Skip to main content
Jeffrey Levy

The Real Secret to Achieving Stellar Results

  • 08 December 2010
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

About six years ago I stumbled upon the Competing Values Framework and have been a big fan ever since. As a leadership consultant, I immediately integrated this tool and my first client was a major, worldwide hotel where I worked with one of its busiest properties in mid-town New York City. What became quickly apparent was how easy the assessment is to conduct, how easy the results are to understand, and how interesting the whole approach can be.

Corporate culture assessments often require complicated analytical questionnaires and lengthy interviews. The Competing Values is different: it's an intuitive assessment. Analytical assessments, by nature of their repetitive, rating-scale design and lengthy content are not fun to take. However, these intuitive, right-brain-focused questions are energizing – they're interesting, thought-provoking and vision-enabling. This NYC hotel easily saw how the opinions about culture differed throughout their organization. While senior managers saw the environment as sufficiently open, collaborative, and friendly, the working managers saw it differently: they experienced too much "niceness" and a big need for increased accountability, and thought there was too much of a relaxed environment. They wanted more control and more focus on achieving goals – and consequences for those that didn't.

The Result: I facilitated a discussion with members from all three levels of management, which enabled them to openly discuss aspects of their workplace they would otherwise never have a chance to do. So while the Competing Values Framework offers us a great tool to assess organizational culture, I suggest the real benefits are significantly more profound. It's a tool that enables people in organizations to engage in meaningful discussions about their perceptions of organizational attributes, values, and desired future states. When such discussions take place, many wonderful things begin to occur. Things that you'd never think about in foresight, but can easily see in hindsight.

For example, when people are invited to discuss their unique perceptions, opinions and feelings, bonds become stronger and relationships more pronounced. When people agree on the qualities and attributes of their environment, and identify specific things they want more or less of in the future, they become psychologically invested. This weaves tight the social fabric. Communication barriers dissolve. Conflicts become rare. This assessment is a good tool to get people to think deeply, work collaboratively, and make changes that are focused on the very things most important to the success of the organization. In simple terms, this is a tool for implementing sustainable change.

CEOs want more innovation

Just two weeks ago, I conducted a workshop for about 25 CEOs, mostly from small to medium-sized companies. To start, I asked: how many are conscious of their organization's culture and intentionally work on building it? I was surprised to see four or five hands shoot up. I didn't expect to see any. During one part of the workshop, I took them through a mini-assessment of their own company's culture, and the majority discovered a desire to see more creativity, innovation, risk-taking and personal initiative.

This is a trend we're seeing quite a lot lately. CEOs are realizing they want more fresh thinking, challenging the status quo and quick action. However, like so many other CEOs, they just didn't know how to get there. They cringed at the thought of their employees running amok doing their own thing. This is the beauty of the Competing Values Framework – change can be implemented in meaningful ways. It gives us the opportunity to make "Janusian" breakthroughs by taking the positive attributes from two opposing culture types. For example, for those organizations that desire more of an Adhocracy or creative, entrepreneurial culture, the opposite culture is the Hierarchy, or control culture. So, the questions they might ask: "How can we encourage more creativity without undermining the important rules and procedures we need to follow?" Or "How can we encourage more risk-taking without jeopardizing customer relationships, company assets, or legal requirements?"

Take the best of both worlds

In other words, it's not how do we do one thing, but how do we do both. Such questions, and their answers, will obviously be different for each organization. I'm currently working with a big hospital that's asking: How can we increase the amount of creativity and innovation within our workplace – but not risk harming human life or violating government regulations?

With our newly-emerging transition into the 21st Century, leaders need new, 21st Century tools to lead their organizations. The management tools from the 20th Century just don't work in our current environment. One of my favorite quotations is from Edgar Schein, who many refer to as the father of corporate culture:

"To distinguish leadership from management, one can argue that leaders create and change cultures, while managers and administrators live within them."

What do you think?

Jeff Levy
Director of the Center for Strategic Leadership
Dale Carnegie Long Island