What Flavor Is Your Culture?

What Flavor Is Your Culture?

I believe our number one job, as leaders, is to ensure that healthy, productive cultures are created, nurtured and rewarded such that our people can and will contribute the best and truly enjoy coming into work every day!

Mahatma Gandhi so wisely said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” And so it goes in every workplace and every community and every family. If we aren’t taking care of the culture, we aren’t taking care of business.

Culture is like the air we breathe. It is all around us, and the signs are there like the wind. Sometimes it’s in neon lights. More often though, there are subtle clues to tell us what’s going on and we need to look for them.

Just like there are archetypes in spiritual belief systems, there are cultural archetypes that can be seen and measured. We will focus here on four dominant cultural archetypes that are present in virtually every organization or system on the planet to one degree or another. They have different and even opposite value drivers, effectiveness assumptions, and leadership styles.

4 Dominant Cultural Archetypes

People · Possibility · Product · Policy

Using a tool I created called the C.A.T. Scan – or Cultural Assessment Tool, you can assess your team and organizational cultures by way of these four archetypes. You will also gain insights about how your leaders and you might affect them, and how to strengthen and/or change them.

Each of these cultures brings value, strengths, and challenges to the table. It is a rare case when only one of these is operating within the larger organization. In fact, an organization may have all four operating at the same time. Usually, there are one or two that dominate and one that is the least noticeable.

Product: This is a thinking culture where the focus is on results, objectivity, competitiveness and transactional interactions with the external world, including customers, suppliers, regulators, etc. Getting to the goal line really matters in a product culture. These leaders are highly competitive, drivers, and all about bottom-line results. They care a lot about market share and achievement and profits (in the non-profit world – big influence). An example of this could be a highly market driven company like General Electric.

Policy: This is a sensing culture where the focus is on control, accountability, rules, hierarchy, and formality. Attention is largely internal. These leaders focus on monitoring, timeliness, details, organizing, uniformity, laws and rules. An example of this culture could include governmental agencies and public schools.

People: This is a feeling culture where the focus is on teamwork, collaboration, and empowerment of the people within the organization. There is a strong belief that taking care of your own will take care of everything else. These leaders care and emphasize commitment, people, participation, service, loyalty, and teams. Examples of this culture might be Southwest Airlines.

Possibility: This is an intuitive culture where the focus is on innovation and agility. It is entrepreneurial, with few rules, often shifting roles and priorities on a dime to do whatever needs to be done. They want to stay on the cutting edge and meet or even help define customer needs with new solutions. Leaders here focus on vision, innovation, flexibility, and transformation. They even enjoy breaking the “rules” and forging entirely new pathways. Examples that leap to mind are Apple, Google, and Zappos.

These 4 P’s – Product, Policy, People, and Possibility are the predominant cultural archetypes we see in organizations around the world, not just in the United States. Next time you are out and about, pay attention and you will notice the predominant culture pretty quickly. You can also check out who is leading the culture to give you more insights.

Because it is common to find sub-cultures within the larger culture, it’s a good idea to look at the leader, her team, and the bigger system to see where they match, conflict, or compliment each other. Here’s a methodical way to do that.

To begin, let’s start with four examples from the C.A.T. scan, or Cultural Analysis Tool, and consider whether your organization is characterized more by:

  1. Teamwork and collaboration. Is it like family and is loyalty a big deal? Or…
  1. Innovation, autonomy, and risk taking. Is it like being in a start up all the time/Or…
  1. Competitiveness and achievement? Is it all about winning? Or is it…
  1. Structure, efficiency, control. Are rules a big deal?

Which one or more did you choose as main way we do things here for your organization? Was it People, Possibility, Product or Policy? Was it a combination? Which one didn’t you choose?

The point is – they are generally more obvious that you might have realized and fairly easy to diagnose with our C.A.T. scan. Go ahead, take your culture for a test-drive.

Logged-in Members may download our Culture Assessment Tool ‘C.A.T. Scan’, while non-members may download the resource by filling out form below:


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