What is an organizational culture and why is it essential to your organization?

by Danique Geskus | Nov 8, 2023

Organizational culture is more than just a buzzword. It affects the way employees think, act and collaborate. In this blog, we explore the meaning of organizational culture, why it is of utmost importance within a company, and how it can help create a thriving and successful work environment.


Meaning organizational culture

Organizational culture, at its core, is the shared set of values, norms, beliefs and behaviors that define a company’s identity. It goes beyond the mission statement on paper and is reflected in the daily interactions and decision-making processes of employees at all levels.


Why organizational culture is essential

1. Lead behavior: Organizational culture acts as a compass for employees, determining what actions and choices are considered acceptable. It guides the way people interact and deal with challenges.

2. Attract and retain talent: A positive organizational culture is attractive to talented professionals. It helps not only attract new talent, but also retain existing employees who feel connected to the culture.

3. nnovation and creativity: An open and innovative culture encourages employees to express new ideas and take risks. This contributes to creativity and innovation within the company.

4. Employee satisfaction: Employees who identify with a company’s culture are generally more satisfied and engaged in their work.

5. Operating performance: Organizational culture affects a company’s overall performance. A strong culture can contribute to growth, profitability and sustainable success.


Types of organizational cultures

The Quinn Competing Values Framework, developed by Professor Robert E. Quinn and his colleagues, offers an insightful approach to understanding organizational cultures based on four different cultural paradigms. These cultures are presented as conflicting values and norms, but all are relevant within certain organizational contexts. The following describes the four main organizational cultures according to the Quinn model:


Hierarchical Culture (Internal Focus – Control):

  • In a hierarchical culture, the emphasis is on control, structure and efficiency.
  • The organization is usually highly hierarchically organized with clear authority and formal procedures. Decision-making is often centralized, and employees are expected to adhere to existing processes.

Purpose: Stability and control.


Family Culture (Internal Focus – Flexibility):

  • The family culture is based on strong relationships, trust and care for employees.
  • There is usually a flat organizational structure and a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
  • Decision-making can be informal and based on consensus.

Goal: Commitment and harmony.


Adhocracy Culture (External Focus – Flexibility):

  • In an adhocracy culture, the focus is on innovation, adaptability and creativity.
  • Organizations with this culture tend to be dynamic, entrepreneurial and willing to take risks. There is plenty of room for experimentation and taking initiative.
  • Decision-making can be decentralized and based on expertise.

Goal: Innovation and market orientation.


Market-oriented Culture (External Focus – Control):

  • The market-oriented culture emphasizes competition, results and efficiency.
  • Organizations with this culture are competitive and focused on achieving goals.
  • Decision-making is often outcome-oriented and focused on measurable performance.

Goal: Competitive advantage and profitability.


The unique aspect of the Quinn model is that it recognizes that no one organizational culture is superior to another. It emphasizes the importance of understanding an organization’s current culture and selecting the right culture depending on its strategic objectives and external environment. Organizations can even combine elements from different cultural paradigms to create a culture that best suits their needs.

The Quinn Competing Values Framework helps leaders and organizations analyze, understand and manage their culture, and it provides a valuable framework for facilitating effective change and growth.


Shaping a positive organizational culture

Building a positive organizational culture requires commitment and attention. Here are some steps to achieve this:

1. Define core values: Identify the core values the company wants to embody. These values should form the basis of the culture.

2. Communicate and model: Leaders must value the culture and live out the desired behaviors. Open communication is essential to engage employees in the culture.

3. Feedback and engagement: Listen to employee feedback and involve them in shaping the culture. This promotes ownership and involvement.

4. Policies and procedures: Ensure that company policies and procedures are in line with the desired culture. These should support the culture rather than hinder it.

5. Training and development: Invest in training and development to help employees develop the desired skills and mindset.


How Learned can help safeguard your organizational culture

Organizational culture affects all aspects of business operations. By using the Learned platform, you can take ongoing measurements on topics such as job satisfaction and workload so you are always aware of how your employees perceive the culture. This will help you identify problems in a timely manner and proactively manage a positive organizational culture.

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