6 Dimensions of Organizational Culture – Which One is Right for You?

An organization’s culture is the systematic way employees, leaders, and work groups behave and interact with each other. Company culture is collectively composed of values, beliefs, norms, language, symbols, and habits.

Knowing and understanding your company’s culture (or another company’s culture) can be quite useful. A fit between your personality and your company’s culture is of critical importance to both your happiness and your success. If you don’t feel like you are welcome and you belong, it will impact your professional relationships and drive and desire to excel.

Geert Hofstede, social psychologist and foremost authority on global and organizational cultures, defines six dimensions:

Means- vs. goal-oriented

A means-oriented culture places importance on how work gets done. The focus is on the way people do work and an emphasis on avoiding risk. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a goal-oriented culture identifies with what work gets done. There is a strong focus on achieving an end result. Of the six dimensions, this dimension correlates most strongly with organizational effectiveness; organizations with goal-oriented cultures are more effective than those with means-oriented cultures.

Internally vs. externally driven

Employees within an internally-driven culture see themselves as experts; they feel they know what is best for the client and customer and act accordingly. As Steve Jobs put it, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” On the other side, employees working in an externally-driven culture are very customer-oriented and will do whatever the customer wants. Their mantra might be, “the customer is always right” and their favorite metric customer satisfaction.

Easygoing vs. strict work discipline

Work discipline refers to the amount of structure and control. In an easygoing culture, the approach to work is informal, loose, unpredictable, and these characteristics facilitate a high level of innovation. But you better like surprises and be willing to improvise and adapt! In a strict culture, there is a fair amount of planning, which leads to efficiency and productivity. People take punctuality seriously and delegate work with detailed instructions.

Local vs. professional

In a local organizational culture, employees identify with their boss and their teammates. This type of environment risks having a low level of diversity, since there are social pressures to act, look, and talk in a certain way. However, these defined norms allow for a great amount of predictability. In a company with a professional culture, employees identify with their profession or the content of the work.

Open vs. closed system

In an open system, newcomers are welcomed easily. People are inclusive and take the approach that anyone will fit in well with the organization. A closed system is more exclusive, where newcomers have to prove themselves. Open cultures have managers and leaders who are approachable, and thus tend to see higher employee satisfaction.

Employee- vs. work-centered

In a culture with an employee-centered management philosophy, leaders take responsibility for the happiness, well-being, and satisfaction of their employees. This is true even if it is at the expense of productivity. In a work-centered culture, a focus on high task performance can come at the expense of employees. In this environment, there is a low level of empathy for personal problems.

As you read through this list, you can probably pretty easily pick out which type of culture you prefer and which is not a fit for you. Most of the time, our preferences and our company’s cultures are more moderate and fit somewhere in the middle of the polar extremes described in this article.

It is important to keep in mind that these dimensions of organizational culture are neither good nor bad. However, either end of the spectrum on the extreme side can cause dysfunction; for example, when an organization’s goals are inappropriate for the culture or when a group of individuals do not integrate well with their environment.

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