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Managing Competing Values

Every leader in every organization faces competing values in the pursuit of excellence. Sometimes innovative activities and out-of-the-box thinking are needed, and at other times carefully following procedures and rules is best. At times collaborating with others and involving colleagues in decision making is best, whereas sometimes fast decision-making and hard-driving action are the best strategies to obtain desired outcomes. These competing approaches are often associated with closely-held values of what is best or right in achieving success.

Several decades ago, my colleagues and I conducted research on what factors lead to organizational and leadership success. From this work, a framework emerged that helps identify the major competing values faced by all leaders and all organizations. We labeled the framework The Competing Values Framework.1 It has since been identified as one of the 40 most important frameworks in the history of business, and has become the most frequently used framework throughout the world for assessing and changing organizational culture.

This framework emerged from empirical research conducted more than 30 years ago on the criteria that predict organizational effectiveness. From these empirical studies, two major dimensions consistently emerged. One dimension differentiates an emphasis on flexibility, discretion, and dynamism from an emphasis on stability, order, and control. For example, some organizations and managers are viewed as effective if they are changing, adaptable, and transformational. Other organizations and managers are viewed as effective if they are stable, predictable, and consistent. This continuum ranges from versatility and pliability on one end to steadiness and durability on the other end.