08 June 2015

Values in conflict? View your organization through a CVF lens

Robert E. Quinn, PhD, is one of my favorite leadership scholars. One of his significant contributions to the field of organizational studies and leadership development is the competing values framework (CVF). The CVF helps one make sense of the tensions people often experience in organizational life.

As noted in this video introduction to the CVF, individuals and organizations are continuously challenged to manage polarities that relate to external positioning and internal maintenance, as well as flexibility and control. The juxtaposition of these competing tensions creates different types of organizational cultures, which are animated by values associated with framing and focus. Simply put, these frames and focuses involve collaborating, creating, competing, and controlling. Which of these four values resonates personally and professionally with you?

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Gaining insight into these tensions helps one appreciate and value differences between and among people and processes in an organization. Such appreciation leads to development of compassion and respect for individual contributions to the organization. Using the lens of CVF, how would you describe the culture in your organization?

Three levels of analysis
Given the competing values framework, there are three levels of analysis that help one gain insight. At one level, organizations are analyzed relative to external outcomes and expectations. At another level, competing values in terms of an organization’s internal workings are analyzed. Finally, at the third level, how the framework relates to individuals in the organization is contemplated. Knowledge and understanding of CVF provides leadership insights and guidance about how to navigate tensions and issues and support alignment of people with organizational processes, purposes, and effectiveness (Cameron, Quinn, DeGraff, Thakor, 2014).

For example, if an organization is focused on internal maintenance and stability, the culture is probably hierarchical and its orientation one of control. Leaders in this type of organization focus on coordinating, monitoring, and organizing. Value drivers are efficiency, timeliness, consistency, and uniformity. By contrast, if a culture is focused on external positioning and is flexible, it is an adhocracy, and creativity is valued. Leaders in this type of organization are innovative, entrepreneurial, and visionary, and value drivers are innovative outputs, transformation, and agility.

In a market-driven culture, the focus is external positioning, stability, and control, with competition the orientation. Leaders in this type of organization are hard driving and competitive. Value drivers in a market culture are market share, goal achievement, and profitability. A fourth culture type is clan. In this culture, the focus is internal maintenance and flexibility. Leaders in this culture are perceived as facilitators, mentors, and team builders. Value drivers are commitment, communication, and development of people and relationships.

In successful organizations, the competing values of collaborating, creating, competing, and controlling are at play concurrently. Consider the conflicts that can erupt if leaders and managers in an organization have a competitive market-driven focus and workers adhere to a clan or collaborative focus. Or how does one manage tensions between a need to be creative and innovative while, at the same time, working in a hierarchical bureaucracy? Or how does one both compete and collaborate?

How about your organization?
As you reflect on your organization, how does competition among the competing values of creating, competing, controlling, and collaborating play out among leaders, managers, and staff? With your personality, traits, and behaviors, what role, from a competing values perspective, do you play in your organization? Are you a pioneer, networker, achiever, strategist, anchor, analyst, team player, or helper? How can you leverage your strengths and role to make a positive difference in the organization’s culture and milieu?

As a result of learning more about the competing values framework, I have developed more compassion for and insight into the dynamics of academic and health care organizations, and this has enabled me to positively influence change and transitions. I invite you to learn more about the framework, and apply leadership insights you gain to the culture in which you find yourself. Developing a competing-values leadership skill set will enable you to maximize, influence, and activate your own success, as well as the success of your organization.

Cameron, K.S., Quinn, R.E., DeGraff, J., & Thakor, A.V. (2014). Competing values leadership. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.