Organizational Culture Basics: The OCAI Assessment and the Competing Values Framework

Organizational Culture Basics: The OCAI Assessment and the Competing Values Framework

Organizational culture is an incredibly powerful thing. Didn't someone say that "culture eats strategy for breakfast," after all? (Hmm, who was that? Oh, a quick web search tells us it was management consultant Peter Drucker).

And that's why we've begun writing this series of articles about organizational culture that we're calling Organizational Culture Basics. In the previous article, the first in the series we gave a definition of culture and introduced Edgar Schein's three-level model of organizational culture based on "observability." If you haven't read that first article, it may be worth your time to read it before you read this one, although that isn't necessary and this one stands on its own as well.

In this article, we're going to introduce you to a survey called the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, or OCAI, and then explain how the results of that survey can be plotted on a grid using the Competing Values Framework, in each case drawing from the book Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework by Kim Cameron & Robert Quinn.

Please share your own insights and experiences in the comments below this article.

Before We Begin: A Note on Multi-Level Cultural Analysis Models

In the earlier article in this series, we mentioned that Schein suggested studying organizational culture by separating the elements of the culture into three levels based on how easily an outsider could observe them. In order from most observable to least, the three levels Schein discussed were:

  • Artifacts
  • Espoused values and beliefs
  • Underlying assumptions

We won't get into this too deeply in this article, but we thought it was worth letting you know that Cameron and Quinn have a similar model them recommend in their book. Their model is also based on levels of observability, and the primary difference is that Cameron and Quinn include four levels instead of the three in Schein's model. The four levels in Cameron & Quinn are, again presented from top-to-bottom in order of most observable to least observable:

  • Explicit behaviors
  • Artifacts
  • Conscious contracts and norms
  • Implicit assumptions

So check out the Cameron & Quinn book if you want a deep dive on that, but we did want to give you the head's up on the similarities and small differences as well.

The Organizational Cultural Assessment Instrument (OCAI)

The OCAI is a survey. It can be completed by one person, by the members of a management team, or by an even greater number of people in the organization. Personally, I'm a fan of including more people instead of fewer, and definitely am a fan of getting the opinions and insights of workers who aren't in management. In their book, Cameron and Quinn speak well of adding more diversity to the cultural analysis effort by including more people.

The basic idea of the OCAI is that it's a survey. As Cameron & Quinn explain in their book (p. 28):

The OCAI is designed to help identify an organization's current culture or the culture that exists today...the purpose of the OCAI is to assess six key dimensions of organizational culture...there are no right or wrong answers for these items, just as there is no right or wrong culture. Every organization will likely be described by a different set of responses.

The OCAI includes a total of six items (or cultural dimensions), with each item having four alternatives. At the end of the OCAI survey, you can create a numerical average for each of the six cultural dimensions and plot it onto a grid using the Competing Values Framework to give a "snapshot" or your organizational culture (more on this in the section below).

The six cultural dimensions measured by the OCAI survey are:

  • Dominant characteristics
  • Organizational leadership
  • Management of employees
  • Organizational glue
  • Strategic emphases
  • Criteria of success

For more on the OCAI survey, check out OCAIOnline.

The Competing Values Framework

Once you've completed the OCAI for your organization, the next step is to plot those numerical results onto a table/grid that visualizes the organization's cultural scores into four different quadrants, with each quadrant representing one of the four competing values in the Competing Values Framework. (If you're a little confused, the OCAI covers six dimensions but scores each of those on four alternatives, so that's where the four comes from here).

Those quadrants are:

  • Clan
  • Market
  • Adhocracy
  • Hierarchy

Here are some excerpts to give you an idea of how Cameron & Quinn explain each of the four in their book:

Clan: "It is called a clan because of its similarity to a family-type organization...shared values and goals, cohesion, participativeness, individuality, and a sense of "we-ness" permeated clan-type firms. They seemed more like extended families than economic entities...typical characteristics of clan-type firms are teamwork, employee involvement programs, and corporate commitment to employees" (p. 46).

Market: "...refers to a type or organization that functions as as a market itself. It is oriented toward the external environment instead of internal affairs. It is focused on transactions with (mainly) external constituencies such as suppliers, customers, contractors, licenses, unions, and regulators. And unlike a hierarchy, where internal control is maintained by rules, specialized jobs, and centralized decisions, the market operates primarily through economic market mechanisms, competitive dynamics, and monetary exchange. That is, the major focus of markets is to conduct transactions (exchanges, sales, contracts) with other constituencies to create competitive advantage. Profitability, bottom-line results, strength in market niches, stretch targets, and secure customer bases are primary objectives...the core values that dominate market-type organizations are competitiveness and productivity" (p. 44).

Adhocracy: "An organizational form that is most responsive to the hyperturbulent, ever-accelerating conditions that increasingly typify the organizational world of the twenty-first century...[assumptions are] that innovative and pioneering initiatives lead to success, organizations are mainly in the business of developing new products and services and preparing for the future, and the major task of management is to foster entrepreneurship, creativity, and activity on the cutting edge...emphasis is placed on creating a vision of the future, organized anarchy, and disciplined imagination" (p. 49).

Hierarchy: "...characterized by a formalized and structured place to work. Procedures govern what people do. Effective leaders are good coordinators and organizers. Maintaining a smoothly running organization is important. The long-term concerns of the organization are stability, predictability, and efficiency. Formal rules and polices hold the organization together" (p. 42)

Just as there is no correct score on the OCAI, there's no right or wrong blend of scores for these four quadrants. Of course, some blends may be more advantageous or disadvantageous for an organization, and organization may wish to change from one blend to another, but nothing's inherently right or wrong.

Go here to read more about the Competing Values Framework and its use for analyzing organizational culture.

Conclusion: Credible, Time-Tested Tools for Organizational Culture Analysis and Change

By using the OCAI survey and the Competing Values Framework, you can assess your current organizational culture and perhaps use the results as a tool for cultural and organizational change.

We hope you found this article helpful. Stay tuned for more Organizational Culture Basics articles in this series and have a great day!


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