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Competing Values Drive Can Destroy a Business

Competing Values Drive Can Destroy a Business
10 July 2013 John Moore

An organisation’s culture is sometimes adopted from the founder; sometimes it is consciously developed and shaped by teams as they attempt to improve performance; and sometimes the organisation’s culture is created as a reaction to a lack of leadership or need for survival.

‘Culture’ is often described as ‘how things are done around here’.

Organisational culture is the result of a combination of forces and interactions such as:

Individual and team behaviours, values and collective norms; the assumptions and expectations of teams and individuals including the founder and other senior managers; and as a result of experiences and organisational processes and procedures.

It is often difficult to define and describe an organisation’s culture and once formed it is frequently difficult to change. There are, however, times when an organisation needs to modify or change its culture, for example:

  • A desire to achieve accelerated growth
  • A response to a new market or expansion opportunity
  • A change in the organisation’s strategic direction
  • A shift in the operational needs of a business
  • A need to respond to new competition or technological breakthroughs
  • A need to drive up productivity and performance
  • A change of leadership such as a new Chief Executive Officer
  • A shift in the economic environment

Organisations Operate in an Environment of Constant Change

Change per se drives the need for management teams to continuously monitor and review organisational culture. Some organisations are better able to cope with change than others depending on whether it is linear change, incremental change or a step change.

Organisations, especially those seeking or experiencing growth need to understand the dynamics of organisational culture to avoid having to rely on chance or luck for a successful transition. One model for making sense of organisational culture and change is the Competing Values Framework (Cameron and Quinn, 1999).

Using a Competing Values Framework (CVF) to analyse an organisation’s current organisational culture and status is helpful in determining organisational strengths: it can help to highlight key areas of the organisation that might need to be worked on and in need of modification or development in order to sustain and develop future performance.

CVF involves the use of two simple surveys enabling the organisation, leadership, management and teams to identify what works best and how people within the organisation align or disconnect. Competing values are important to help understand effective performance. People are often recruited to manage within corporate values and demands; too often termed culture. But what happens as a company grows? Not all people can manage in the new environment demands.  Many wish for the old days and refuse or cannot change. An organisation’s sustained success has:

  • less to do with market forces than company values;
  • less to do with competitive position than leadership ability to motivate;
  • less to do with resource advantages than a compelling vision; and
  • less to do with strategy than team delivery

Change Resilience or Change Resistance

Ever wonder why some people just seem so resistant to change? What is it about those people who never speak up, but you know never commit to change and somehow resist even the most well-planned efforts? What about the influencers and a hope that they buy-in. Does your strategy rely upon them to get the majority of people on board. Why might they resist?

The output data from Competing Values surveys are plotted across two dimensions. The first dimension can be viewed in the quadrant graph below on the North/South axis and differentiates the North point Flexibility and Discretion, a culture that thrives on flexibility, discretion and dynamism from one that moves into a cultural focus on stability, order and control at the southern most point Stability and Control.


For example North to South:

Some organisations are effective because they are changing, adaptable, and organic, whereas other organisations are effective because they are stable, predictable, and mechanistic.

These two dimensions move from the North polar point of the graph, versatility and pliability to steadiness and durability at the South polar point.

The second dimension, along the West/East point differentiates a focus on an internal orientation, integration, and unity Internal Maintenance to a focus as it moves east of an external orientation, differentiation, and rivalry External Position.

For example West to East:

Some organisations are effective because they have harmonious internal characteristics, whereas others are effective because they focus on interacting or competing with others outside their boundaries.

This dimension ranges from cohesion and consonance on one end to separation and independence on the other.

The two dimensions form four quadrants, the four quadrants each represent a distinct set of culture qualities. These four quadrants represent what people value about an organisation’s performance and what people define as good, right and appropriate. They are found to accurately describe how people process information as well as their core values used for forming judgements and taking actions.

Competing Values Capital Risk

The Competing Values dimensions and quadrants also represent opposite and competing cultures:

Each continuum, North to South and West to East, highlights a core value opposite from the value on the other end of the continuum and are also contradictory on the diagonal opposite: Competing Values

The table below highlights this more effectively after quality characteristics of each culture have been added. Compare the top right quadrant with the lower left quadrant and the top left quadrant with the lower right quadrant. Change is difficult to drive forward, especially if the position and values of the organisation are unknown, or if the impact (positive or negative) that process, hierarchy, or flexibility has on people is not clear.


A Competing Values review will identify the culture people are working in, then will identify any disconnect, by team or business unit. From this, strategies can be created that align to the culture or need to challenge the culture.

The diagram below shows the results of a Competing Values survey as taken by a board of directors and the Founder (or CEO):


Just from this visual output a disconnect can be seen. This data and awareness provides information about a situation that needs to address before the change process is started. Having a clearer picture of where to start, what needs to stay the same and what needs to stop can help implement the change.

Competing Capital Mix

Imagine a mix of individuals against a management team for each of the below examples. With a Competing Values analysis disconnect is identified more clearly and can be managed more effectively.


Managing successful teams, leading successful transitions, charting new strategies and making the right decisions on what or who to invest in has:

  • Less to do with market forces than company values;
  • Less to do with competitive position than leadership ability to motivate;
  • Less to do with resource advantages than a compelling vision;
  • Less to do with strategy than team delivery

Organisations rely on projects to accomplish strategy. An organisation’s resistance to change is the bait that nimble, flexible, resilient, and hungry market forces and competition feed on.  An organisation’s customers today are their competition’s customers tomorrow.

Organisations that understand competing values and the impact of culture can train, manage and cultivate people who can grow with the organisation and help those that don’t find a match for their style.  Managing people out of an organisation is always an easier conversation than managing them with overly-sensitive gloves or hanging on and hoping they will change – both at the cost of the competition.

Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (1999). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.


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