Organizational Culture: Applying
A Hybrid Model to the U.S. Army
Stephen J. Gerras
Charles D. Allen
U.S. Army War College
The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Organizational Culture: A Hybrid Model
Explanations for the success of militaries both in war and peace have traditionally focused on key factors such as technology,1 leadership,2 personnel,3 training,4 or a combination of all of the above.5 A more recent addition to the list of possible variables contributing to the effectiveness of military organizations is the concept of culture. As expected, most applications of the concept of culture in a military context do so with the term military culture. While military culture is often used effectively as an overarching label for the military’s personality, way of thinking, or values, there is little literature that defines the term military culture, categorizes or delineates the values that military culture claims to capture or, more importantly, provides methods or techniques to change the military culture.6
Turning to the literature of organizational behavior, organizational culture appears to be a context-free version of the context-specific military culture. The advantage of using the construct of organizational culture, however, is that there is a rich literature providing models for assessing, diagnosing, and aligning the organizational culture to environmental demands. Organizational culture refers to “the taken-for-granted values, underlying assumptions, expectations, collective memories, and definitions present in an organization.”7 These values and assumptions are learned as people in the organization deal successfully with problems of external adaptation and internal integration (i.e., how the organization responds to the environment and organizes internally to accomplish its goals). As new members enter the organization, the assumptions and values are taught as “the correct way to perceive, think, and feel”8 in relation to problems the organization may face.
Studies that have explored the organizational culture concept in the military arena include applications such as the limited use of force in war,9 causes for insubordination,10 the effects on institutional growth of military units,11 obstacles to military innovation,12 the effects on doctrine,13 the impact on the learning abilities of military organizations,14 implications for leader development,15 and the potential for conflict on provincial reconstruction teams.16 Despite the extensive literature on organizational culture, however, most studies applying organizational culture to military situations fall short in fully exploiting the implications of the organizational culture concept. Part of the reason is that, like most complex theories, each conceptualization of organizational culture emphasizes certain facets while deemphasizing others. Thus, for instance, many studies persuasively argue that Army culture needs to change, yet very few systematically explain how to change the culture.17 This paper will focus on the U.S. Army and the alignment of the Army’s culture to today’s environment. We suggest using the best aspects of several theories to analyze U.S. Army culture and then align it to the demands characteristic of the future nature of war.
In terms of assessing military cultures, the most common conceptualizations of organizational culture used in military contexts are the competing values framework designed by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn18 and the model offered by Edgar Schein.19 Cameron and Quinn’s framework is shown in Figure 1 and was derived from a list of thirty-nine indicators of effective organizations. In a statistical analysis, the indicators emerged in four clusters on two dimensions. The first dimension differentiates effectiveness criteria that emphasize flexibility and discretion from those that emphasize stability and control. The second dimension ranges from criteria that emphasize an internal focus and integration to those with an external focus and differentiation. These indicators of effectiveness represent what members value about an organization’s performance. They define what is seen as good, right, and appropriate.20 The resulting four quadrants represent four types of cultures: the Hierarchy, Clan, Market, and Adhocracy.
Internal Maintenance and Integration
External Positioning and Differentiation
Figure 1. The Competing Values Model
The hierarchy culture has a traditional approach to structure and control that flows from a strict chain of command as in Max Weber's original view of bureaucracy.21 The traditional U.S. Army focus on a chain-of-command and well-defined policies, processes and procedures fits this type of organizational culture. The clan focuses less on structure and control and more on flexibility. Rather than strict rules and procedures, people are driven through vision, shared goals, outputs and outcomes. An example of a clan culture might be Southwest Airlines which uses its “University for People” to instill organizational identity and shared values in its employees.22 Rules still exist but are often communicated socially in an effort to inculcate Southwest’s commitment to its people and to customer service. The market culture seeks control but does so by looking outward. Market cultures are driven by results and are often very competitive. General Electric is often cited as an example of an organization with a market culture as demonstrated by its aggressive growth strategy to fulfill shareholder expectations in the volatile markets of post 9-11.23 Finally, the adhocracy culture is distinguished by large degrees of independence and flexibility which is, in turn, driven by a rapidly changing external climate. Instead of relying on speed and adaptability, the adhocracy rapidly forms teams to face new challenges. An adhocracy culture is dynamic, entrepreneurial, and creative. Google would be an example of an organization whose culture would mostly align with this quadrant as evidenced by its Statement of Philosophy and Ten Golden Rules that clearly illustrate its unconventional approaches for managing innovation in a very unpredictable environment.24
Two aspects of the Cameron and Quinn organizational culture model are particularly appealing in analyzing the culture of the Army.25 First, the competing values model addresses the paradoxes inherent in the military. For example, the need for command and control critical to moving large formations competes with the need for adaptability and innovation on the battlefield. The competing values model allows a cultural assessment to capture such a paradox (See Figure 1 for notional plot of the U.S. Army). Second, Cameron and Quinn offer the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) as a quantitative way of assessing the culture. While researchers with a qualitative bent may raise an eyebrow at the mere mention of quantitatively assessing a culture, the OCAI is a tool that allows even novices to make a cultural assessment. The OCAI permits researchers to produce insightful plots of an organization’s culture; however, most Army applications of the Cameron and Quinn competing values framework focus on diagnosing the culture, not changing it.26 While each quadrant represents an archetype, practical experience tells us that although an organization may be predominately in one quadrant, it will have overlap into the others. We also recognize that organizations will have subordinate activities that exhibit the characteristics of diverse organizational cultures.
Edgar Schein offers another perspective on organizational cultures that has been used in examining the culture of the military. Schein argues that there are three levels of culture: 1) artifacts, 2) norms and values, and 3) underlying assumptions (see Figure 2). Schein posits that assumptions of an organization’s culture can be observed qualitatively through artifacts. Artifacts represent the first level of culture. They are visible, but often undecipherable physical, behavioral, and verbal manifestations of the culture. Artifacts can be observed by anyone; they represent the most accessible elements of culture. Dress and appearance (physical manifestations), ceremonies, reward, punishments (behavioral manifestations), and stories and jargon (verbal manifestations) are examples of artifacts. The way soldiers talk to each other in meetings, the structure of PowerPoint charts, and the condition of the conference room are artifacts of what an organization values.
Norms and values are the second deeper level of culture. Unlike artifacts, norms and values cannot typically be observed. Values are more conscious than basic assumptions but are not usually at the forefront of member’s minds. Norms are closely associated with values and are the unwritten rules that allow members of a culture to know what is expected of them in a wide variety of situations. According to Schein, organizational members hold values and conform to norms because their underlying assumptions nurture and support the norms. The norms and values, in turn, encourage activities that produce surface-level artifacts. As an example, an organization might have an underlying assumption that “people are bad.” This assumption would lead to a norm
NORMS AND VALUES
Figure 2. Schein’s Organizational Culture Model
that members don’t leave the office building without permission. An artifact of this underlying assumption might be a sign-out board in each cubicle that requires workers to state their location, contact phone number, and expected return.
Schein argues that unless organizational researchers dig down to the deepest level of the basic assumptions, the artifacts, values, and norms cannot be properly deciphered. Unlike Cameron and Quinn’s Competing Values Model, Schein argues that culture and cultural assumptions are a multidimensional and multifaceted phenomenon, not easily reduced to a few dimensions. Schein breaks down his cultural assumption analysis to look at internal integration and external adaptation for an organization and evolves his analysis to focus on some basic, deeper dimensions around which shared basic underlying assumptions form. These dimensions include topics such as the nature of reality and truth, time and space, human activity and relationships, and human nature itself.
Analyses of the Army using Schein’s conceptualization of organizational culture have focused on the usefulness of identifying artifacts in pursuit of the underlying assumptions.27 Unfortunately, few studies venture into Schein’s basic assumptions simply because the assumptions tend to be difficult to assess in an Army context. For example, Schein states that a central assumption concerning the nature of human activity addresses one’s basic orientation to life—what is the appropriate level of activity or passivity? At the organizational level, Schein offers that this assumption deals with questions such as “What is work and what is play?”28 In the Army context, such assumptions become somewhat disconnected with the idiosyncrasies of the Army as an organization.
Although Schein’s three levels of culture resonate well with military and civilian audiences, we believe the esoteric nature of his taxonomy of assumptions diminishes the understanding and use of the theory. The importance in understanding an organization’s underlying assumptions in order to assess, and eventually change the culture led us to open a search for better models of comprehending this difficult foundational element in culture analysis. We argue that a better source of assumptions comes from the work of Geert Hofstede29 and the follow-on Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness Research Program (GLOBE study).30 Although focused mainly at societal levels, both the Hofstede and GLOBE research provide an empirically-supported assessment of the dimensions that distinguish organizations and societies. Hofstede examined employee responses to survey questionnaires from IBM employees in fifty countries. A statistical analysis of the country averages showed four dimensions. Dimensions are defined as an aspect of a culture that can be measured relative to other cultures. The dimensions were power distance, collectivism versus individualism, femininity versus masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance. Hofstede later added a dimension that quantified long-term versus short-term orientation.31
During the 1990s, Robert House and a team of researchers extended Hofstede’s work with the GLOBE project. GLOBE collected data from more than 17,000 middle managers in 951 organizations in telecommunications, food processing, and finance industries in sixty-two societies. The GLOBE project produced a more nuanced understanding of underlying organizational cultural assumptions by using questionnaire responses from the middle managers aggregated to the societal and organizational levels of analysis. Using multiple quantitative and qualitative techniques the derived scales were found to be statistically and conceptually sound.
The GLOBE detailed methodology resulted in the identification of nine major attributes of cultures which, when quantified, are referred to as dimensions.32 We argue that these nine dimensions are a better taxonomy for interpreting and assessing organizational culture. The nine dimensions are now briefly described.33 Performance Orientation reflects the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, and performance improvement. It relates to the issues of both external adaptation and internal integration mentioned earlier in the discussion of Schein’s assumptions. Assertiveness reflects the degree to which individuals are—and should be—assertive, confrontational, and aggressive in their relationship with others. The concept of assertiveness, as stated, originates in part from Hofstede’s culture dimension of masculinity versus femininity. Future Orientation is the degree to which a collectivity encourages and rewards future-oriented behaviors such as planning, delaying gratification, and investing in the future. Humane Orientation is defined as the degree to which an organization or society encourages and rewards individuals for being fair, altruistic, friendly, generous, caring, and kind to others.
The dimension, Institutional Collectivism, is the degree to which organizational and societal institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action. Separate from the previous dimension, In-Group Collectivism reflects the degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty, and cohesiveness in their organizations or families. Gender Egalitarianism reflects the degree to which an organization minimizes gender inequality. It is related to a society or organization’s beliefs about whether a members’ biological sex should determine the roles that they play in their homes, business organizations, and communities. Power Distance captures the degree to which members of a collective expect power to be distributed equally. In organizational terms, it reflects the extent to which an organization accepts and endorses authority, power differences, and status privileges. Finally, Uncertainty Avoidance is the degree to which a society or organization relies on social norms, rules, and procedures to alleviate unpredictability of future events. It involves the extent to which ambiguous situations are threatening to individuals, to which rules and order are preferred, and is related to a need to establish elaborate processes and procedures and a preference for formal, detailed strategies.
As noted earlier, previous studies of Army culture provide many insights, but tend to only go as far as each foundational theory of culture allows. Most studies on the culture of the Army refer to an “Army culture”, but limit analysis to recognizing that there is a collective set of values in the Army. A few studies use the Cameron and Quinn competing values model—mostly because of the quantitative approach and the acknowledgment that paradoxes do exist in cultures—but these studies are usually limited by a focus on a particular organization or unit (rather than the entire institution) or the lack of systematic recommendations to align the culture. Some other studies use the Schein model because of the usefulness of assessing a culture through its artifacts and Schein’s recommendations in aligning a culture. Studies using Schein’s model typically fall short, however, in the critical step of assessing the culture’s underlying assumptions because they are deemed too incompatible with the military context.
This paper does something often thought sacrilegious by theorists, yet appropriate in analyzing an institution as complex and unique as the U.S. Army. The following paragraphs take the aspects of each theoretical approach and apply them to form a hybrid model of organizational culture to apply to the Army. Thus, the resulting analysis uses artifacts (a la Schein) to point to critical assumptions (taken from the GLOBE study, but only specific GLOBE assumptions to highlight our methodology) and then explores ways to shift those assumptions (using mechanisms suggested by Schein, yet bringing in competing values a la Cameron and Quinn). The result is an organizational culture assessment tailored to the idiosyncrasies of the Army. The focus here, however, is not on providing a comprehensive cultural analysis. Instead, the main point of this paper is to bring attention to the power of integrating aspects of multiple organizational culture models instead of the more common approach of either not using a theory or attempting to apply relatively weak single theories.
Organizational cultures are not good or bad, right or wrong; rather, they are either aligned or misaligned with the organization’s environment. In the case of the Army, the organization’s external environment is now typically referred to as the Joint Operating Environment (JOE)34. The JOE is the overall operational environment that exists today and in the near future (out to 2030, for example). The range of threats in this environment extend from smaller, lower-technology opponents using more adaptive, asymmetric methods to larger, modernized forces able to conduct conventional combat. The JOE facing today’s military requires military organizations at all echelons to prepare for a broader range of missions than ever before. The JOE mandates that U.S. military entities maintain flexibility and adaptability to ensure they can successfully operate across the increased spectrum of potential adversaries. As an example, the Army is discovering that within the operational environment of Iraq and Afghanistan, its leaders are increasingly responsible for building units in which individuals and organizations learn from their experiences and for establishing climates that tap the full ingenuity of subordinates. The Army’s new counterinsurgency manual asserts:
Open channels of discussion and debate are needed to encourage growth of a learning environment in which experience is rapidly shared and lessons adapted for new challenges. The speed with which leaders adapt the organization must outpace insurgents’ efforts to identify and exploit weaknesses or develop countermeasures.35
The Army’s leaders need to be ever cognizant of the changing nature of the external environment and be just as vigilant in monitoring the Army’s culture to ensure the culture is congruent with the demands of the external environment described above.
Four GLOBE dimensions: Future Orientation, Uncertainty Avoidance, Gender Egalitarianism, and Humane Orientation which, some might argue, mirror some of Schein’s cultural assumptions (i.e., the nature of time and the nature of human nature) do not seem to receive the same level of consensus in our informal assessments of Army culture as the other five dimensions and, in the interest of parsimony, are therefore not used in this analysis. It is not that these dimensions are less important than those discussed below, or even less descriptive of the Army. Rather, as our intent is to demonstrate a useful application of culture theory as opposed to providing a comprehensive analysis of the U.S. Army, these dimensions are not discussed. It is also important to appreciate that these assumptions or dimensions are not mutually exclusive. There is some overlap and, as Cameron and Quinn would argue, there are cases where Army assumptions that tend to be strengths and aligned with the contemporary operating environment also are related to, or even lead to assumptions that limit the Army’s ability to operate successfully in today’s environment.
A NOTE ON SUBCULTURES
Anyone who has spent time with any of the U.S. military services or any large organization probably recognizes the importance of subcultures. For example, while the Army has a distinct culture, subordinate units like a Ranger company and an Army hospital are clearly very different subcultures of the whole. Although the underlying assumptions of Army culture serve as the foundation of these subcultures, as we attempt to assess Army culture or the culture of any complex organization, we face the requirement to untangle how the subcultures relate to each other and discover how they fit together to form the larger Army culture.
Why do subcultures form? Well, people tend to gravitate toward people like themselves; they also tend to become more cohesive with people they interact with more often. Organizational theorist Mary Jo Hatch asserts that task interdependence, reporting relationships, proximity, design of offices and work stations, and sharing equipment or facilities all bring members of the organization into contact with each other.36 This dependence and interaction tends to serve as a catalyst to subgroup formation. The Army’s branch schooling system, unit structure, and mission requirements are just a few factors that facilitate the creation of subcultures in the Army. The Army is not unique in the existence of subcultures; looking at things such as task interdependence and proximity it is not hard to discern why the Navy is typically characterized as having three subcultures: aviation, surface, and submarine.
Are subcultures bad? Well, it depends. If the subculture enhances the dominant values of the overall culture, it is probably a good thing. If, however, the subculture denies the values of the overall culture, it is something that the organization’s leadership needs to address. Figure 3 is a
graphic portrayal of the range of relationships of subcultures (the small circles) to the larger