An Organizational Culture Solution: Practical Guidelines for Managing Values and Culture

By Maretha Prinsloo on September 10, 2019

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Key goals in talent management include the facilitation of leadership solutions; people engagement and development; the creation of diverse, integrated, energised, responsive and resilient teams, as well as constructing meaningful and effective functional systems to contribute to organizational, societal and environmental sustainability. The concepts of values and culture are of critical importance in achieving these goals.

Human Resources (HR) practitioners thus need to understand individual and organizational values to predict whether a person will flourish in a particular type of role and work environment, so as to make effective placement decisions and to create high performance teams and functional systems. Such understanding is also required to optimise diversity management, succession and the creation of trust and enthusiasm in the work context.

To enable this, the value orientations or worldviews of individuals and teams need to be assessed and analysed. To this end, Cognadev offers the Value Orientations (VO) assessment instrument which is based on the Spiral Dynamics (SD) model of Graves as well as on other psychological and consciousness development models.

The VO assesses a person in terms of their preferences for seven fundamentally different world views or value orientations, each of which underlies unique and complex systems of behavior, beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and thoughts. Cultivating an awareness of the value orientation one espouses, goes a long way in enhancing self-insight and awareness and sheds light on the origins of one’s dreams, joys, frustrations and aspirations as well as the nature of one’s interpersonal relationships and life journey in general. Assessment results may contribute to greater depth in understanding of others too, thereby enhancing emotional intelligence and effectiveness within interpersonal contexts. Creating a critical mass of people within the organization who understand the issue of values and the importance of integrated diversity, could significantly contribute to productivity and organizational effectiveness.

Sustainable systems, be those organizations, nations or teams, normally show internal diversity in terms of value orientations. According to Graves, the author of the SD model, effective systems require a variety of value orientations to enrich the adaptive response of the organization to different contextual challenges, thereby ensuring its strategic agility. A prerequisite, however, is the integration of the entire system through leadership coupled with the psychological literacy of those involved.

Role players who understand and accept alternative value orientations, can contribute in bridging the divide to facilitating integration and collaboration across different clusters of world views.  The assessment of values is thus an important first step in creating a talent map. Data visualization of team and organizational profiles too, are interesting and useful in this regard.

Before embarking on the assessment and analysis of the values and culture within the organization, HR practitioners, however, often pose the following questions:


What is meant by a culture fit?

A cultural fit between employees and the organization means that those involved feel comfortable and energized within a social system characterized by certain norms and practices which they can agree upon and identify with, and where they can experience a sense of meaningful contribution to the collective goals.


Can people showing different value orientations collaborate effectively?

Some feel that the advice to hire people who match the organizational culture, versus the advice to capitalize on diversity, are contradictory.

A few points can be made in this regard. Diversity can be in terms of biographical characteristics such as gender, age and ethnic background or in terms of worldviews and values. The impact of biographical characteristics seems superficial when compared to the potential impact of value orientations. A valid framework of valuing systems is thus more useful in managing complex issues related to interpersonal resonance and work orientation, than that of biographical factors.

It should also be mentioned that although organizations and industries normally take on a particular broad value-orientation or culture, various functional units within those organizations may develop specific cultural identities.

Examples of broad cultural memes include the Red-Orange cultures of most western Manufacturing, Production and Sales companies; the Yellow-Orange of IT and Technology, and the Green combined with Red or Turquoise of NGOs. Departments or functional units within organizations are often also characterized by certain value orientations, such as the Blue-Green values required for customer support; the Purple-Blue of routinised operational environments; and the Yellow-Orange or Yellow-Blue of most executive leadership roles.

To be more specific, whereas internal audit may require role players who are rigorous, compliant, analytical and structured – as is reflected by the Blue value orientation on the Spiral Dynamics (SD) model, a marketing and advertising role may require risk-takers characterized by personal energy, capable of dealing with uncertainty, failure and opportunity as well as the necessary politically savvy to ensure the adoption of win-win solutions,  all of which are associated with the Orange orientation of the SD model.

Employees who reject the values and culture of an organization or functional unit are likely to disengage from their work or leave the company.

Cultural diversity can best be harnessed when people with different worldviews understand and appreciate one another’s contributions within the bigger organizational picture. It is the role of HR to cultivate such a meta-perspective to facilitate tolerance across cultural divides.


Can the concept of culture fit be used to unfairly discriminate between groups?

This can indeed be the case, but not when people-job matching is carefully and objectively conducted to ensure the best possible fit between role players of functionally diverse roles. Special attention may be required to ensure that leadership is trusted by all and that there is collaboration across functional boundaries.


What is the impact of the executive team on organizational culture?

Those with valuing systems which clash with that of the organization often complain that their contributions are disregarded; they feel discriminated against and may find it difficult to support certain organizational strategies.  Employees thus tend to leave an organization should they not feel attuned to its norms, values and practices.

Those who are comfortable within the culture, and whose contributions are valued due to their contextual compatibility, tend to remain in the organization in the long term and some may be promoted to leadership roles. This can result in a coherent executive where most members share similar value orientations. Even in global organizations, executive teams often hold similar worldviews. Given the impact of the executive on organizational policies and practices, their values may further enhance the organizational culture.


When hiring, should the emphasis be on culture fit or on competence?

In the case of recruitment, selection and placement of school and university leavers or other newcomers who often lack the organization’s specific competencies, hiring in terms of compatible values may contribute to employee retention and engagement.


What is the danger of creating “cultural clones”?

People are complex and even though their value orientations may overlap, their personalities, competencies and experience largely differ. The functional requirements of various roles in the organization also differ, and by effectively assessing and matching people to the most suitable roles, the creation of “clones” is unlikely.


The implementation of a cultural solution: a case study

This case study describes the use of holistic assessment undertaken by Cognadev consultants, using value orientations, in particular, to help leverage the cultural transformation of a global Manufacturing firm.

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