The Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI), developed by © Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn at the University of Michigan, is a validated research method to assess organizational culture.
Learn more about the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument in this section or download the OCAI Theory & Tool Information brochure.
Competing Values Framework
The OCAI is based on the Competing Values Framework: one of the most used and useful frameworks in business (ten Have, 2003). Over 10,000 companies used it. It is well-researched and validated, but also compact with six aspects that reliably represent an organization's culture. The OCAI is a quick culture tool where you distribute 100 points between four “Competing Values”.
These four Competing Values correspond with four types of organizational culture. Every organization has its own mix of these four types of organizational culture.
The Competing Values Framework (CVF) emerged from research to identify the organizational effectiveness criteria (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1981). The criteria that were found to make a difference are the dimensions internal-external, and stability-flexibility.
An organization might have an internal orientation; focusing inward on development, collaboration, integration of activities, coordination. Or it might have an external orientation; looking at the market, what’s possible with the latest technology, what competitors are doing, what customers want, and it could diversify activities as a result.
Both internal and external attention are needed to be successful in the long run - but depending on their environment an organization will have a dominant preference. An agile, volatile market will evoke an external orientation whereas a stable environment will allow for an internal focus.
Note the “competing” nature of the values: you have to choose whether you look inside or outside - you cannot do both at the same time.
The second defining dimension is the focus on stability or flexibility — organizations that prefer to organize for stability value clear structures, planning, budgets, and reliability. They assume that reality can be known and controlled. Organizations that organize with flexibility assume the opposite: you can never predict and control everything. They prefer a flexible attitude and organization to adapt quickly to changing circumstances - focusing more on people and activities than on structure, procedures, and plans.
The “competing values” nature of stability and flexibility prevents you from doing both at the same time. Organizations can spend their money, attention, and time only once, so they tend to emphasize certain values. Quinn and Cameron found that flexible organizations are most effective, which sometimes leads to contradictory behavior. The “best” organizations use all four value sets when necessary.
A culture type works best in the activities domain that aligns with its values. In the health care sector, for instance, we often see clan culture.
Beware: there is no ultimate “best” organizational culture prescribed by the Competing Values Framework. The model is descriptive.
In a specific domain or market, one culture type might fit better than another, and this is for the organization to decide. "When would be at our best?"
When you map those two polarities in a 2x2 matrix, you see four culture types emerge.
The Competing Values Framework is validated by a ton of research (Denison, 1990; Howard, 1998; Deshpande & Farley, 2004). It is aligned with other dimensions that describe how people behave when organizing (Linnenluecke, 2010; Ralston, Tong, Terpstra, Wang & Egri, 2006; Cameron & Quinn, 2006).
These underlying dimensions of organizing exist in all human and organizational activity. It aligns with the four biological determined drives in the brain: the need to bond, to learn, to acquire, and to defend. (Paul Lawrence, Nitin Nohria, 2002).
The CVF and OCAI can also be related to the “Big Five” personality traits, the MBTI, and the four psychological types discovered by Carl Gustav Jung.
Because of this conceptual “archetypical” basis, the Competing Values Framework can integrate many other organizational culture instruments.
This scientific basis is excellent but what is best is its practical applicability. The CVF helps you see what people value and emphasize when they organize activities, whether they are in a for-profit organization, a sports club, local community, or a family. The framework shows where you are and where you’d like to go.
Organizational Culture Types
Mapping those two dimensions of “competing values” you get four organizational culture types:
- the dynamic, entrepreneurial Create Culture
- the people-oriented, friendly Collaborate Culture
- the process-oriented, structured Control Culture
- the results-oriented, competitive Compete Culture
These organizational culture types are also known as Adhocracy culture, Clan culture, Hierarchy culture, and Market culture (Cameron & Quinn).
Create Culture (Adhocracy Culture)
This is a dynamic and creative working environment. Employees take risks. Leaders are seen as innovators and risk takers. Experiments and innovation are a way of bonding. Prominence is emphasized. The long-term goal is to grow and create new resources. The availability of new products or services is seen as a success. The organization promotes individual initiative and freedom.
- Do new things: create, innovate, envision the future
- Transformational Change
- Handle discontinuity, change, and risk
- Freedom of thought and action, rule-breaking
- Thoughtful experimentation, learning from mistakes, failing fast
- Roles like entrepreneurs and visionaries
- Visionaries inclined toward risk, not afraid of uncertainty
Typical in sectors like technical start-ups, technology-driven industries (communications, sustainability), but also disruptive services like Airbnb, Uber.
Collaborate Culture (Clan Culture)
This working environment is friendly. People have a lot in common, and it feels like a large family. The leaders are seen as mentors or maybe even father figures. The organization is held together by loyalty and tradition. There is great involvement. They emphasize long-term Human Resource Development. Success is defined within the framework of addressing the needs of the clients and caring for the people. The organization promotes teamwork, participation, and consensus.
- Do things together: build teams, people matter
- Long-term Change
- Commitment, empowerment, cohesion, engagement
- Human development
- Collective wisdom, long-lasting partnerships, and relationships
- Roles like a mentor and a coach
- Wary of conflict
Typical in sectors like health care, education, some government agencies, not-for-profits.
Control Culture (Hierarchy Culture)
This is a formalized and structured workplace. Procedures direct what people do. Leaders are proud of efficiency-based coordination and organization. Keeping the organization functioning smoothly is most crucial. Formal rules and policies keep the organization together. The long-term goals are stability and results, paired with an efficient and smooth execution of tasks. Reliable delivery, continuous planning, and low cost define success. The personnel management has to guarantee work and predictability.
- Do things right: eliminate errors
- Incremental Change
- Attention to details, careful decisions, precise analysis
- Increase consistency and reliability, well-informed experts
- Better processes and efficiency, routines
- Roles like organizers and administrators
- Conservative, cautious, logical problem solvers
Typical in sectors like medicine, nuclear power, military, government, banking and insurance, transportation.
Compete Culture (Market Culture)
This is a results-based workplace that emphasizes targets, deadlines, and getting things done. People are competitive and focused on goals. Leaders are hard drivers, producers, and rivals. They can be tough with high expectations. The emphasis on winning keeps the organization together. Reputation and success are the most important. Long-term focus is on rival activities and reaching goals. Market dominance, achieving your goals, and great metrics are the definitions of success. Competitive prices and market leadership are important. The organizational style is based on competition.
- Do things fast: compete, move fast, play to win
- Fast Change
- Customer satisfaction, attack competitors, shareholder value
- Speed: results-right-now, getting things done, achieving goals
- Acquire other firms, outsource selected processes,
- Deliver results, make fast decisions, solve problems
- Leaders are hard-driving, directive, commanding, demanding
Typical of sectors like consultancy, accountancy, sales and marketing, services, manufacturing.
The OCAI (© Kim Cameron) was carefully designed, tested, and validated. Respondents are asked to score six aspects of culture:
- Dominant characteristics
- Organizational leadership
- Management of employees
- Organization glue
- Strategic emphases
- Criteria of success
For each aspect, they must divide 100 points over four statements. They assign the most points to the statement that is most true, and the least or none to the statement that doesn't fit with their organization.
The first round of scoring the six aspects yields a profile of the current culture. Quinn and Cameron found that most organizations have developed a dominant culture style. An organization rarely has only one culture type. Often, the culture profile is a mix of the four organizational culture types.
The second round focuses on the preferred organizational culture in the future. The gap between these two profiles shows the desire for and direction of change.
This way of scoring is deliberately designed. By dividing 100 points over four statements, respondents have to weigh and choose in the Competing Values Framework. In reality, you can't have everything maximized at the same time. A Likert-scale would allow people to give all statements a 1 or a 5 - while this way of weighing points is more realistic.
The six aspects are based on extensive research. Adding more variables does not enhance the survey's validity. Hence, the survey is short and sweet while it yields a valid representation of culture. (If you want to know more about validity and reliability, please see the book by Cameron & Quinn: Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture).
By averaging all OCAI profiles, we can calculate a collective team or organization profile to get an overview of current and preferred culture. It can be interesting to compare the culture profiles of departments, locations, levels, or professions within one organization.
In smaller teams, you could also compare the individual profiles.
An OCAI culture profile shows:
- The dominant current culture
- The discrepancy between present (fuchsia area) and preferred culture (blue)
- The strength of the current culture
- The strength of the preferred culture
- The proposed change: in what direction?
- People's current "pain" and any "gain" of change
The results report also shows the congruency of the six aspects. Cultural incongruence often leads to a desire to change, because different values and goals can take a lot of time and discussion. If the six culture aspects emphasize different values, people may be confused, frustrated, and conflicts could ensue.
OCAI use for organizations
The OCAI online culture assessment provides:
- Insight in the dominant culture of your organization
- Your current focus on results, processes, people, and innovation
- An indication of change-readiness by assessing the gap
- A quick check before and after reorganization, change, acquisitions, or mergers
- An idea of the preferred culture as a starting point for change
- Awareness of culture as a crucial factor for organizational success
- A validated measure of culture
Why do organizations invest in organizational culture? Culture influences organizational performance, innovation, agility, engagement, and competitiveness.
Kotter and Heskett found that effective culture can account for 20-30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with “culturally unremarkable” competitors (James Heskett, The Culture Cycle, 2015).
Professor Kim Cameron showed that a positive climate, positive relationships, communication, and positive meaning lead to “positive deviance” or high performance.
Christine Porath and Christine Pearson did a study with 14,000 respondents and found that incivility demoralizes people. The estimated loss of productivity per year per employee is $ 14,000 on average.
Bill Sutton (Stanford University) has suggested that productivity could decrease by 40% when workers experience bullying.
Summarized: a toxic culture decreases productivity with 40%, rude cultures damage productivity with $14,000 per employee per year, while an effective culture increases productivity with 20%, and a positive culture boosts results by 30-40%
Culture is often the reason why 70 percent of all mergers, acquisitions and organizational change projects fail.
The powerful culture factor is not as “vague” as prejudice would have it. Culture is usually experienced as obvious: people are not aware of it. The OCAI helps people and organizations to become aware of current culture and to see what they could change to develop toward a successful future.
The four archetypes of culture are easy to understand and remember - it provides a shared reference for people to map typical behaviors, values, norms, outcomes.
The OCAI is a first check-in on culture and starting point for necessary changes.
The OCAI's advantages for diagnosing and changing culture:
- It’s quick and focused: it measures the six culture aspects that matter
- It's validated and renowned: you'll see your culture as it is
- It’s involving: it's easy to include all associates if you want
- It’s quantitative: clear current and preferred culture profiles to compare
- It's easy to add qualitative details (typical behaviors, events, beliefs).
- It’s manageable: you can do-it-yourself with our Work Kits or hire your favorite consultant to guide the process
Organizational Culture Change
The OCAI Assessment is done: participants receive their personal profiles, and there's a results report with the collective profiles you ordered, either for teams, locations, positions, and the organization as a whole.
Now the real work starts. The culture assessment is the first intervention in organizational culture. It makes people aware of “how we do things around here” and prompts expectations of organizational culture change.
Diagnose and change organizational culture
The OCAI provides a validated, visual and quantitative profile of current and preferred culture. To change or improve the culture it's necessary to make culture "operational." As culture is in part "the way we do things around here" - what are we doing, what should we change, and how could we do so? If you translate the competing values and archetypes of culture to the typical daily happenings in your organization you will see concrete steps to change.
You're looking for the typical beliefs, behaviors, and events that represent your current culture. Next, you'll discover what needs to change to move toward the desired future. Please note: generic A-B-C advice is not effective. As every organization is different, it's important to understand the typical details of your culture and to customize your change efforts.
OCAI online recommends the culture change approach for organizations described in Marcella Bremer's book “Organizational Culture Change”. Also see Marcella Bremer's book "Developing a Positive Culture" that offers Interaction Interventions and team practices in a network approach of culture change.
Organizational Culture Change Process Outline
- Online Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument
- OCAI Workshop, Culture Focus Group, or Change Circle
- Recurring Change Circles/meetings to sustain the changes
- E-learning added to your onsite culture change process
1. Online Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument
Your team or organization assesses the current and preferred culture with the online OCAI survey.
2. OCAI Workshop, Culture Focus Group, or Change Circle
In an OCAI Workshop (name it as you like) you work with your OCAI assessment results to:
- Understand the quantified culture profile
- Specify current culture
- Reality check of the desired culture
- Specify preferred culture
- Develop a How-to-change plan
In an OCAI workshop or Change Circle, participants discuss the culture profiles to reach consensus and to chunk down from values to daily behaviors. You have to make culture operational for our account managers, engineers, front desk staff and factory workers. Translate culture to behaviors. Participants develop their change plan to move toward the new culture, take ownership and start doing it with mutual support. The OCAI Work Kit offers a manual, workshop schedules, exercises and presentation slide to go through this process.
Why would you bother to invite associates to culture workshops? Because you cannot order people to change their beliefs and behaviors in a top-down way. Top-down may seem fast but often evokes resistance. The OCAI helps to build employee engagement: people become aware of culture and co-create the change.
When you spend this time at the beginning of the change process, you save time in the end and set your organization up for success.
In this engaging process of culture meetings, you'll build trust and solve objections and doubts together. This will reduce resistance and enhance commitment. Working with information from all levels, you'll even improve the change plan.
The OCAI workshops lead to:
- Qualitative, customized insights and consensus of culture
- Information from all positions and perspectives, thus: better changes to implement
- Commitment to change (provided that you seriously work through objections)
- Engagement and ownership
- This Change approach helps to develop successful, sustainable change.
But is it feasible? Yes, it can be done! The entire organization does workshops in their own teams or you organize open-enrollment workshops for those associates that are interested in working with culture.
You can roll out from the top down, starting with the top executives, followed by all the other teams. Everyone works to make culture operational and customizes their team change plan within the direction outlined by the top executives.
Or work with people who volunteer for the workshops, from all levels and departments. They create their change plan and become the ambassadors of change. You leverage the network nature of organizations with this Organizational Culture Change approach.
You can read more here about the one-day OCAI Culture Workshop.
3. Recurring Change Circles/meetings to sustain the changes
People also need the perseverance to change. OCAI workshop teams or Change Circles offer mutual support while practicing new behaviors and interventions. After the first OCAI-workshop, people might convene every 2-4 weeks to keep the change going and adjust plans if needed.
Some teams use the first 30 minutes of a regular meeting to check in on culture behaviors. What matters is that you keep working with culture.
4. E-learning added to your onsite culture change process
Organizational culture change requires collective learning. A critical mass of organization members must change how they think, what they value, and how they interact and act - or nothing will change in daily reality. Culture change does not happen on paper!
That's where the online Culture Academy can help. Based on easy-to-do positive "interaction interventions," leaders and team members alike learn how to develop the culture to be more positive and productive.
Each module explains more about culture and positive (self-)leadership, offers tools, and invites people to customize and apply them on the job.
People are enticed to take ownership and action, and to change "the way we do things around here." It's great for both successful change and engagement. As research shows, when someone learns from, interacts with, and has an impact on the real world in real-time, higher retention of new learning occurs.
E-learning can be a great addition to your in-person workshops and focus groups. This can help busy professionals to develop an effective culture that will become the "new normal."
Check out the curriculum and see how the Positive Culture Academy for teams can leverage your organizational culture change process.
Want to Learn more about Organizational Culture Change?
OCAI online offers several options to learn about culture change with the OCAI. Marcella Bremer wrote two practical books. We offer two video training courses and a 2.5-day Culture Change Leadership workshop in-company or with open enrollment. You can find more information when you navigate to our OCAI Products Page.