The Purpose and Process Model of Organization Culture

I often tell people that describing an organization’s culture is much like describing a house on your block: The words people chose, the aspects they focus on, and their interpretations all may vary, but there are some general descriptors that all houses, as well as organizations, more or less have in common. Countless organizational psychologists have come up with countless two-by-two matrices to describe organizations. Most of the theories and models are valid -- some more so than others. The strongest test for validity is often the ‘common sense’ test – does it make sense, or ‘resonate’ with what experts know about organizations.

The Purpose and Process Model of Organization Culture is one I developed along with John Burns and Tom Thompson, both Senior Vice Presidents of Rath & Strong Management Consultants based in Lexington Massachusetts, while I was working there. Between us we had about 75 years experience analyzing organizations. This model has been tested for both face validity and empirical validity, and best of all it’s a very simple model based on common understanding of how organizations work.

Purpose and Process Model of Organization Culture The basis of this model is that work culture, i.e., the attitudes and behaviors shared by all the employees of an organization, is composed of two major constructs. These two major aspects or constructs can be ‘deconstructed’ into several subcategories. The two major constructs are the Purpose and the Process Dimensions of work culture.
The Purpose Dimension focuses on the alignment of the people within the organization to the leadership, vision, and strategy of the organization, and includes things like: leadership, teamwork, horizontal integration, clarity and penetration of vision, strategy alignment, and communication. Process Dimension issues are the systems within the organization which support the employees, including: process flow efficiency, administrative systems, pace of work, Supply Chain Management/Total Quality Management/Six Sigma practices and tools, etc.

As shown in the 2x2 matrix, an organization culture can have either high or low scores on the Purpose and Process Dimensions. Depending on where an organization falls on these two dimensions at any given period of time, that organization can be thought of as having a “Zeitgeist” – an overall mood, energy level, or cultural ‘tone’. The four energy levels (as shown in the diagram) are: Energized, Frustrated, Unfocused, or Disengaged.

Analysis and feedback about the performance on each subcategory for the overall organization and sub-groups (functions, departments, hierarchical levels, etc.) are used to implement a targeted action plan to develop the work culture and create an “Energized” organization.