) have interdependently studied and refined this list of styles across both levels end the past two decades.

Caring focuses on relationships and also mutual trust. Work atmospheres are warm, collaborative, and also welcoming places where people aid and support one another. Employees are united through loyalty; leaders emphasize sincerity, teamwork, and positive relationships.

Purpose is exemplified by idealism and altruism. Work settings are tolerant, compassionate areas where people shot to do great for the irreversible future that the world. Employees room united by a focus on sustainability and an international communities; leaders emphasize shared ideals and contributing come a greater cause.

Learning is defined by exploration, expansiveness, and creativity. Work settings are inventive and also open-minded locations where world spark brand-new ideas and also explore alternatives. Employees are united by curiosity; leader emphasize innovation, knowledge, and also adventure.

Enjoyment is expressed v fun and excitement. Work settings are lighthearted areas where people tend to execute what provides them happy. Employees are united by playfulness and also stimulation; leaders emphasize spontaneity and a sense of humor.

Results is identified by achievement and winning. Work environments are outcome-oriented and merit-based locations where human being aspire to achieve top performance. Employees are united by a drive for capability and success; leader emphasize goal accomplishment.

Authority is characterized by strength, decisiveness, and boldness. Work settings are competitive places where civilization strive to gain an individual advantage. Employees space united by strong control; leader emphasize confidence and also dominance.

Safety is identified by planning, caution, and also preparedness. Work atmospheres are predictable places where people are risk-conscious and think points through carefully. Employees are united by a desire to feel protected and also anticipate change; leader emphasize being realistic and also planning ahead.

Order is focused on respect, structure, and also shared norms. Work environments are methodical places where world tend come play by the rules and want come fit in. Employees space united by cooperation; leader emphasize common procedures and also time-honored customs.

These eight styles fit right into our integrated society framework according to the degree to which lock reflect freedom or interdependence (people interactions) and flexibility or security (response come change). Formats that are surrounding in the framework, such together safety and order, generally coexist within organizations and their people. In contrast, styles that are located throughout from every other, such together safety and also learning, are less likely come be discovered together and require more organizational power to preserve simultaneously. Each style has benefits and disadvantages, and also no style is inherently better than another. An organizational society can be defined by the absolute and relative toughness of each of the eight and also by the level of employee agreement around which layouts characterize the organization. A an effective feature that this framework, i beg your pardon differentiates the from other models, is that it can also be used to define individuals’ styles and also the values of leaders and employees.

integrated Culture: The structure

On the communication of years of experience evaluating organizations, executives, and also employees, we arisen a rigorous, considerable model to recognize the crucial attributes the both group society and individual leadership styles. Eight attributes emerge when we map cultures along 2 dimensions: how world interact (independence come interdependence) and their an answer to readjust (flexibility to stability). The family member salience of these eight formats differs across organizations, though practically all space strongly characterized by results and also caring.

The spatial relationships space important. Proximate styles, such as safety and also order, or learning and enjoyment, will coexist much more easily than layouts that are far apart on the chart, such together authority and also purpose, or safety and learning. achieving a culture of authority often means gaining the advantages (and living through the disadvantages) that that culture but lacking out top top the advantages (and avoiding the disadvantages) of a society of purpose.


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Inherent in the frame are fundamental trade-offs. Back each style can be beneficial, natural constraints and competing requirements force difficult choices around which values to emphasize and also how civilization are intended to behave. The is usual to uncover organizations with societies that emphasize both results and caring, yet this combination can it is in confusing to employees. Room they expected to optimize individual goals and strive because that outcomes at every costs, or have to they occupational as a team and emphasize collaboration and shared success? The nature that the job-related itself, the service strategy, or the style of the organization may make it complicated for employees to be same results focused and also caring.

In contrast, a society that emphasizes caring and order encourages a work atmosphere in i beg your pardon teamwork, trust, and respect are paramount. The two layouts are support reinforcing, which have the right to be valuable but can additionally present challenges. The benefits are solid loyalty, retention that talent, lack of conflict, and also high level of engagement. The difficulties are a tendency toward groupthink, dependence on consensus-based decisions, avoidance of complicated issues, and also a calcified sense of “us matches them.” Leaders that are much more focused top top results and learning may discover the mix of caring and also order stifling as soon as they look for to journey entrepreneurship and change. Savvy leaders manipulate existing social strengths and also have a nuanced understanding of exactly how to start change. They can rely top top the participative nature the a culture focused top top caring and order to communicate team members and also simultaneously recognize a learning-oriented “insider” who has actually the trust of his or her peers to advocate for readjust through connection networks.

combined Culture: Leader explanation

Top leaders and also founders regularly express social sentiments within the public domain, either purposely or unintentionally. Together statements can administer important hints to exactly how these leaders are thinking about and leading their organizations’ cultures.


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Learning: Tesla

“I’m interested in things that change the world or that affect the future and wondrous new technology where you view it and you’re favor ‘Wow, how did that also happen?’” —Elon Musk, cofounder and CEO

Purpose: entirety Foods

“Most the the biggest companies in the world also have good purposes….Having a deeper, much more transcendent function is highly energizing for every one of the various interdependent stakeholders.” —John Mackey, founder and CEO

Caring: Disney

“It is incredibly crucial to be open and obtainable and law people fairly and look them in the eye and tell lock what is on your mind.” —Bob Iger, CEO

Order: SEC

“Rule making is a an essential function of the commission. And also when us are setting the rules because that the securities markets, over there are numerous rules we, the SEC, must follow.” —Jay Clayton, chairman

Safety: Lloyd’s of London

“To defend themselves, businesses should spend time knowledge what certain threats they may be exposed to and also speak to specialists who can help.” —Inga Beale, CEO

Authority: Huawei

“We have a ‘wolf’ soul in our company. In the fight with lions, wolves have terrifying abilities. Through a solid desire come win and no are afraid of losing, lock stick come the score firmly, making the lions tired in every possible way.” —Ren Zhengfei, CEO

Results: GSK

“I’ve do the efforts to store us concentrated on a very clear strategy of modernizing ourselves.” —Sir Andrew Witty, former CEO

Enjoyment: Zappos

“Have fun. The video game is a lot much more enjoyable once you’re trying come do an ext than make money.” —Tony Hsieh, CEO


The eight styles can be supplied to diagnose and describe highly complicated and diverse behavioral patterns in a society and come model exactly how likely an separation, personal, instance leader is to align with and shape the culture. Making use of this framework and multilevel approach, managers can:

know their organization’s culture and evaluate its intended and unintended results Evaluate the level the consistency in employees’ views of the culture Identify subcultures that might account for higher or lower group performance pinpoint differences in between legacy cultures during mergers and also acquisitions rapidly orient brand-new executives come the society they space joining and help them identify the many effective means to lead employees measure the degree of alignment in between individual leadership styles and organizational society to recognize what influence a leader might have architecture an aspirational society and interact the changes necessary to achieve it

The connect Between society and Outcomes

Our research and also practical endure have presented that when you are evaluating how society affects outcomes, the paper definition in i m sorry the company operates—geographic region, industry, strategy, leadership, and company structure—matters, as does the strength of the culture. (See “Context, Conditions, and also Culture.”) What operated in the past may no longer work in the future, and what operated for one agency may not job-related for another.

We have arrived at the complying with insights:

When aligned through strategy and also leadership, a strong culture drives positive organizational outcomes.

Consider the situation of a best-in-class retailer headquartered in the united States. The firm had viewed its an initial priority as giving top-notch client service. It achieved this with a simple rule—Do right by the customer—that encouraged employees to usage their judgment when offering service. A core HR training exercise was to help every salesperson see customer interactions together an possibility to create “service story that become legendary.” Employees were reminded come define organization from the customer’s perspective, come constantly communicate customers with concerns geared toward knowledge their particular needs and preferences, and also to go beyond their expectations.

In measure up the culture of this company, we uncovered that like countless other huge retailers, the was characterized primarily by a combination of results and caring. Unlike plenty of other retailers, however, it had actually a culture that was also very flexible, learning oriented, and focused top top purpose. together one top executive explained, “We have flexibility as lengthy as us take great care the the customer.”

Furthermore, the that company values and also norms were an extremely clear to everyone and also consistently mutual throughout the organization. As the retailer broadened into new segments and also geographies end the years, the management strove to maintain an extreme customer focus without diluting the cherished culture. Return the firm had historically focused on arising leaders from within—who were natural culture carriers—recruiting outsiders came to be necessary as it grew. The agency preserved its culture through this adjust by very closely assessing brand-new leaders and also designing an onboarding procedure that reinforced main point values and norms.

Culture is a an effective differentiator for this agency because the is strong aligned through strategy and leadership. Delivering impressive customer service requires a culture and a mindset that emphasize achievement, impeccable service, and problem resolving through autonomy and also inventiveness. Not surprisingly, those features have caused a range of positive outcomes for the company, consisting of robust growth and also international expansion, many customer organization awards, and also frequent appearances on perform of the finest companies to work for.

Selecting or emerging leaders because that the future needs a forward-looking strategy and also culture.

The chief executive, management of an agriculture business to be planning come retire, spurring rumors around a enemy takeover. The CEO was actively grooming a successor, one insider who had actually been with the agency for more than 20 years. Our analysis revealed one organizational culture that strong emphasized caring and also purpose. together one leader reflected, “You feeling like part of a large family once you become an employee at this company.”

The potential follower understood the society but to be far an ext risk-averse (safety) and also respectful of traditions (order) than the remainder of the company. Offered the take on rumors, height leaders and also managers told the CEO the they believed the firm needed to take a much more aggressive and action-oriented stance in the future. The board decided to take into consideration the inner candidate alongside people from outside the company.


Three outside candidates emerged: one that was aligned through the current society (purpose), one that would it is in a danger taker and also innovative (learning), and also one who was hard-driving and competitive (authority). After significant deliberation, the board made decision the extremely competitive leader through the authority style. Shortly afterward one activist investor attempted a hostile takeover, and the brand-new CEO had the ability to navigate through the precarious situation, save the agency independent, and also simultaneously start to restructure in ready for growth.

In a merger, making a new culture on the communication of security strengths can speed up integration and also create much more value end time.

Mergers and also acquisitions have the right to either develop or ruin value. Many studies have displayed that social dynamics represent among the best yet most commonly overlooked determinants of integration success and also postmerger performance.

For example, an elderly leaders from two merging international food retailers had invested heavily in your organizations’ cultures and wanted to keep their distinct strengths and also distinct heritages. An assessment of the societies revealed common values and areas that compatibility the could provide a structure for the an unified culture, in addition to important distinctions for which leaders would need to plan: Both companies emphasized results, caring, and also order and also valued high-quality food, good service, dealing with employees fairly, and also maintaining a neighborhood mindset. But one operated in a much more top-down manner and also scored much higher on authority, especially in the behavior of leaders.

Because both carriers valued teamwork and also investments in the regional community, the leader prioritized caring and purpose. at the exact same time, their strategy compelled that they shift from top-down authority come a learning layout that would encourage invention in new-store formats and also online retailing. Together one an elderly leader said of the strategic aspiration, “We have to dare to execute things differently, not play by the old preeminence books.”

Once they had actually agreed ~ above a culture, a rigorous assessment process identified leaders at both organizations whose personal style and values would enable them to offer as bridges to and also champions for it. Then a regimen was released to promote social alignment in ~ 30 height teams, with focus on clarifying priorities, do authentic connections, and also developing team standards that would carry the new culture to life.

Finally, structural elements of the new organization were redesigned with society in mind. A model for leadership was developed that incorporated recruitment, talent assessment, training and development, power management, price systems, and also promotions. Such design considerations are frequently overlooked throughout organizational change, however if systems and structures nothing align with social and management imperatives, progress have the right to be derailed.

In a dynamic, unsure environment, in which institutions must be more agile, learning gains importance.

It’s not surprising that results is the many common society style amongst all the carriers we have actually studied. Yet throughout a te of helping leaders style aspirational cultures, we have seen a clean trend towards prioritizing learning to promote innovation and also agility together businesses respond to significantly less predictable and also more complex environments. And also although learning ranks 4th within our more comprehensive database, small companies (200 employees or fewer) and also those in newer sectors (such as software, technology, and also wireless equipment) accord it higher values.

Consider one Silicon Valley–based technology company we operated with. Despite it had constructed a solid business and also invested in unique modern technology and top engineering talent, that is revenue development was beginning to decrease as newer, nimbler rivals made strides in a ar exploding v innovation and also business design disruption. Agency leaders perceived the culture as a differentiator for the business and also decided come diagnose, strengthen, and also evolve it. We discovered a culture that was intensely results focused, team based (caring), and also exploratory (a combination of enjoyment and also learning).

After evaluating the in its entirety business strategy and gaining input from employees, leader aimed because that a culture that was even more focused ~ above learning and adopted our framework as a new language because that the organization in its day-to-day work. Lock initiated conversations between managers and also employees around how to emphasize innovation and exploration. Although it takes time to change a culture, we discovered that the company had made noteworthy progress simply one year later. And also even as it prepared for an unavoidable sale amid ever greater competition and consolidation, employee engagement scores to be on the rise.

A strong culture can be a significant liability once it is misaligned v strategy.

We studied a Europe-based commercial services organization whose industry started to suffer rapid and unprecedented changes in customer expectations, regulation demands, and competitive dynamics. The company’s strategy, which had historically emphasized expense leadership, essential to change toward greater business differentiation in response. Yet its strong culture presented a roadblock to success.

We diagnosed the society as highly results oriented, caring, and order seeking, with a top-down focus on authority. The this firm leaders decided to form it to it is in much much more purpose-driven, enabling, open, and team based, which would certainly entail rise in caring in addition to learning and purpose and a diminish in authority and results.

This transition was particularly challenging because the current culture had offered the company well for plenty of years, when the market emphasized efficiency and also results.

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Most managers still perceived it as a strength and also fought to maintain it, threaten success because that the brand-new strategic direction.