Culture: Introduction

by Ron Potter

What is Culture?

A dictionary definition says “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an organization.”

We hear a lot about a corporate culture being toxic or exciting or siloed or productive.  But in my mind, many of those conditions have more to do with Teams and Leadership than they do with Culture.

If there is a toxic environment, that’s usually caused by poor leadership that is ego driven rather than humbly driven.

Exciting environments come from leaders and teams developing people to face difficulties and obstacles in innovative thoughtful ways that utilize the skills and experiences present.

Siloed environments happen when teams are unable to work through their difference and reach a committed direction or approach.

Productive environments exist when teams learn how to elegantly use the resources they have to get the most out of an organization in a simple way.

Focusing on “culture” doesn’t cure any of the identified difficulties or enhance any of the identified strengths.  Building better teams and leadership improves those issues.

So what should be looked at when we think about and measure culture?

Culture Model

I first met Dan Denison many years ago when he was completing his research on corporate culture at the University of Michigan.  One of the things that caught my attention right from the start was Dan’s purpose in finding those items that can be measured on a survey that actually impact the bottom-line performance of an organization.  I knew that would catch the interest of every senior corporate leader I was working with.  They are very bottom-line focused.  If Dan could demonstrate that certain parts of the environment or culture actually had an effect on financial performance, I knew we had a winner.

From that initial work, Dan has gone on to be Professor of Management and Organization at IMD – International Institute of Management Development in Switzerland as well as found and become CEO of Denison Consulting in Ann Arbor, MI.  I would encourage you to visit his website at

The Denison model identifies four quadrants with three subsets each.  In this blog, I’ll introduce the four quadrants and then go on to explore each one in more detail over the next few months.

Four Quadrants of Corporate Cultures

Mission – Adaptability – Involvement – Consistency

Much of the wording you’ll see to describe each of these quadrants come directly from the Denison materials.  I trust Dan will see that as flattery and not plagiarism.


“Do we know where we are going?”

High performing organizations have a mission that tells employees why they are doing the work they do, and how the work they do each day contributes to the why.


“Are we listening to the marketplace?”

High performing organizations have the ability to perceive and respond to the environment, customers, and restructure and re-institutionalize behaviors and processes that allow them to adapt.


“Are our people aligned and engaged?”

Highly involved organizations create a sense of ownership and responsibility.  Out of this sense of ownership grows a greater commitment to the organization and an increased capacity for autonomy.


“Does our system create leverage?”

Consistency provides a central source of integration, coordination, and control, and helps organizations develop a set of systems that create an internal system of governance based on consensual support.


Over the next several weeks I’ll break down each one of these four quadrants into their three subsets and share many experiences I’ve had through the years of companies that have improved over time.  Some of them have changed rapidly, others slowly but steadily and unfortunately some not at all.  But there always seemed to be reasons for the growth and development or lack thereof.  One thing that has been very clear, the growth and development that did or did not occur was caused by internal issues, not external environments.

Just as a reminder, these blogs will be our Thursday morning series.  Our Monday morning blogs will be less structured and disciplined and made up of issues and ideas that are striking me at the moment.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.  I’ve appreciated your loyalty and comments.  And don’t forget to share this connection with someone you know.  It will be more fun when we increase the size of our community.

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