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Competing Values Framework Culture Model

Competing Values Framework Culture Model

  • 06 April 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

In this new series, I'll discuss the best-known organizational culture theories and tools and compare them to the Competing Values Framework and its OCAI survey. Which model you like best depends on your situation. The choice depends on how “wide and deep” you want to work with culture in your organization. Other criteria might be your personal preferences regarding the theory, and how detailed or time-consuming the associated surveys are. But also: the ease of use, your dependency on expensive consultancy, the obligation of expensive certification, or whether you can do-it-yourself.

The Competing Values Framework

To quickly map both current and desired culture I use the validated Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI), developed by professors Kim Cameron & Robert Quinn at the University of Michigan. This is no surprise, of course. The OCAI is described in their book Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture.

I chose the OCAI because it is well-researched and validated, but also compact with six aspects that reliably represent the whole culture. The OCAI is a quick questionnaire in which you distribute 100 points between four “Competing Values” in the Competing Values Framework with four culture types. You can do a free trial of this survey on this website, at This takes around 15 minutes to complete and is immediately available.

Of course, I am biased because I use it as a consultant and because I co-founded Ocai Online - but the research findings below speak for themselves.

Research Evidence

The Competing Values Framework (CVF) is one of the forty most important frameworks used in business (ten Have, 2003) and tested for over thirty years in organizations. It is the most used and useful framework for assessing organizational culture and organizational dynamics. The CVF emerged from research to identify the organizational effectiveness criteria (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1981). The effectiveness criteria that were found to make a difference were the dimensions internal-external, and stability-flexibility.

The Competing Values Framework is validated by a lot of research (Denison, 1990; Howard, 1998; Deshpande & Farley, 2004), and is aligned with other dimensions that describe how people behave when organizing (Linnenluecke, 2010; Ralston, Tong, Terpstra, Wang & Egri, 2006; Cameron & Quinn, 2006).

The CVF identifies the underlying dimensions of organizing that exist in almost 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). It also corresponds with Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory that discerns four areas of human systems that mutually influence each other: Internal-external, and Flexibility-Individual and Stability-Collective.

Two Dimensions

The first effectiveness dimension is whether an organization has an internal orientation; focusing inward on development, collaboration, integration of activities, coordination, and so on. Or - whether the organization has an external orientation; looking at the market, what’s possible with the latest technology, what competitors are doing, what customers seem to want, diversifying activities as a result.

Both internal and external attention is needed for an organization to be successful in the long run - but depending on the environment an organization will have a dominant preference. An agile, volatile market will invoke an external orientation whereas a stable environment will allow for an internal focus. Note the “competing values” nature: you have to choose whether you look inside or outside - you cannot do both at the same time.

The second defining dimension of organizational effectiveness and culture is the stability-flexibility polarity. Organizations either prefer to organize in a way that fosters stability - or flexibility. The stability view values clear structures, planning, budgets, reliability and assumes that the reality can be known and controlled. The flexibility view assumes the opposite and prefers a flexible attitude and way of organizing to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Again, there is the “competing values” nature which prevents you from doing both at the same time.

When you map those two polarities in a 2x2 matrix you see four culture types emerge. These culture types are described here (I won't repeat as I assume most of you know the OCAI well as you are visiting this OCAI Online website).

Mapping other culture models

Because of this conceptual “archetypical” basis, the Competing Values Framework can integrate many other organizational culture instruments that were developed. We can relate it to The Organizational Culture Inventory, including twelve cultural styles in three categories (Cooke & Rousseau, 1988). The Denison Theoretical Model of Culture Traits with four culture types is conceptually similar. You can find connections with other models as well, such as Deal & Kennedy’s four culture types, Trompenaar’s four culture types - which we will do in this series!

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.

That’s why I use it as my primary culture tool. This scientific basis is great but what I appreciate even more is its practical applicability. The CVF and OCAI help you see quickly 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.

Do you want to know how your organization scores on the Competing Values Framework? Do the free individual OCAI trial here. Or check out the paid Pro and Enterprise assessments for teams and organizations.

In this blog series, I compare other culture models with the Competing Values Framework. Feel free to let me know what you think!

© Marcella Bremer 2017. All right reserved.

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