What is management style and what is organisation culture?

There is now a myriad of competing definitions used by leadership coaches and transformation professionals. Broadly, all around a lexicological structure though rarely statistically validated, best used with a single organisation setting where we need to promote discussion and compare before with after. Interpretation is a limitation here making such models best used by the hands of their creator. Simply there is so much available now it’s become contradictive and confusing.

Now drawing upon Harrison[i], Handy and Elliot Jacques[ii], plus experience, here are our definitions:

Leadership style stems primarily from an individuals’ natural character where a good model comes from Empathy Styles (link… and its seven communication and character traits[iii]; all evolving based on age, responsibility, learning, coaching and experience over time.  Practically, unless a leader has acting skills, its problematic for an individual to adapt their ‘style’ as its hard-wired to our fundamental behaviours – light and dark.

Organisation culture stems from the collection of executive leaders’ styles and the styles of leaders and influencers who cascade out into the organisation. This is where interaction between members of the organisation is a synthesis of these styles, which if understood can bring great resilience and comfort, at worst conflict and disruption. It is also real that a supposedly ‘holistic’ organisation can have many sub-cultures diametrically different to the top-of-the-shop’s expectations. Again, these collections of styles can have both light and dark aspects to them and why leaders always say “we do this anyway”.

Working with the Australian Mettle leadership gauges, which is strongly multi-dimensional and statistically validated, showed that style and culture are complex, strongly contextual, and inherently unstable. This is for us why we have a layered approach: what are the four basic dimensions, add in emotion and rationality, ability to empathise and communicate with those around them and between leaders, plus the ability to adapt or act and accept a new style. Therefore, we propose, that consistent and outstanding leaders are a rare breed.

Why is management style and culture important?

To many organisation developments people, probably the majority, they recognise that how we interact and behave is the Critical Success Factor for an organisation. How many times have we seen in a crisis that the executive leaders seemed to fiddle as Rome burned, with no personal consequences from doing this?  How many times do we experience abusive behaviours, micro managing, punishment and more? They are all manifestations of leader style and what the culture of an organisation will tolerate or promote.  Do a search for business risk and I doubt any lists will talk about the risk from your CEO (or a whole board of directors) going off the rails. The more a culture moves in a certain direction then the greater the risks of poor or destructive behaviours being tolerated. It can become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as a leader, corporate or political, seeks to shape a culture around them that support their aims, eventually becoming a dictatorship and most unhealthy for the employees and the shareholders.

Factions within an organisation.

We could see how we would have to match our supplier’s culture, by being procedural or constantly negotiating and we would need to create specific processes for how we would work together. It also showed clearly the difference between the leadership and their style/attitudes and their teams/employees. Not always healthy.

It also showed for suppliers partnering for the project that they had strongly different org cultures and that was anticipated to cause internal conflict.  To many they say this is what we do anyway, however, it was a result to see hard evidence that such considerations are valuable.

Our hypothesis is that the relative difference between the domain value judgements is the factor when lacking a hard anchor point between the two relative scales.

If the gap between Transactional and Self-Expression domains have changed, we should see the reversal of size for the T domains and enlargement of the SE domains, plus the relative gap between them should reduce. This is not what we see in the summary data.


Limitations of this report.

Let us open by being very clear that there is no claim for statistical validity here, the original benchmark was small although statistically accurate, because it was administrated manually and under strict controlled conditions.  Whereas, the current survey being online had to be simplified to be viable and as such we do not have anchor data that allows us to normalise values before and after.  Yet we can experience a trajectory and draw conclusions as what was previously the preferred or aspired to, should now be closer to the norm and the gap to future aspirations narrowed.

The results.

The 1995 benchmark culture survey overall considered workplace culture to be more towards the Power and Role cultures with aspirations towards the individual (Achievement/Self-Expression) cultures.  The perceived wisdom of the time held true, the Civil Service saw its culture as role driven, while the services suppliers saw their culture as Power/Transactional leaning.  In terms of aspirations, all respondents aspired to an achievement/self-expression culture in ideal terms.

From the current survey we see overall workplace culture to be more towards the Power and Role cultures with aspirations towards the individual (Achievement/Self-Expression) cultures.  Again, the perceived wisdom of held true, the Civil Service saw its culture as role driven, while corporates saw their culture as Power/Transactional leaning.  In terms of aspirations, all respondents aspired to an achievement/self-expression culture in ideal terms.

From the data available we can make relative judgements though not statistically valid comparisons.  The original smaller data set was statistically valid, while the current simplified survey for use with a large online audience is inevitably not so rigorous. Arithmetical comparisons would be problematic to quote with a high degree of confidence, so the survey does not attempt to do so.

Yet practically, if the 1995 aspirations hold true, we should see today’s current experiences more in keeping with those past aspirations, and today’s aspirations reinforcing today’s current experiences. Broadly, Power (axis 1) and Role (axis 3) cultures should be diminishing across the board if organisation culture is truly evolving. Axis 2 is Support and axis 4 Achievement/Self-Expression.

We can draw out some tentative conclusions in that the:

  • Continuing pressure for change will be for Self-Expression or as we have termed it ‘Celebrity’ culture where to coniform you work to ‘being recognised as somebody’ in a group of other workplace celebrities.
  • Actual workplace cultures have not changed as previous aspirations had desired….  We have much that at face values seems to have changed with what appears to be a Self-Expression/Celebrity style, yet underneath the suspicion is managerially little has changed…
  • Management or leadership style is driven by the character mix of the individuals concerned, who may not be able to personally adopt a dramatically different way of interacting. Arguably, the leadership winners of the future may well be those who develop a neutral style and can role-play/act-out necessary styles accordingly.

Technology impact on technology

For me, the answer is yes and no. Leadership style doesn’t really change as its part of the individuals’ psyche (this gets political). Organisation culture can change (and that’s a whole other discussion). Technology as in the tools we use, change too fast to extract the full benefits from them – the Anglo/American affliction in my mind. Marketing fundamentally doesn’t change, the tools used to do it do. We collectively aspire for things to ‘get better’ , then our same collective natures stops it happening. Working is living and is like a snowflake, every flake on earth is entirely different, similar but different. Patterns in things yes, recycling back to a start I doubt very much – chaos rules.

Working/living is like a snowflake, every flake on earth is entirely different, similar but different- chaos dictates that every moment in time is a new start in the same pattern.

Change is a double-edged sword. Leadership style rarely changes it’s strongly ingrained other than for exceptional leaders. Organisation culture can be changed by people if accepted by leaders. We collectively aspire for things to ‘get better’ , then our same collective natures stops it happening. Making new tools/tech is easy, changing ourselves difficult. We function by making comparisons, that’s how we choose, between the real or the imagined; smart leaders manipulate the imagined for a purpose (good or ill). Every snowflake is entirely unique, yet shares the same pattern, chaos dictates new starter positions for the same pattern, but it’s not a repeat!

Embrace change it or loath it, this pandemic has characteristics we have not seen before in human society. As long as there is food on the table we can cope, its the unknown we fear. Sadly, I know of a few people committing suicide when made redundant, national GDP always recovers quickly, working people can take a painful decade to recover. We are indeed at a big Fritjof Capra ‘Tipping Point’ , will we flip forwards to a new stronger society learning’s from the past, or flop backwards into elitism – that is the trillion dollar question?


That Covid has shaken our status quo and forced experiences on the organisation that none desired, yet there will be positive consequences if we can learn from what has happened. Learn from history or be part of it! We have experienced recently a flood of online workshops and webinars and conferences as those suppliers seek to fill the cash-flow gap by adapting swiftly to their present circumstances.

There are a lot of suppliers telling though few asking, other than broad surveys by the likes of YouGov and the media, primarily seeking newsworthy content rather than promoting ideas or learning. As a small business just starting out, we needed to take a long look at how the world could be and how we fit into that working world. This led to pursuing this survey which we have made public to inform the debate of who, what, why, where and when for our future ways of working. What will be the trajectory of organisation life and management interaction with its people?

How can we assess this trajectory in any meaningful way?   The UK Government in the early mid 90s had adopted the Modernising Government Initiative driven by the then Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA). Nick Hopkins and Roy Wickens were the architects of this programme that went on to spawn many other key functions and opened the way for future transformations such as we experience today as agile projects, Government Digital.  This programme took great efforts to learn from experience, such as for why projects failed or staff revolted when faced with a new computer system. A key factor was recognised as an organisation’s culture, when similar projects thrived while others faltered.

During this time the British Army was transitioning from a hundred-year-old people operation to a rationalised and computerised operation in Glasgow.

The Ministry of Defence had realised that during the three main phases of military life, Doing-Resting-Training, military behaviours as in style, changed quite significantly. This was a nationally critical project and the then joint Head of procurement for Civil Government and the Ministry of Defence, Roy Dibble amongst others, wanted to understand if management style and organisation culture was strategically important rather than just interesting.  Working with advice from Roger Harrison supplier culture was included in the supplier evaluation for the first time for a major MoD procurement exercise.

Could this project reduce its risks by looking at attitudes and relationships within each supplier, and with the new personnel centre teams?  It did by embedding culture-think into all the people and technology aspects of designing the new business, a few suppliers stepped up and adapted their ways of working, which indirectly contributed to agile project management and rapid prototyping methods.  Demonstrably, management’s[KNT1]  style did shape the organisation’s culture, impacting on the three-way interactions of civil servant, military and commercially driven supplier. The details of this project are still classified; however, the original supplier and civil service culture data sets are available to us and can be used as a benchmark from which to evaluate thirty years of cultural evolution between now and then.

Organisation development has whole hearted adopted management style and organisation culture as critical success factors. If this survey contributes to that in some small measure then the time and effort will help us all.

The fundamental questions to answer are: one, will things change backwards or continue culturally; two, will the rate of change accelerate or decline; third, will ongoing technology adoption impact that rate of change.

The Future Trajectory

Our benchmark

Our trajectory is founded in 1995, where a confidential survey of 150 people in professional services firms, the UK Civil Service and Ministry of Defence, in using the Harrison/Stokes model gave us a clear indication of a strong preference for Achievement and Support cultures. The then base or current culture generally assessed as a mix of Power/Role dimensions, a few suppliers had the preferred support/achievement culture though not strongly so compared to the others.

We can see in the chart the plot of data from that survey above.

In terms of a proposition here, if culture has continued to change as those with strong preferences gain executive leadership roles, we should see in the data showing the past preferred culture as the current existing culture.  This would be followed by a narrow gap between the current and the aspired to or preferred culture today.

Consequences of this trajectory


  1. The benchmark 1995 exercise to match supplier culture with civil service and military cultures to improve the working relationship between project team members. This was for the UK Army Personnel Centre Implementation Team (APCIT) to corporate and civil service staff, totalling some 200 surveys across a mix of service providers, professional services firms, civil service, and the military.  Respondents were drawn at random from the teams likely to engage with the MoD for the transformation of the Army’s pay, pensions, and personnel functions.  The survey instrument was the original Harrison/Stokes statistical model;
  2. A set of ad-hoc assessments carried out over the 1995/1997 period in government departments and commercial organisations, again using the Harrison//Stokes model and;
  3. A simplified assessment using opinions of the 1995 Harrison evolution of the model, with extensions for more explicit emotional and rational dimensions.

[i] https://howtosavetheworld.ca/2006/03/17/roger-harrison-a-consultants-parting-thoughts/

[ii] He of the original Stratified Systems Thinking (SST) which modelled how we gain and release capabilities through our career horizons.

[iii] Other psychological models are available.


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