Don´t try to sell a heater in the Sahara: Culture Types

Corporate culture is a winged word nowadays. Every manager tries to improve his company culture, if not he is trying to establish one. Its just very important for a company to have something the employees can identify with and customer may be attracted to…basically just the same as with any Corporate Social Responsibility or Corporate Governance activity.

Surprisingly the company culture is often forgotten when it comes to Change. Frequently managers override current culture patterns as they think Change could be the thing to also rapidly change the corporate culture. Of course this is necessary in certain situations and maybe you will succeed, but my advise is to better know you culture e.g. the four most common “culture types” before getting to the playground.

Where does the idea of the “culture types” comes from?
Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy were among the first to think about corporate culture. In 1982 they published a influential book called “Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life”. Within this very book the authors argue that corporate culture is based on an interlocking of six elements:

  • history
  • values and beliefs
  • rituals and ceremonies
  • heroic figures
  • stories
  • informal cultural network

I think that to this point it is very clear what is meant. For example: If you have a strong history of creating deadly weapons you will probably not establish a corporate culture that says “valuing life and peace” – even more you will create values and beliefs that safeguard what your company is doing. Consequently your beliefs and values will tend to be things like: “creating weapons to defend families” and “people kill people, not guns kill people”.

To create their “culture types” model, that allows to distinguish between four corporate culture types, Deal and Kennedy added two elements:

  • Feedback speed: How quickly are feedback and rewards provided
  • Degree of risk: The level of risk taking

By combining these two elements with the six interlocking elements above, their model pf the four types of corporate cultures was born. I will present the four cultures below:

  1. Work hard, play hard culture (fast feedback and reward, low risk).
    Stress results from: quantity of work
    Focus on: high-speed action
    Example: sales and restaurants
  2. Bully boy, himbo culture (fast feedback and reward, high risk).
    Stress results from: high risk
    Focus on: individualism
    Example: sports or brokerage
  3. Process culture (slow feedback and reward, low risk): Stress results from: internal politics
    Focus on: process excellence
    Example: bureaucracies, insurance companies
  4. Bet-your-company culture (slow feedback and reward, high risk):
    Stress results from: high risk
    Focus on: long term planning
    Example: pharmaceutical companies


I still think that this very model is probably one of a kind to at least sketch a potential way interacting with your own culture. As I said, don’t try to sell a heater in the Sahara and don’t try to speed up things like crazy in process cultures…

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