The Competing Values Framework

Developed by Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron in 1983.

Provides a proven, validated, time-tested way to understand and quantify your organization's culture so that you can plot a course from current culture to desired culture – a culture that's more appropriate for your organization's goals.

What Is It?

Quinn and Cameron developed the framework by studying the critical indicators of successful organizations. Their research led them to focus on two dimensions of organizational culture:

  • 1) Internal vs. External Focus
  • 2) Stability vs. Flexibility

These two dimensions create the heart of the framework and illustrate the idea that the right culture for you and your market should be an intentional choice.

The diagram below provides a high-level understanding of the two dimensions and the resulting culture types in green, yellow, red, and blue below.

Culture Types

Every organization exhibits some level of each of the 4 culture types (they are not mutually exclusive). You may even find that some function in your organization exhibits one type while other parts of your organization another type.

Collaborate Culture

Collaborate cultures focuses on the relationships between people in the organization. They seek to ensure that everyone loves their work and loves working with each other – often creating the feel of a large family. Startups and small businesses often exhibit this type of culture and progress through a well described pattern of the other three types as they mature.

Characterized by unity amongst the team, Collaborate cultures focus on smooth operations and clear communications for creating customer value.

Control Culture

Control culture focuses on doing the right things and doing them correctly. They tend to be formal and maintain a structured work environment in an effort to minimize mistakes and maintain order. These cultures are very "top-down" in nature.

Characterized by hierarchy, Control cultures create value by repeating processes that are both well-defined and based on deep learning from past experiences.

Create Culture

Create cultures focus on empowering employees to make their own decisions by socializing a deep understanding of mission, vision, etc. Often characterized by risk-taking, these types of organizations reward individuals who take the initiative to tackle new things and they celebrate learning, even if an initiative fails.

Characterized by innovation these types of companies create value by quickly adapting to the customer at all levels in the organization.

Compete Culture

Compete Culture focuses on their perception in the eyes of their customer and competition. This culture tends to elevate results and winning. Highly driven, Compete cultures fight for victory externally (vs. competitors) and internally (vs. each other).

Characterized by continuous innovation, with a deep focus on customer need, Compete cultures create value by striving to out-do the competition.

"Competing" Values

Further research by Quinn, Cameron, and others yielded significant insights regarding the competing nature of the values each type of organization holds. Two high-level examples below illustrate the way the values each type of culture compete with each other.

Collaborate Culture vs. Compete Culture

The family-oriented feel of Collaborate cultures, which create great employee experiences challenges the deeply competitive nature of Compete cultures.

This is why companies with Collaborate cultures sometimes struggle to achieve significant growth and why companies with Compete cultures sometimes struggle to create the sense of a team on a mission. in this area

Create Culture vs. Control Culture

The freedom and flexibility of a Create culture, which is required for breakthrough innovation, directly confronts the standards and practices of the Control culture that ensures consistent results.

This is why companies with Control cultures sometimes struggle to innovate and why companies with Create cultures sometimes struggle to provide consistent experiences.

Quantifying Culture

The Competing Values Framework provides a simple assessment for quantifying organizational culture. Quantifying culture makes it more tangible and more easily discussed.

How It Works

Through a short survey, leaders obtain a deep understanding of the mix of culture types in your organization. As mentioned previously, every organization exhibits some aspect of each of the four cultures. The goal of the survey is to find the relative weights of each of the 4 types. The brief survey quantifies those levels for the current culture and also asks for perspective on the preferred culture.

With both the current and the preferred culture well understood, leaders can begin the process of moving from their current culture type to the one that's more appropriate for their organization's goals.

Peter Drucker famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast and finally, we have a tool – The Competing Values Framework – that provides a powerful understanding of culture. By quantifying your current culture, understanding your goals, and defining the type of culture you need to establish in order to effectively meet those goals, you are well on your way to growing your business.

More Information

Cameron, K. S. & Quinn, R. E. (2005). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework. John Wiley & Sons.