The Goldilocks Standard in Corporate Culture

Getting It Just Right

goldilocks standard - The Goldilocks Standard in Corporate CultureI’ve been fascinated with organization culture since Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy published Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life in 1982. It was among the first serious books about corporate culture.

Deal and Kennedy cut through the academic mumbo-jumbo and defined culture simply as “the way we do things.” Over the years I’ve advised large and small organizations about managing “the way we do things.” I also learned long ago about the damage that can accompany doing too much of “the way.” Balance is critical.

With apologies to the three bears, Goldilocks is a metaphor for finding balance.  A recent issue of Harvard Business Review offers thoughtful and deeply researched guidance about getting the balance “just right” and some of the bad things that can happen when you overcompensate, as I’ve seen companies do.

The authors describe eight culture styles and their advantage and disadvantages. They explain what can happen when an organization overemphasizes culture styles. For example, while an emphasis on a purposeful culture may bring improved appreciation for diversity, sustainability and social responsibility, an overemphasis on long-term purpose and ideals may get in the way of practical and immediate concerns. In other words, too much of a good thing might undermine your otherwise good intentions.

Here’s the HBR chart, “The Pros and Cons of Culture Styles”.


Warm, sincere, relational

Improved teamwork, engagement, communication, trust and sense of belongingOveremphasis on consensus building may reduce exploration of options, stifle competitiveness and slow decision-making

Purpose driven, idealistic, tolerant

Improved appreciation for diversity. Sustainability, and social responsibilityOveremphasis on a long-term purpose and ideals may get in the way of practical and immediate concerns

Open, inventive, exploring

Improved innovation, agility and organizational learningOveremphasis on exploration may lead to a lack of focus and an inability to exploit existing advantages

Playful, instinctive. Fun loving

Improved employee morale, engagement and creativityOveremphasis on autonomy and engagement may lead to a lack of discipline and create possible compliance or governance issues

Achievement driven, goal focused

Improved execution, external focus, capability building and goal achievementOveremphasis on achieving results may lead to communication and collaboration breakdowns and higher levels of stress and anxiety

Bold, decisive, dominant

Improved speed of decision-making and responsiveness to threats or crisesOveremphasis on strong authority and bold decision-making may lead to politics, conflict and a psychologically unsafe work environment

Realistic, careful, prepared

Improved risk management, stability and business continuityOveremphasis on standardization and formalization may lead to bureaucracy, inflexibility and dehumanization of work environment

Rule abiding, respectful, cooperative

Improved operational efficiency, reduced conflict and greater civic-mindednessOveremphasis on rules and traditions may reduce individualism, stifle creativity and limit organizational agility.

The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture: How to Manage the Eight Critical Elements of Organizational Life, By Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price and J. Yo-Jud Cheng

January-February 2018 Harvard Business Review

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