Deal and Kennedy's Cultural Model
Understanding Rites and Rituals in Corporate Culture
Corporate rituals may be less obvious - but equally important.
Corporate culture is one of the key drivers
for the success – or failure – of an organization. A good,
well-aligned culture can propel it to success. However, the wrong
culture will stifle its ability to adapt to a fast-changing world.
So, how do you attempt to understand your corporate culture? And
what steps can you take to create a strong corporate culture that
will best support your organization's activities?
In their classic 1982 book, "Corporate Cultures: The Rites and
Rituals of Corporate Life," Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy
proposed one of the first models of organizational culture. When
the book was published, it had many supporters, although there
were also many who felt the idea of corporate culture would be
just a passing fad. Now that we are in the next century, the
notion of corporate culture is widely accepted to be as important a
business concept as financial control and employee satisfaction.
Deal and Kennedy's Cultural Framework
In their work on the subject of culture, Deal and Kennedy
suggested that the basis of corporate culture was an interlocking
set of six cultural elements:
- History – A shared narrative of the
past lays the foundation for corporate culture. The traditions
of the past keep people anchored to the core values that the
organization was built on.
- Values and Beliefs – Cultural identity
is formed around the shared beliefs of what is really important,
and the values that determine what the organization stands for.
- Rituals and Ceremonies – Ceremonies
are the things that employees do every day that bring them together.
Examples include Friday afternoon get-togethers or simply saying
goodbye to everyone before you leave for the day.
- Stories – Corporate stories typically
exemplify company values, and capture dramatically the exploits
of employees who personify these values in action. Stories allow
employees to learn about what is expected of them and better
understand what the business stands for.
- Heroic Figures – Related to stories
are the employees and managers whose status is elevated because
they embody organizational values. These heroes serve as role
models and their words and actions signal the ideal to aspire
- The Cultural Network – The informal
network within an organization is often where the most important
information is learned. Informal players include:
- Storytellers, who interpret what they
see happening and create stories that can be passed on to
initiate people to the culture.
- Gossipers, who put their own spin on
current events and feed people a steady diet of interesting
information. Employees know not to take the information
at face value; however, they enjoy the entertainment value
of a gossip's story.
- Whisperers, who have the ear of the powerful
people in the organization. They can be used by anyone with
a message they want taken to the top but who doesn't want
to use formal communication channels.
- Spies, who provide valuable information
to top management, and let them know what really happens
on a daily basis.
- Priests and priestesses, who are the
guardians of cultural values. They know the history of the
company inside out, and can be relied on to interpret a
current situation using the beliefs, values and past practices
of the company.
When thinking about this, see also our
article on Johnson and Scholes' Cultural Web, which was
developed about 10 years later. In total, they identified six
elements that together provide a picture of corporate culture:
stories, rituals and routines, symbols, organizational
structure, control systems and power structures.
Deal and Kennedy's Culture Types
By examining these cultural elements across
a variety of organizations, Deal and Kennedy identified four distinct
types of cultures. They also identified two marketplace factors
that they felt influenced cultural patterns and practices. They
- The degree of risk associated with a company's
- The speed at which companies learn whether
their actions and strategies are successful.
They believed that the risk involved in making a poor decision and
the time it takes to find out whether a decision is the right one
both have a bearing on how cultural elements develop and influence
an organization's employees.
Deal and Kennedy present these factors in a 2 x 2 matrix that
identifies the four culture types, as shown in Figure 1 below.
Tough-Guy, Macho – This culture contains a world of individualists
who enjoy risk and who get quick feedback on their decisions. This
is an all-or-nothing culture where successful employees are the
ones who enjoy excitement and work very hard to be stars. The
entertainment industry, sports teams and advertising are great
examples of this cultural type.
Teamwork is not highly valued in this culture, and it's a
difficult environment for people who blossom slowly. This leads to
higher turnover, which impedes efforts to build a cohesive
culture. Thus, individualism continues to prevail.
Work Hard/Play Hard – This culture is the world of sales (among
others). Employees themselves take few risks; however, the
feedback on how well they are performing is almost immediate.
Employees in this culture have to maintain high levels of energy
and stay upbeat. Heroes in such cultures are high volume
Interestingly, this culture recognizes that one person alone
cannot make the company. They know it is a team effort and
everyone is driven to excel. Contests among employees are common
here, as they drive everyone to reach new heights.
Bet-Your-Company – Here, the culture is one in which decisions are
high risk but employees may wait years before they know whether
their actions actually paid off. Pharmaceutical companies are an
obvious example of this culture, as are oil and gas companies,
architectural firms and organizations in other large,
Because the need to make the right decision is so great, the
cultural elements evolve such that values are long-term focused
and there is a collective belief in the need to plan, prepare and
perform due diligence at all stages of decision making.
Process – In this culture, feedback is slow, and the risks are
low. Large retailers, banks, insurance companies and government
organizations are typically in this group. No single transaction
has much impact on the organization's success and it takes years
to find out whether a decision was good or bad.
Because of the lack of immediate feedback, employees find it very
difficult to measure what they do so they focus instead on how they do things. Technical excellence is often valued here and
employees will pay attention to getting the process and the
details right without necessarily measuring the actual outcome.
You may not
feel that your organization fits with any of these culture
types. If this is the case, don't try to force it into one of
these boxes: Pick and choose the parts of this model that work
Using Deal and Kennedy's Cultural Model
The Deal and Kennedy cultural model is descriptive. It argues that
no cultural type is better than another, because the types emerge
as a result of circumstances. Its value lies in using it to
understand how culture evolves and how to manage the various
elements that influence it. The following steps will help you to
- Think of your corporate culture as an asset
that needs to be managed.
- Take a look at the four types of culture
and determine, generally, which category your organization fits
- Identify critical risk factors associated
with each different type.
- Tough-Guy, Macho
Work Hard/Play Hard
- Is the degree of individualism appropriate
within your company?
- Is organizational cohesiveness hampered
by culture, and is this important?
- Are there ways to build teams without
neglecting the importance of individual performance?
- How can you make sure that employees
aren't relying on good team performance to mask poor individual
- Are contests and other forms of recognition
rewarding the right kinds of behavior?
- Can the company react quickly enough
to environmental changes?
- Are the values so long-term focused that
short-term gains are neglected?
Go through each of the cultural elements
that Deal and Kennedy identify, as well as ones from other models
and Scholes' Cultural Web, and analyze what is happening
on a cultural level within your organization. Ask yourself:
- How can you make sure that employees
don't get so bogged down in paperwork that action is unnecessarily
- Are there ways to measure how well a
job is being performed and reward success?
Revisit your cultural landscape regularly
and be aware of what is happening. Make it a habit to ask yourself
whether your culture is cohesive and consistent with your organizational
- Are the elements working positively
within your organization?
- Are elements congruent? Are they well-aligned?
- Does your history cause you to get stuck
in out-dated ways of dealing with contemporary issues?
- Are company values and beliefs embraced
by your employees, or simply written as words on a mission
statement or plaque?
- Do your values match your actions, so
that you are not compromising them for short-term gains?
- Do you have ceremonies that honor employees
who model the values you want?
- Are you able to balance the social need
for ceremony and rituals with more task-oriented behavior?
- What stories are passed around, and what
heroic figures emerge? Are these stories shared effectively
with new employees through orientation or other rituals?
- Do your heroes solidify and reinforce
your cultural values?
- Who are the key players in your cultural
network? Do you have methods for monitoring what they are
doing and how? Do they exemplify positive values and beliefs,
which are consistent with what your organization stands
for? Does their presence help or hinder your strategy and
Corporate culture is very important to the success of a business.
The social side of work requires as much attention as the
financial side: If you neglect your cultural influences, your
long-term economic performance will suffer.
Using Deal and Kennedy's cultural elements and cultural types, you
can start the process of thinking about your workplace and shaping
it into one where human interactions thrive. By creating and
encouraging a consistent and cohesive culture, you build a strong
foundation for meaningful and enjoyable work. That is the type of
culture that breeds high performance, loyalty and commitment.
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