culture interpretation guide

Strategic Direction & Intent

Describes a deliberate set of activities to achieve the organization's vision. It is often driven by strategic planning—a process that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and ensure that employees and key stakeholders are working toward common priorities.

It answers the following questions:

  • Do employees understand the strategies identified by the organization; and do they think the strategies will work?
  • What are the key areas of focus we will dedicate ourselves to over the next 5-10 years?
  • What will we NOT do or emphasize?

Core Values

Core values represent the “non-negotiables”—the values that are at the center of who you are and what you do. When the core values are clear and practiced, they create the context for making important decisions and help articulate your identity to both current and potential employees as well as customers.

Consider the following questions:

  • What gets recognized here? What gets people in trouble?
  • Do employees share a set of values that create a strong sense of identity and a clear set of expectations?
  • Do leaders model and reinforce those values?
  • Are there implications for consistent/inconsistent behavior?

Capability Development

Leaders and managers demonstrate a sincere commitment to the ongoing development of employees’ skills and knowledge to meet both the current and future needs of the organization, as well as the development goals of the individual.

Consider the following questions:

  • What are the key strategies of the organization, and what capabilities are needed to execute those strategies?
  • Do employees believe that the organization invests in them and that their skills are improving?
  • Is the organization’s bench strength improving?
  • Does the organization have the skills it needs to be competitive today and into the future?

Creating Change

Change is an important part of the way we do business. We welcome new ideas and are willing to try new approaches to doing things. Being fast and agile allows us to read the business environment, react quickly to trends, and anticipate future changes.

Consider the following questions:

  • Can employees read the external environment and react to trends and changes?
  • Do employees constantly look for new and improved ways to do their work?
  • Is change usually met with excitement or resistance?
  • Is change typically considered an "initiative" or is it a core competency of the organization?

Goals & Objectives

Describes the short-term achievements that provide near-term focus and help connect what employees do day-to-day to the strategies and vision. They should be time-bound, specific, and measurable.

It answers the following questions:

  • Are there short-term goals that help link what employees do on a day-to-day basis to the strategy and vision of the organization?
  • Do employees understand how their job fits in?
  • What are the specific outcomes we hope to achieve this year?
  • How will we know that we are progressing toward our strategies and vision?


Describes where we aim to be in the future. It describes our “optimal” future state. It is aspirational and intended to both challenge and inspire employees.

It answers the following questions:

  • Do employees share a common desired future state for the organization?
  • Do they understand the vision?
  • Does it motivate and excite them?
  • What is our ultimate picture of success?


When facing issues or problems that are complex, involve high stakes, and/or require a high level of buy-in to ensure resolution and implementation, taking the time to fully understand the issue and working to reach an agreement becomes critical.

Consider the following questions:

  • Is the organization able to reach agreement on critical issues?
  • Can employees reconcile differences in a constructive way when problems arise?
  • What are the key issues and/or problems on which we disagree - or for which we need greater alignment and consensus?

Coordination & Integration

Coordination & Integration refers to how different functions, locations, and units work together to achieve common goals and execute against the strategic priorities of the organization. Organizational boundaries help define work processes and accountabilities rather than serving as a barrier to getting work done. There are clear expectations for how groups serve each other's needs.

Consider the following questions:

  • Do employees from different parts of the organization share a common perspective that allows them to work effectively across organizational boundaries?
  • Do they work to eliminate “silos” and promote actions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole?
  • Is there awareness and alignment of goals across teams and levels?

Team Orientation

Creative ideas are generated, and value is placed on working cooperatively toward common goals for which all employees feel mutually accountable.

Consider the following questions:

  • Is teamwork encouraged AND practiced in the organization?
  • Do employees value collaboration and feel mutually accountable for common goals?
  • Do we establish team agreements (expectations regarding how we will work together as well as what we will do together)?


Empowered individuals have a sense of ownership and responsibility of the organization. It requires leaders to develop mutual trust and clarify those areas where employees can make decisions have input or those areas that are beyond an employee’s scope of responsibility.

Consider the following questions:

  • Do employees feel informed and involved in the work that they do?
  • Do they feel they can have a positive impact on the organization?
  • Have we established clear boundaries (WHAT as defined by our strategies & goals, and HOW as defined by our values) within which to empower employees?

Customer Focus

Understanding and anticipating customer needs. There is a passion and desire to cultivate customer relationships, seek customer input and adjust products and services to create loyal customer relationships.

Consider the following questions:

  • Do we understand the needs of our customers?
  • Are employees committed to responding to their ever-changing needs?
  • Is customer focus a primary concern throughout the organization?
  • Is everyone clear about who their customers are?

Organizational Learning

The ability to engage in continuous learning is viewed as a critical business asset. Our first reaction to reasonable mistakes is not, “Who is to blame?” but rather, “What can we learn?”

Consider the following questions:

  • Is importance placed on learning in the workplace?
  • Do we create an environment where reasonable risk-taking and innovation can occur?
  • Do we share knowledge across the organization?
  • Do people feel safe speaking openly about mistakes?