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Dysfunctional culture, culture
dysfunctional organization
Capturing the behavioral norms that form
organizational culture and drive performance 709
Pierre A. Balthazard
School of Global Management and Leadership, Arizona State University,
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Robert A. Cooke
College of Business Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago,
Chicago, Illinois, USA, and
Richard E. Potter
Department of Information and Decision Sciences,
College of Business Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago,
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Purpose – This paper aims to describe how organizational culture is manifested in behavioral norms
and expectations, focusing on 12 sets of behavioral norms associated with constructive, passive/
defensive, and aggressive/defensive cultural styles.
Design/methodology/approach – The organizational culture inventory, a normed and validated
instrument designed to measure organizational culture in terms of behavioral norms and expectations,
was used to test hypotheses regarding the impact of culture. Data are summarized from 60,900
respondents affiliated with various organizations that have used the instrument to assess their cultures.
Also presented is a brief overview of a practitioner-led assessment of four state government
Findings – The results of correlational analyses illustrate the positive impact of constructive cultural
styles, and the negative impact of dysfunctional defensive styles, on both the individual- and
organizational-level performance drivers. The results clearly link the dysfunctional cultural styles to
deficits in operating efficiency and effectiveness.
Originality/value – The concept of organizational culture is derived from research in the field of
organizational behavior characterized by use of qualitative methods. Yet, one of the most powerful
strategies for organizational development is knowledge-based change, an approach that generally relies
on the use of quantitative measures. Although both methods share the potential for producing cumulative
bodies of information for assessment and theory testing, quantitative approaches may be more practical
for purposes of knowledge-based approaches for organizational development generally, and assessing
cultural prerequisites for organizational learning and knowledge management specifically.
Keywords Organizational culture, Organizational behaviour, Performance
Paper type Research paper

This paper is based on, and incorporates materials from, the Organizational Culture Inventoryw
with permission by the publisher, Human Synergistics International (USA). The authors extend
their appreciation to Dr Cheryl Boglarksy, Director of Research and Development at Human
Journal of Managerial Psychology
Synergistics’ Michigan office, for compiling the data set analyzed in this paper. OCI style Vol. 21 No. 8, 2006
descriptions and sample items are from Robert A. Cooke and J. Clayton Lafferty, Organizational pp. 709-732
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Culture Inventory, q Human Synergistics International, Plymouth MI USA. Copyright q 1987, 0268-3946
All Rights Reserved. Used by permission. DOI 10.1108/02683940610713253
JMP Introduction
21,8 The dysfunctional organization, much like a dysfunctional individual, is so
characterized because it exhibits markedly lower effectiveness, efficiency, and
performance than its peers or in comparison to societal standards. While
environmental considerations are important for individuals as well as organizations,
internal forces often play a more pivotal role. With the individual, this can be cognition.
710 With the organization, we contend, it is the culture. Consider the following two
examples that illustrate how an organization’s culture can foment dysfunction.
In the aftermath of the Columbia space shuttle accident, we learned (again) that
there were people inside NASA who were discussing critical information with each
other, but not with senior decision makers. This life-saving knowledge might have
saved the spaceship and its crew. Following the earlier Challenger accident, a nine-year
study of NASA’s standard operating procedures regarding risky decision-making – in
which technical anomalies were repeatedly considered to be of “acceptable risk” –
showed that the organizational culture created an environment in which conformity to
the rules led to the fatal errors (e.g. Vaughan, 1996, 2003). The causes of the Columbia
and Challenger disasters were not due to intentional managerial wrongdoing, safety
rule violations or any type of conspiracy. Rather, the nature of NASA’s organization
was such that the decisions to launch Challenger and land Columbia were inevitable –
and inevitable mistakes. NASA’s organizational culture, routines and systems are
designed to allow for a process of normalizing signals of potential danger. Thus,
known technical problems become an operating norm and did not prevent NASA
managers from giving the go-ahead to proceed with problematic operations (Vaughan,
1996, 2003).
Examining the multi-organization system that oversees the air travel industry, a
Gannet company investigation of the American Airlines Flight 587 crash in Belle
Harbor, New York, found widespread cultural and structural impediments at Airbus
Industrie, the National Transportation Safety Board, and American Airlines. Although
these information technology-intensive organizations are components of the nation’s
aviation safety system designed to prevent crashes by learning from close calls, the
system is dependent on airlines and aircraft manufacturers sharing their knowledge
and experience with the same federal regulators charged with their oversight (USA
Today, 2003). As critical and fundamental that knowledge sharing might be in an
organization, it is not safe to assume that it will occur unless it is a recognized norm or
expected behavior as part of the organization’s culture.
These two examples, and others like the more recent failures at the Federal
Emergency Management Administration, portray how elements of an organization’s
culture can lead to dysfunctional outcomes, even when those organizations are peopled
with earnest and capable members. In this paper we present a quantitative approach to
the assessment of organizational culture based on shared norms and behavioral
expectations at the individual and organizational-unit levels. Alternative patterns of
norms and expectations are associated with constructive, passive/aggressive, and
aggressive/defensive organizational culture styles, each associated with particularly
healthy or dysfunctional organizational drivers of performance. We discuss a
statistically normed and validated instrument and methodology that accurately
assesses the behavioral norms operating within an organization and is used to identify
the type of culture characterizing the organization. We present data from 60,900 Dysfunctional
respondents in the field along with a brief analysis, the results of which illustrate the culture
linkage between two dysfunctional organizational cultural styles and individual and
organizational-level performance drivers. We also present a brief overview of a
practitioner-led assessment of four state government departments and results that
clearly link dysfunctional cultures to deficits in operating efficiency and effectiveness.
Organizational culture
Organizational culture has been characterized as the “glue that holds organizations
together” (Goffee and Jones, 1996) and “isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the
game” (Gerstner, 2002). Culture can support linkages between technology adoption and
organizational growth (Chatman and Jehn, 1994); it can be a critical success factor in
implementing manufacturing strategy (Bates et al., 1995) and can play a crucial role in
determining the success or failure of mergers and acquisitions (Weber et al., 1996;
Javidan, 2001). On a more micro level, researchers have found significant relationships
between the “fit” of employees and the prevailing organizational culture and a number
of important outcomes such as job commitment and turnover (O’Reilly et al., 1991;
Kotter and Heskett, 1992).
But many unanswered questions remain regarding the meaning and content of
organizational culture (Black, 2003; Martin and Siehl, 1983; Louis, 1983), the methods
by which it should be measured (Cooke and Rousseau, 1983; Schein, 1984; Sashkin and
Fullmer, 1985) and, more fundamentally, the feasibility of managing culture and
change (e.g. Uffal, 1983; Collins and Porras, 1994), especially when attempting to
operationalize and attain specific organizational goals. While debates around these
issues continue, culture has been accepted as a “fact of organizational life” by
managers and has become an integral aspect of many organizational development
programs. Much of the research on organizational cultures has focused on descriptors
of culture and frequently resulted in dimensions or typologies of culture (Hanges and
Dickson, 2002; House et al., 2002; Kreitner and Kinicki, 1998; Schein, 1996; Hofstede
et al., 1993; Reichers and Schneider, 1990; O’Reilly, 1989). Certain types of
organizational cultures, or certain styles of cultures, have been associated with
either positive or negative outcomes for either the effectiveness of the organization (as
the introductory discussion of NASA and the American Airlines crash illustrate) or for
individual employees within the organization (Schein, 1996; Deal and Kennedy, 1982).
Positive outcomes for individual members of organizations potentially include
motivation and satisfaction (Cooke and Szurnal, 1993, 2000; O’Reilly, 1989) while
negative outcomes might include job insecurity and stress (Kahn et al., 1964; Katz and
Kahn, 1966, van der Velde and Class, 1995). In this paper, we link organizational
culture to measures of both individual and organizational outcomes.
The concept of organizational culture is derived from research in the field of
organizational behavior characterized by use of qualitative methods. To an extent, the
use of these methods derives from the issues of interest to scholars who have studied
culture in organizations: symbolism, sense-making, and socialization (e.g. Louis, 1980;
Martin and Siehl, 1983; Smircich, 1983), issues involving unique individual
perspectives highly amenable to qualitative study. Yet, one of the most powerful
strategies for organizational development is knowledge-based change, an approach
JMP that generally relies on the use of quantitative measures (e.g. Huse and Cummings,
21,8 1985; Nadler, 1977). Qualitative and quantitative methods are complementary
approaches to the study and assessment of organizational processes and attributes.
The advantages of qualitative methods include the use of the focal unit’s own terms to
describe itself, the intensive and in-depth information that can be obtained about a unit,
and the amenability of the method for exploratory research on issues and processes
712 about which little information exists.
Alternatively, the advantages of quantitative methods include the ease of
cross-sectional assessments and comparisons (across individuals, organizations, or
sub-units), the replicability of the assessment in different units and by other
researchers or organizational development professionals, and a common, articulated
frame of reference for interpreting the collated information. Although both methods
share the potential for producing cumulative bodies of information for assessment and
theory testing, quantitative approaches may be more practical for purposes of
knowledge-based approaches for organizational development generally, and assessing
cultural prerequisites for organizational learning and knowledge management
specifically. For instance, different subgroups within an organization, such as
departments or units, may have the organizational culture in common, but also
experience a subculture unique to the individuals within the unit (Trice, 1993; Cooke
and Rousseau, 1988). Shared values and expectations within such units exert pressures
leading to a localized variation of the organizational culture for members, and
ultimately affect the culture of the organization as a whole.

The organizational culture inventoryq

At the core of our study is the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI), a statistically
normed and validated survey used for organizational consulting and change purposes,
developed by Human Synergistics International (Cooke and Lafferty, 1987). The OCI is
a quantitative instrument that measures twelve sets of behavioral norms associated
with three general styles of organizational culture – constructive, passive/defensive,
and aggressive/defensive. Since its introduction in prototype form in 1983, the
inventory has been used by thousands of organizations and completed by over two
million respondents throughout the world. The instrument has been translated into
numerous languages – including French (Canadian and Parisian), Spanish (Castillian
and Latin American), German, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Swedish, Romanian, and
Korean – and is, arguably, the most globally used organizational culture assessment
instrument in the world. It has been administered for a variety of purposes, including
to direct, evaluate, and monitor organizational change (e.g. Gaucher and Kratochwill,
1993); identify and transfer the cultures of high performing units (Human Synergistics,
1986); study and enhance system reliability and safety (Haber et al., 1991; Shurberg and
Haber, 1992; Keenan et al., 1998); facilitate strategic alliances and mergers (Slowinski,
1992); promote collaborative relations within and across units (Leeds, 1999); and test
hypotheses on the relationship between culture and antecedent variables (Klein et al.,
1995a). This wide range of applications has produced an extensive information base
regarding the ways in which culture operates in different types of organizations.
The OCI measures 12 distinct but interrelated sets of behavioral norms and
expectations that describe the thinking and behavioral styles that might be implicitly
or explicitly required for people to “fit in” and “meet expectations” in an organization Dysfunctional
or sub-unit. The behavioral norms measured by the OCI are defined by two underlying culture
dimensions, the first of which distinguishes between a concern for people versus a
concern for tasks. The second dimension distinguishes between expectations for
behaviors directed toward fulfilling higher-order satisfaction needs versus those
directed toward protecting and maintaining lower-order security needs. Based on these
dimensions, the 12 sets of norms measured by the OCI are categorized into three 713
general “clusters” or styles of organizational cultures: constructive, passive/defensive,
and aggressive/defensive. Empirical support for these clusters, and therefore the
construct validity of the inventory, is provided by the results of principal components
analyses presented elsewhere (e.g. Cooke and Rousseau, 1988; Cooke and Szumal, 1993;
Xenikou and Furnham, 1996).
This focus on behavioral norms distinguishes the OCI from other questionnaires
which measure more global aspects of culture such as shared beliefs and values (e.g.
House et al., 2002; Deal and Kennedy, 1982; Sashkin, 1983). While norms and
expectations are closely related to beliefs and values, the former have a more direct
impact on the day-to-day activities and work situation of organizational members than
do the latter (Cooke and Rousseau, 1988). Thus, norms also have a relatively great
impact on individual and organizational outcomes and are potentially indicative of
environments that support organizational learning and knowledge management. In
short, by measuring norms and expectations, the OCI makes the concept of culture
somewhat less abstract and easier for organizational members to understand and

The OCI circumplex

The 12 sets of behavioral norms measured by the OCI are graphically represented
using a circumplex, a circular diagram on which the distance between behavioral
norms reflects their degree of similarity and correlation. The collection of behavioral
norms, and their placement around the circle, enables respondents to generate a holistic
and meaningful profile of the culture of their organizations (Guttman, 1954). The
behavioral norms measured by the OCI were identified and positioned around the
circumplex on the basis of the interpersonal personality system proposed by Leary
(1957) and research on personality by McClelland et al. (1953), Rogers (1961), Horney
(1954), and others. Developmental work was especially influenced by research on
human needs (e.g. Maslow, 1954, 1959) and the extensive body of literature on
leadership styles (e.g. Katz et al., 1959; Stodgill, 1963). As noted above, the location of
the behavioral norms on the circumplex is based on the extent to which they emphasize
a concern for people versus tasks (Katz et al., 1959; Stodgill, 1963) and promote
behaviors leading to the fulfillment of satisfaction versus security needs (Maslow,
1959, 1970). The norms on the right side of the OCI Circumplex reflect expectations for
behaviors that are people-oriented; those on the left side reflect expectations for
behaviors that are relatively task-oriented. Norms toward the top of the OCI
Circumplex promote behaviors that are directed toward the fulfillment of higher-order
satisfaction needs; those near the bottom promote behaviors directed toward the
fulfillment of lower-order security needs. As shown in Figure 1, each set of norms falls
into one of three groups representing the aggregate cultural styles.


Figure 1.
The Human Synergistics
OCI circumplex

The statistically-normed OCI Circumplex allows members of an organization to

compare their results to those of others who have completed the inventory. The bold
center ring on the OCI profile reflects the median score for each of the twelve sets. More
specifically, the concentric circles (from the center of the profile outward) represent the
10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th and 99th percentiles, or progressively stronger norms along
each of the 12 sets.

The impact of organizational culture

The culture of an organization is shaped by many factors – some of which can be
changed, and some of which might be intractable. Organizations adapt to their external
environments by designing responsive structures and systems, adopting relevant
technologies, and developing and harvesting members’ skills and qualities (Cooke and
Szumal, 2000). Though constrained by its environment, an organization makes a
number of “choices” which, collectively, eventually define its culture. These choices are
influenced by the philosophy of the organization, the values of top management, and Dysfunctional
the “assumptions” of founding principals and succeeding generations of organizational culture
leaders (Schein, 1983; Sathe, 1985). Beyond the assumptions held by leaders, their skills
and qualities (including their personal styles and leadership strategies) have a
profound impact on organizational culture. This impact can be positive and
transformational (e.g. Kouzes and Posner, 2002) – sending signals for
achievement-oriented and cooperative behaviors and thereby creating and 715
reinforcing a constructive culture. However, this impact can alternatively be
negative and dysfunctional (e.g. Kets de Vries and Miller, 1986; Litzky et al., 2006) –
implicitly requiring passive and aggressive behaviors and creating a defensive culture.
Our model of the role of organizational culture (see Figure 2) proposes a causal
chain –from antecedents, to culture, through to outcomes –that is consistent with
earlier models developed for the OCI (Cooke, 1989; Cooke and Szurnal, 2000) and the
parallel work of Kilmann et al. (1985). Our model is also consistent with more recent
work on organizational culture and related constructs, exemplified by the writings of
Collins and Porras (1994), Lawler (1996), Ulrich (1997), and Pfeffer and Sutton (2000).
The conceptual and theoretical frameworks that most closely correspond to those
developed for the OCI (Cooke, 1989) perhaps are those proposed by Kotter and Heskett
(1992). Their descriptive and retrospective study of the effects of “adaptive” versus
“non-adaptive” cultures on problem solving, innovation, and organizational
performance lend some independent support for the OCI model and the proposition
that constructive (as opposed to defensive) norms lead to organizational effectiveness.
Though organizational effectiveness is influenced by a myriad of factors, we posit
that the norms quantified by the OCI have an impact that is discernable and
significant. Specifically, strong norms for constructive behaviors should lead to
desirable outcomes and should minimize undesirable outcomes. Constructive norms
promote achievement-oriented and cooperative behaviors which should promote
individual-level outcomes such as satisfaction, organizational outcomes including

Figure 2.
The organizational
culture –performance
driver relationship
JMP quality of service, and ultimately knowledge management processes. Conversely,
21,8 expectations for defensive behaviors should have the opposite impact according to our
model of how culture works. Defensive norms create pressures for dependent and
avoidant (passive) and/or power-oriented and internally competitive styles (aggressive)
and, in turn, are dysfunctional for both the organization and its members. Specifically,
targeting outcomes at the level of organizational members, we predict:
H1a. Constructive cultural norms will be positively related to individual outcomes
such as role clarity, communication quality, organizational fit and job
satisfaction and negatively related to members’ comfort with those norms.
H2a. Defensive cultural norms (both passive and aggressive) will be negatively
related to individual outcomes such as role clarity, communication quality,
organizational fit and job satisfaction and positively related to members’
comfort with those norms.
Similar patterns of relationships have been found between the OCI culture styles and
individual outcomes, including stress (van der Velde and Class, 1995) and member
satisfaction (McDaniel and Stumpf, 1995; Rousseau, 1990; Klein et al., 1995b). Further
insight into the impact of operating cultures on employees is provided by other studies
that have incorporated the OCI instrument. For example, Haley (1998) found that
constructive norms were positively associated with affective commitment (that is,
commitment based on emotional attachment to the organization). On the other hand,
Lahiry (1994) found that defensive norms (particularly passive/defensive) were
positively related to continuance commitment (that is, people staying with their
organizations because they feel that the costs of leaving are relatively great). In another
study, Weidner (1997) observed a significant and positive relationship between
constructive norms and the trust of hospital personnel in their supervisors and the
Quality of customer service is a commonly measured organizational outcome in
studies of culture. The need for organizations to gain greater knowledge of their
cultures to not only improve customer service and preserve customer loyalty but also
increase revenue streams has never been stronger. Klein et al. (1995a) analyses suggest
that a positive outlook, combined with employees’ perceptions of control led to
improved customer service. Quality of customer service has also been considered in a
number of cultural analyses of health care organizations (e.g. Shortell et al., 1991;
Komoski-Goeffert, 1994; Haley, 1998; Gillett and Stenfer-Kroese, 2003). Haley (1998) is
particularly interesting in that it included patient satisfaction data and other quality
indicators (e.g. “untoward events” such as medication error rates and patient falls).
Consistent with her hypotheses and our model, patient satisfaction was positively
related to humanistic (constructive) norms and negatively related to Dependent
(passive/defensive) norms. However, rates of medication errors and patient falls
unexpectedly appeared to be higher in units with constructive cultures and lower in
units with defensive cultures. Based on qualitative data collected on the units and
previous research on the discrepancies between the number of untoward events that
actually occur in hospitals and the number that are reported, Haley (1998) proposed
that constructive norms encourage and permit nurses to report problems; in contrast,
defensive norms may impede organizational transparency by forcing members to look Dysfunctional
good and please those in positions of authority. culture
Beyond quality of service, cross-sectional studies on culture have considered a
number of other organizational-level outcomes (Szumal, 1998). A post-hoc analysis of
OCI data on supermarkets (Human Synergistics, 1986) showed that Achievement
(constructive) norms were positively related to sales per square foot of selling space as
well as to subjective measures of store effectiveness. Klein (1992) found a significant 717
relationship between the strength of constructive norms and sales growth in a study of
apparel stores. Thornbury’s (1994) study of 17 units of four European companies
showed that effectiveness in dealing with change was positively related to constructive
norms and negatively related to passive/defensive norms. Rousseau (1990) study of
multiple units of a large fund – raising organization demonstrated that
passive/defensive norms were negatively related to the generation of revenues.
Evidence that the norms measured by the OCI are causally related to organizational
performance is also provided by cultural change programs that have been evaluated
longitudinally (Dale, 1997; Human Synergistics, 1998; Sarkis et al., 1992; United Auto
Workers, 1990; Workforce, 1998). Such programs were designed to bring about cultural
change and performance improvements by means of interventions directed at systems,
structures, technologies, and/or members’ skills. Although not based on controlled
experimental designs, these practitioner-led field studies lend support to the notion that
culture has an impact on effectiveness.
Considered together, there is considerable evidence that culture is directly related to
organizational-level performance drivers, many of which bear directly on efficiency
and effectiveness, and conversely, to dysfunctional consequences. The present study
examines a number of these relationships. Consistent with the studies cited above:
H1b. Constructive cultural norms will be positively related to organizational
outcomes such as commitment to customer service, perceived quality of
products and services, organizational adaptability and quality of the
workplace and negatively related to members’ intention to leave the
H2b. Defensive cultural norms (both passive and aggressive) will be negatively
related with organizational outcomes such as commitment to customer
service, perceived quality of products and services, organizational
adaptability and quality of the workplace and positively related to
members’ intentions to leave the organization.
To test our hypotheses, we present a secondary analysis of data provided by members
of organizations using the OCI and a case study comparison of four state government
departments involved in an organizational change program.

We analyzed data provided by 60,900 individuals whose Organizational Culture
Inventory (OCI) questionnaires were scored by the Michigan office of Human
Synergistics International between 2001 and the second quarter of 2004. These
JMP respondents represent a small but significant subset of OCI respondents in the field –
21,8 specifically, those affiliated with client organizations that requested from this
particular office a comprehensive computer-generated report on their culture. (Most of
the surveys are self-scored or processed by the other offices of Human Synergistics.)
The broad sample represents the demographics of organizations in America in terms of
gender, age, ethnicity, education, organizational type, profession/occupations of
718 respondents, and organizational or managerial level.
The number of men and women in the sample was roughly equal: 54 percent male, 46
percent female. Respondents’ ethnicity was predominantly White/Caucasian (83 percent)
with 7 percent identifying themselves as Black/African American, 4 percent as Asian,
and 4 percent as Hispanic. Approximately 2 percent of the respondents identified
themselves as “other” or opted not to respond to the question regarding ethnicity. The
respondents ranged in age from 20 to over 60. The modal age range was 40 to 49,
comprising 33 percent of the sample, with those between 30 and 39 comprising the next
largest segment at 29 percent of the sample. A majority (82 percent) indicated at least
some college education, with 48 percent holding a Bachelor’s or higher-level degree. The
participants identified themselves as members of various types of organizations
[including manufacturing (22 percent), transportation/distribution (13 percent), financial
and insurance (11 percent), health care (8 percent), public sector (7 percent), retail (6
percent), educational (6 percent), and non-profits (3 percent), among others] and
occupations [including general management (18 percent), engineering (11 percent),
administrative and clerical (9 percent), production (7 percent), sales (6 percent), direct
labor (4 percent), among others]. The sample consists of respondents at all organizational
levels, including non-management (55 percent), line management (13 percent), middle
management (16 percent), senior management (5 percent), executive/senior
vice-president (1.4 percent), CEO/president (0.4 percent), and owner (0.3 percent).

Independent variables
The OCI contains 96 items designed to produce 12 scales of eight items each. Each item
describes a behavior or personal style that might be expected of members of an
organization. On a scale of 1 to 5, respondents are asked to indicate the extent to which
each behavior is expected or implicitly required (of them and people like themselves) in
their organization. Responses to the items associated with the scales are summed to
derive estimates of the strength of each of the 12 behavioral norms within the
organization. Descriptions of the 12 cultural norms measured by the OCI, along with
illustrative items, are provided below:
(1) 1 o’clock position: A Hurnanistic-encouraging culture characterizes
organizations that are managed in a participative and people-centered way.
Members are expected to be supportive,constructive, and open to influence in
their dealings with one another. (Helping others to grow and develop; taking
time with people.)
(2) 2 o’clock position: An Affiliative culture characterizes organizations that place a
high priority on constructive interpersonal relationships. Members are expected
to be friendly, open, and sensitive to the satisfaction of their work group.
(Dealing with others in a friendly way, sharing feelings and thoughts.)
(3) 3 o’clock position: An Approval culture describes organizations in which Dysfunctional
conflicts are avoided and interpersonal relationships are pleasant – at least culture
superficially. Members feel that they should agree with, gain the approval of,
and be liked by others. (Making sure people accept you; “going along” with
(4) 4 o’clock position: A Conventional culture is descriptive of organizations that are
conservative, traditional, and bureaucratically controlled. Members are
expected to conform, follow the rules, and make a good impression. (Always
following policies and practices; fitting into the “mold”.)
(5) 5 o’clock position: A Dependent culture is descriptive of organizations that are
hierarchically controlled and non-participative. Centralized decision making in
such organizations leads members to do only what they are told and to clear all
decisions with superiors. (Pleasing those in positions of authority, doing what is
(6) 6 o’clock position: An avoidance culture characterizes organizations that fail to
reward success but nevertheless punish mistakes. This negative reward system
leads members to shift responsibilities to others and avoid any possibility of
being blamed for a mistake. (Waiting for others to act first, taking few chances.)
(7) 7 o’clock position: An oppositional culture describes organizations in which
confrontation prevails and negativism is rewarded. Members gain status and
influence by being critical and thus are reinforced to oppose the ideas of others
and to make safe (but ineffectual) decisions. (Pointing out flaws; being hard to
(8) 8 o’clock position: A power culture is descriptive of non-participative
organizations structured on the basis of the authority inherent in members’
positions. Members believe they will be rewarded for taking charge, controlling
subordinates and, at the same time, being responsive to the demands of superiors.
(Building up one’s power base; motivating others any way necessary.)
(9) 9 o’clock position: A competitive culture is one in which winning is valued and
members are rewarded for out-performing one another. People in such
operations operate in a “win-lose” framework and believe they must work
against (rather than with) their peers to be noticed. (Turning the job into a
contest, never appearing to lose.)
(10) 10 o’clock position: A Perfectionistic culture characterizes organizations in
which perfectionism, persistence, and hard work are valued. Members feel they
must avoid all mistakes, keep track of everything, and work long hours to attain
narrowly-defined objectives. (Doing things perfectly, keeping on top of
(11) 11 o’clock position: An Achievement culture characterizes organizations that do
things well and value members who set and accomplish their own goals.
Members of these organizations set challenging but realistic goals, establish
plans to reach these goals, and pursue them with enthusiasm. (Pursuing a
standard of excellence; openly showing enthusiasm.)
JMP (12) 12 o’clock position: A Self-actualization culture characterizes organizations that
21,8 value creativity, quality over quantity, and both task accomplishment and
individual growth. Members of these organizations are encouraged to gain
enjoyment from their work, develop themselves, and take on new and
interesting activities. (Thinking in unique and independent ways; doing even
simple tasks well.)
As stated earlier, empirical evidence for the internal consistency of the 12 scales and
their association with three different types of cultures (and therefore the construct
validity of the OCI) is provided by the results of reliability and principal components
analyses presented elsewhere (e.g. Cooke and Rousseau, 1988; Cooke and Szurnal, 1993;
Xenikou and Furnham, 1996). Means, standard deviation, and Cronbach alpha
coefficients for each scale, based on the current sample, are offered in Table I. The table
indicates that the mean scores for the four constructive styles (achievement,
self-actualizing, humanistic-encouraging, and affiliative) are higher than those for the
eight defensive styles. Since social desirability biases (i.e. the tendency to endorse
positive or desirable items and descriptions) can operate with respect to the former
items and scales, the circumplex profiles on which results are plotted are normatively
scaled to correct for such effects.

Cronbach Standard
Constructs Measurement items/first 2 order constructs n alpha Mean deviation

Constructive (CC1) Humanistic 2 encouraging scale (e.g. 59,878 0.91 3.28 1.30
culture: “help others to grow and develop”)
(CC2) Affiliative scale (e.g. “use good human 60,690 0.91 3.53 1.26
relations skills”)
(CC3) Achievement scale (e.g. “work on self-set 60,323 0.85 3.41 1.21
(CC4) Self-actualizing scale (e.g. “emphasize 60,005 0.80 3.00 1.32
quality over quantity”)
Passive (PC1) Approval scale (e.g. “switch properties 59,985 0.80 2.71 2.01
culture: to please others”)
(PC2) Conventional scale (e.g. “rules more 60,246 0.84 3.10 1.36
important than ideas”)
(PC3) Dependent scale (e.g. “do what is 60,391 0.83 3.23 1.36
(PC4) Avoidance scale (e.g. “take a few 59,869 0.86 2.36 1.40
Aggressive (AC1) Oppositional scale (e.g. “look for 59,589 0.73 2.40 1.17
culture: mistakes”)
(AC2) Power scale (e.g. “use the authority of 59,829 0.85 2.61 1.51
Table I. their position”)
Constructs, example (AC3) Competitive scale (e.g. “turn the job into 59,946 0.85 2.51 1.51
items, scale reliability, contest”)
means and standard (AC4) Perfectionistic scale (e.g. “never make a 60,199 0.77 3.01 1.34
deviations mistake”)
Dependent variables Dysfunctional
The OCI includes a set of supplementary items that assess some of the outcomes of culture
culture, many of which can drive the performance and long-term effectiveness of an
organization. Results along these items provide clients with initial insights as to
whether culture change should be considered and in what direction such change should
take place. These items, which assess five outcomes pertaining to individual members
and five pertaining to the organization, are used here to test our hypotheses. 721
At the individual level, the most immediate drivers are the thinking and behavioral
styles exhibited by organizational members. Although it is imperative for all members
to be socialized into the culture, when organizational norms and expectations are weak
or inconsistent, their impact on members’ personal styles will be minimal and members
will report ambiguous roles and norms (Katz and Kahn, 1966). In contrast,
organizations with strong, positive cultures and/or effective cultural change programs
reinforce the targeted behaviors. People who “fit in” will become a node on the network
and gain influence; and those who do not will be disconnected and might eventually
leave. Those who do not fit in but stay will experience “person/norm conflict,” a source
of stress resulting from inconsistencies between personal predispositions and the
demands of the situation. Based on the work of Katz and Kahn (1966) on role conflict,
the following individual-level measures were included in the OCI (response options
ranged along a five-point Likert scale from (1) not at all to (5) to a very great extent):
. Role clarity: The extent to which organizational members know what is expected
of them.
Communication quality: The extent to which organizational members exchange
clear and consistent messages regarding what is expected.
“Fit” with organization: The extent organizational members comfortably “fit in”
the organization.
Behavioral conformity: The extent to which organizational members are required
to think and behave differently than otherwise would be the case (person/norm
Job satisfaction: The extent to which organizational members report positive
appraisals of their work situation.

Performance drivers at the organizational or sub-unit level, while less direct and more
difficult to establish, are nevertheless important to consider. Some of these drivers are
due to the aggregated effects of norms and expectations on individual members. For
example, “quality of workplace” should be higher in organizations with Constructive
cultures than in those with defensive cultures. Similarly, turnover (based on members’
intentions to leave) should be lower in the former organizations than in the latter. The
positive drivers translate into members exercising more control at various levels of the
organization, making better decisions, and more effectively implementing decisions
and solutions. Low levels of these drivers, and intentions to leave, represent a focus on
self-protection rather than organizational goals, insularity rather than cooperation and
coordination, and rigidity as opposed to adaptability. The following
organizational-level measures were collected (response options again ranged along a
five-point Likert scale ranging from (1) not at all to (5) to a very great extent):
Quality of products/services: The extent to which members evaluate positively
21,8 the quality of their organization’s products or services.
Commitment to customer service: The extent to which members make sure
customers feel good about the service provided by the organization.
Adaptability: The extent to which the organization responds effectively to the
722 changing needs of its customers.
Turnover: The extent to which members expect to leave the organization within
two years.
Quality of workplace: The extent to which members appraise their organization
as a good place to work.

Correlations were run between the twelve cultural norms and the dependent variables
to test the hypotheses. The results, shown in Table II, support our hypotheses.
Constructive cultural norms are positively and significantly associated with members’
reports regarding role clarity, quality of communication, “fit,” and job satisfaction.
Constructive norms are negatively related to members’ reports of behavioral
conformity. Conversely, expectations for defensive behaviors (passive and aggressive)
are negatively associated with role clarity, communication quality, “fit,” and job
satisfaction and are positively associated with behavioral conformity.
Examining the drivers of organizational performance (Table III), constructive
norms are positively associated with quality of products and services, commitment to
customer service, adaptability, and the quality of the workplace. Constructive norms
are also negatively related to turnover intentions. Conversely, expectations for
defensive behaviors are negatively related to quality of products and services,

Role Communication “Fit” with Behavioral Job

clarity quality organization conformity satisfaction

Constructive: Humanistic-
encouraging 0.43* 0.33* 0.48* 20.25* 0.53*
Affiliative 0.43* 0.29* 0.45* 20.23* 0.50*
Achievement 0.42* 0.28* 0.43* 20.20* 0.48*
actualization 0.42* 0.28* 0.46* 20.20* 0.52*
Passive: Approval 20.16* 20.31* 20.20* 0.31* 20.20*
Conventional 20.17* 20.37* 20.27* 0.33* 20.29*
Dependent 20.16* 20.35* 20.25* 0.30* 20.27*
Avoidance 20.36* 20.45* 20.39* 0.40* 20.42*
Aggressive: Oppositional 20.13* 20.27* 20.17* 0.29* 20.17*
Power 20.24* 20.38* 20.31* 0.37* 20.33*
Competitive 20.15* 20.29* 20.20* 0.31* 20.19*
Table II. Perfectionistic 20.03* 20.26* 20.11* 0.26* 20.14*
Correlations between Number of
organizational culture respondents 60,742 60,693 60,615 60,531 60,670
and individual
performance drivers Note: * Significant p , 0.01
Quality of Quality of
products/ customer Quality of culture
services service Adaptability Turnover workplace

Constructive: Humanistic-
encouraging 0.46* 0.40* 0.42* 20.31* 0.54*
Affiliative 0.46* 0.41* 0.40* 20.30* 0.50* 723
Achievement 0.46* 0.39* 0.40* 20.29* 0.48*
actualization 0.44* 0.41* 0.42* 20.30* 0.52*
Passive: Approval 20.14* 20.08* 20.12* 0.13* 20.20*
Conventional 20.19* 20.12* 20.18* 0.14* 20.30*
Dependent 20.17* 20.12* 20.16* 0.13* 20.29*
Avoidance 20.37* 20.28* 20.33* 0.25* 20.42*
Aggressive: Oppositional 20.17* 20.09* 20.10* 0.12* 20.17*
Power 20.26* 20.20* 20.23* 0.20* 20.34*
Competitive 20.13* 20.08* 20.11* 0.14* 20.19*
Perfectionistic 20.04* 0.00 20.04* 0.08* 20.14* Table III.
Number of Correlations between
respondents: 60,334 60,391 60,578 60,532 60,651 organizational culture
and organizational
Note: * Significant p , 0.01 performance drivers

commitment to customer service, adaptability and quality of the workplace and

positively related to intention to leave.
The results presented in Tables III and IV clearly demonstrate the relationships that
exist between the OCI cultural styles and performance drivers. Although correlations do
not imply causation, the results suggest that impacting on one variable may cause
another to change. This is a key underlying tenet of any cultural transformation
initiative. As the culture-outcome frameworks presented here and elsewhere (Cooke and
Szurnal, 2000) suggest, alignment of the organization’s structure, systems, technology,

Success predictors Dept. 1 Dept. 2 Dept. 3 Dept. 4

Individual outcomes: Role clarity C C C C

Communication quality C B C B
“Fit” with organization B A B C
Behavioral conformity C B C C
Job satisfaction C C C C
Organizational outcomes: Quality of prod./serv. C C C C
Commitment to customer service C C C C
Adaptability B A C B
Turnover B C B A
Quality of workplace C B C C
Totals: 0 “A” 2 “A” 0 “A” 1 “A”
3 “B” 3 “B” 2 “B” 2 “B”
7 “C” 5 “C” 8 “C” 7 “C” Table IV.
Notes: “A” ¼ at or better than the constructive benchmark; “B” ¼ at or better than the historic performance driver
average; “C” ¼ not as good as the historical average and constructive benchmark scorecard
JMP and skills/qualities with organizational values, philosophy, and mission is critical. This
alignment cannot be assumed or taken for granted, as the following results illustrate:
21,8 .
Of the respondents, 11 percent in the current sample report little or no role
Only 55 percent of respondents feel they “fit in” as members of their
724 .
A total of 27 percent of respondents do not believe that their organization adapts
to the changing needs of their customers;
Only 11 percent would not recommend their organization to potential customers;
A total of 17 percent of respondents are dissatisfied being a member of their
current organization;
Of the respondents, 21 percent would not recommend their organization as a
good place to work.

The case of four state departments

A state government involved in an organizational change initiative administered the
OCI to members of four different departments to generate baseline data on their
cultures. Their results are presented here to demonstrate how the OCI can be used to
evaluate operating efficiency and effectiveness. The results also illustrated, for the
client organization, that the more effective departments established systems,
structures and skills and qualities (particularly at the leadership level) that
promoted more Constructive and less defensive cultures.
The departments’ OCI results are plotted on the circumplex discussed above. Styles
at the top of the diagram (11 o’clock to 2 o’clock positions) are constructive; styles
toward the lower right (3 o’clock to 6 o’clock positions) are passive/defensive; and
styles toward the lower right (7 o’clock to 10 o’clock positions) are
aggressive/defensive. As noted earlier, the bold ring (3rd ring from the center)
identifies the 50th percentile. Scores above this ring are higher than those for the
median organizations; scores below are lower than the median. The styles that are the
most extended from the center of the circumplex are those that best describe the
departments’ current operating cultures.
Figure 3 shows that Department 3 has the most defensive and least constructive
culture of the four departments. On Department 3’s profile, seven of the eight defensive
styles extend beyond the 50th percentile and all four of the constructive styles hover
around the 25th percentile. More specifically, the culture of Department 3 is
passive/defensive, with avoidance and conventional behaviors as the dominant norms.
Department 2 has the least defensive culture of the four. While all the other
departments exhibit at least three defensive styles at or above the 50th percentile,
Department 2 has only two such styles at or above the 50th percentile. In addition, only
Department 2 has a constructive style (achievement) as one of its two most extended
behavioral norms. While Department 4’s profile shows extensions in the constructive
cluster that are even greater than some of those shown in Department 2’s profile, its
strongest cultural norms overall are passive/defensive. Based on these OCI profiles and
our research model, we would expect Department 2 to perform the most favorably and
Department 3 to perform the least favorably in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.


Figure 3.
OCI profiles of four state

A scorecard of the departments’ operating efficiency and effectiveness was constructed

by comparing each department’s outcomes to the “Historical Averages” (based on over
1,000 organizational units) and “Constructive Benchmarks” (based on 172
organizational units with predominantly constructive cultures as measured by the
OCI). The Historical Average describes the results achieved by the average
organization whereas the constructive benchmark defines the results attained by the
most constructive and effective organizations in the norming sample. These
comparisons are shown in Table IV. Departments received an “A” in areas where
their results are the same or better than the constructive benchmark, a “B” where their
results are the same as or better than the Historical Average (but not at the level of the
Constructive Benchmark), and a “C” where their results are less favorable than both the
Historical Average and constructive benchmark.
JMP Consistent with the research model, Department 3 (which has the most defensive
21,8 and least constructive culture) is the least efficient and effective of the four
departments. Of the ten outcomes measured, Department 3 scored at or better than
average along only two outcomes – turnover and “fit” with the organization. Also
consistent with expectations, Department 2 (which has the least defensive culture) is
the most effective and efficient of the departments surveyed. Of the ten measures,
726 Department 2 scored at or better than the constructive benchmark along two outcomes
(“fit” and adaptability) and at or better than the Historical Average along three other
outcomes (behavioral conformity, communication quality, and quality of the

Results of this study, including the secondary analysis of over 60,000 respondents and
the comparison of four state government departments involved in an organizational
change initiative, illustrate how the OCI can be used to understand the relationship of
an organization’s culture to its efficiency and effectiveness. The correlations observed
between organizational culture and a set of performance drivers were consistent with
our predictions. Also consistent with our model, the governmental department with the
least defensive and most constructive culture was more effective in more areas than the
other departments. Similarly, the department with the most defensive culture exhibited
the weakest performance drivers.
More generally, results of the study indicate that normative beliefs and shared
behavioral expectations are quantifiable and can be used as indicators of an
organization’s or department’s culture. In contrast to the traditional use of qualitative
assessments in the study of culture (e.g. Martin and Siehl, 1983), quantitative methods
facilitate large-scale studies of organizations and their sub-units, replication, and
triangulation of other forms of assessment. Results of this study further suggest that
quantitatively assessed behavioral norms and expectations can supplement the
qualitative study of more semiotic facets of organizational culture.
Beyond facilitating the research process, quantitative devices such as the OCI have
important advantages for organization development interventions and other programs
directed toward system-wide change. Culture interventions based solely on qualitative
data collection techniques tend to be broad, and from the focal organization’s
perspective, often somewhat vague. By bringing significantly more structure to the
assessment, survey instruments like the OCI can reduce uncertainty on the part of the
focal organization and possibly improve upon its dysfunctional nature by decreasing
resistance among members to organization development and change. This resistance
can be strong given that members of organizations with aggressive/defensive cultures
are likely to challenge any type of feedback (oppositional and perfectionistic norms)
and members of organizations with passive/defensive cultures may question their
ability to effect any type of change (dependent and avoidance norms).
From the perspective of a practitioner seeking to oversee or manage the change
processes, quantitative assessments of culture such as those made possible by the OCI
can be extremely valuable. A culture analysis can identify distinct differences across
sub-units and levels, and offer specific information on features of corporate culture,
especially subgroup norms and behavior patterns, not readily available from more
global assessments. As with the government agency discussed above, departmental Dysfunctional
profiles can identify the subcultures of high-performing units, lead to an analysis of the culture
managerial styles and related factors reinforcing those subcultures, and facilitate a
“transfer” of those levers to other units. In more extreme (and negative) cases,
departmental profiles can alert managers and consultants to dysfunctional subcultures
that may be leading to paranoid and avoidant thinking (Kets de Vries and Miller, 1986),
corrupt and unethical decisions (Anand et al., 2004), or unduly perfectionistic and 727
“addictive” behaviors (Schaef and Fassel, 1988).
Finally, while the OCI is often administered on-line or through the use of
machine-scored forms, the survey is also available as a self-scored inventory. In our
experience, participants in culture assessments respond very favorably to the
self-scoring feature of the OCI, which allows them to get immediate feedback on how
they as individuals view the behavioral norms within their organization or sub-unit.
This feedback not only facilitates the process of debriefing participants, but also
involves them in discussion and interpretation of their profiles in comparison to those
of other respondents, a feature useful in both validating and making sense of the data
the OCI provides. In this manner, cultural assessment and interpretation can be both
public and participative, thereby promoting perceived legitimacy, commitment to
change, and battling dysfunctional behavior.

Political and social realities shape all forms of human conduct within and between
organizations and their partners. Regardless of professionalism and professed or
assumed goal sharing or congruency, organizational members may not behave in ways
that promote efficiency and effectiveness if doing so is inconsistent with their reference
prevailing culture. Within any organization there may be a variety of cultures, shaped
by characteristic differences in professional orientation, status, history, power,
visibility, or other factors. In this paper we have shown that understanding these
cultures in terms of expected behaviors and norms can explain why some
organizational units (or the entire organization) exhibit dysfunctional behaviors that
are counter to the organization’s expressed values or mission, and which hamper
efficiency and effectiveness. We have also presented a validated technology for cultural
assessment that can be used at many levels, from individual to enterprise, which
identifies these underlying cultural components. Clearly, fixing dysfunctional
organizations requires first and foremost insights into the relatively tangible aspects
of their culture that is reflected in the behaviors that members believe are expected of

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Further reading
Tannenbaum, A.S. (1968), Control in Organizations, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.

Corresponding author
Pierre A. Balthazard can be contacted at:

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