Indicators for Corporate Culture (and How to Change)

Summary of a session I facilitated at the Stoos Stampede 2012

In my work I am almost every day confronted with the topics culture and change. Since the Stoos mission (I will eventually blog on this later) is to bring people together to provide learning opportunities, and I had the great chance to participate in the Stoos Stampede, I proposed a session on exactly this topics.

The main outline of the session was as follows:
  1. Gathering different models for describing culture
  2. Collecting indicators (with respect to this models) of non-Stoosian and Stoosian cultures
  3. Discussing how to take steps from the non-Stoosian to the Stoosian culture
Sadly, the session ended before we could even start to discuss item 3. In the remainder I will summarize the results of steps 1 and 2.

Step 1 was intended to reveal models to describe corporate culture find an appropriate model for describing non-Stoosian and Stoosian cultures in Step 2.
Models to describe corporate culture found in Step 1
We came up with with three different models:
  • One model described corporate cultures on two axes: One axis represents the focus on persons (impersonal vs. person-focused) the other axis represents the focus on time (future-focused vs. present-focused). The model then distinguished four cultureal quadrants.
  • Another mentioned model was Spiral Dynamics - a model of human development, which can be adapted to organizations as well. Spiral Dynamics distinguishes multiple levels of development. Every level is associated with a color. Mentioned stages were blue, orange, green and yellow. Someone claimed that Non-Stoosian organizations would be on stages blue or orange, whereas Stoosian organizations should be on stages green or yellow.
  • The third model was proposed and complemented in several forms. One could say that the basic model is the one, Edgar H. Schein proposes in his book "The Corporate Culture Survival Guide" (amongst others). This model divides culture in three stages:

    - Artifacts:
    Visible organizational structures and processes
    - Espoused Values:
    Strategies, goals, philosophies
    - Underlying Assumptions:
    Unconscious, taken for granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings
    - One participant added the dimension Purpose to this list

    Other participants pointed out, that Chris Argyris established the espoused theory and theory-in-use, with a similar distinction like the aspects mentioned by Schein.
    One of the attendees pointed out, that the Artifacts layer of culture is only 10% of what really drives corporate culture and the remaining 90% are the unvisible believes and assumptions.
Step 2 was devoted to collecting indicators for non-Stoosian and Stoosian cultures. We decided to use the culture model of Schein supplemented with the Purpose dimension as a basis for collecting those indicators.

Indicators for Non-Stoosian cultures where
  • There are many secrets around - very intransparent
  • Strong hierarchies and strict top-down control
  • The company is led by ROI only (very money focused)
  • The attitude "We know better than your customer" is custom
  • The company is very focused on individuals (heroes)
  • There are lots of reports distributed (e.g. plans, timesheets, evaluations of performance, KPIs)
  • There are many defined processes set up
  • The company is cost-driven
  • There is much talk about efficiency
  • Work is not fun for the employees
  • In Spiral Dynamics: blue or orange
Indicators for a Non-Stoosian corporate culture

Indicators for Stoosian cultures where
  • Transparency of management and decisions
  • Company has a longterm vision
  • Sustainability is a topic in the company
  • There is a focus on employees
  • The company is knowledge driven
  • There are cross-functional teams at work
  • Openness is a value and assumptions are visible
  • Dawna Jones pointed out, that many of the artifacts depicted in the organic model here (http://www.lampindex.com) are indicators for Stoosian cultures
  • In Spiral Dynamics: green or yellow (or above)
Indicators for a Stoosian corporate culture

As you can easily see all of the above listed indicators are very visible things and thus clearly on the Artifact stage of the cultural model. As Schein points out, there is not an immediate direct link from the artifacts of a company to its actual culture (you are missing 90% if you only know the Artifacts!). Therefore many questions remain open after this session. Maybe the next Stampede will shed some more light on this topic :-)

Ángel Medinilla used the last five minutes of the session to summarize and propose an interesting model. He hypothesized that on all stages of Schein's model the difference between Stoosian and non-Stoosian organizations is that Stoosian organizations are headed for the many while non-Stoosian organizations are headed for the few. To be more concrete:
  • Stoosian organizations tend to work in teams (many) vs. Non-Stoosian organizations working as many individuals (Artifact stage)
  • In Stoosian organizations you will encounter an atmosphere of humility (many) vs. in Non-Stoosian organizations you will encounter an atmosphere of arrogance (few)
  • Stoosian organizations are thinking in long terms (many), while Non-Stoosian organizations tend to think in quarters (few).
This final words finished nicely a session which was - at least to me - full of interesting things and diverse views on the topic. I learned a lot and want to thank all the participants for the great input!

Update 1: Just found another short summary of the session by Joost Jonker: http://alustforchange.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/indicators-for-companies-culture-and-how-to-change-stoos-stampede/

Update 2: If you want to learn more about the 3rd planned point of the session (taking steps from non-Stoosian to Stoosian culture), you might have a look at the results of the "Culture Hacking"-Session here or here. And maybe here: #culturehacking

Update 3: Another thought on culture: It's not the Culture, Stupid!


  1. Thanks for a fantastic summary of the session! this was indeed one of the most valuables I've attended this year :)

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