Understanding Organizational Culture and Employee Types

EPISODE 28 | Host: Derek DeWitt, communications specialist, Visix, Inc.

Digital signage can be a core element in organizational communications, especially internal. To truly use it effectively, you have to understand both your organizational culture and the employee types that make up your audience.

At its heart, communication is simply people talking to people. That applies whether it’s a face-to-face conversation, webpage, newsletter or digital signage message. In order to be successful, you have to have an idea of who you are and who you are communicating with. This means defining the priorities and interests of both your company and your people.

This podcast looks at different organizational cultures and different employee types, to help you create framework for thinking about and applying HCD ideas to your digital signage in our next podcast.

  • Understand the 21st century mindset, especially when it comes to the workplace
  • Consider what “corporate culture” means, and its impact on employees
  • Explore eleven types of corporate cultures, determined by what they value and how they motivate employees
  • Examine two different lists of employee types to attempt to understand what they value and what engages them

Subscribe to this podcast: Podbean | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube | RSS

Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 2: Digital Signage Planning Guide


Derek DeWitt: Organizational communications, even when they’re using a technological solution like digital signage, it’s really, at its core, it’s people communicating with people, and people really have to be at the heart of all organizational communications.

There’s a thing that’s used by site designers, SEGD and so on, called Human-Centered Design in which they configure a space to be a little friendlier towards the way people actually use that space of that environment. And you can take some of those ideas and sort of apply them to an overall sort of communications plan and strategy that utilizes digital signage as a main, or even the primary, communications tool. But that’s going to be the next podcast.

This podcast, we’re going to take a look at different kinds of organizational cultures and different kinds of employee types. There’s a little bit of generalizing there, but you have to kind of understand who you are and who you’re communicating with to be able to be effective.

And then the next podcast, we’ll really look at these HCD Human-Centered Design principles. I’m Derek DeWitt, communications specialist for Visix, and your host for this podcast. And I’d like to thank everybody for listening.

Derek DeWitt: It’s been said that work is not just a place or a building, it’s an activity. And in the 21st century, which we’re well into at this point, technology is changing things – new ideas in what corporate culture is, how corporations should deal with people and the new generation of workers, specifically millennials and Gen Zers who are coming into the workforce. Soon they’re going to be, if they’re not already, the dominant part of that workforce. And they have really incredibly different attitudes towards work, different expectations and so on.

I mean, obviously there’ve been lots of different spaces for work. I mean, even an office has meeting rooms and rooms for this, and workshops and studios, and these are all very different kinds of sites. Some spaces are multi-functional and can be sort of reconfigured as need be.

Same thing is kind of happening with labor, basically. In the old days, very often many jobs involved repetitive tasks, even if it wasn’t physical labor. You did the same sort of things again and again and again and again and again. You know, every month you have to do a TPS report. Every Friday I have to do this. And so on. That’s changing.

There’s a lot of talk about the gig economy. This idea that people won’t even have just one job, they’ll have several jobs that they’ll all work part-time. And even for people who do have a single job, they probably don’t have just one clearly defined set of responsibilities. The workplace is becoming much more varied, much more dynamic. As a result, employee engagement is key to getting people really on board and participating in their work environments, and participating with organization.

And this applies to everything. This is not just corporations, or it could be factories, it could be schools, it could be government offices, it could be a bank, it could be a hotel, a hospital. It doesn’t matter. People are people.

Nowadays, of course, you’ll see a lot of projects getting completed by small teams who collaborate. Collaboration’s is a very important concept in the modern workforce. Internal and external communications are completely transformed by the web, by mobile devices, by social media, things like this.

So, everything is so varied and so dynamic. There’s really no one-size-fits-all concept of “how should we configure a modern workplace”. There’s a lot written about it, a lot of, “Oh, we have the answers” kinds of things out there, but there is no one answer that applies to everything.

Just like when you’re searching for something like say a digital signage system: “Hey, how much will it cost? How difficult will it be?” The answer is always, “It depends.” It depends on the specifics of your place and your audience and all the rest.

So, the same thing applies with “What is a corporate culture, what should our corporate culture be?” Well, it depends. It depends on who your employees are and who they’re likely to be in the next few years. You can’t just plan for quarters or years anymore. You’ve got to think ahead a little bit if you’re going to really stay competitive. What kind of physical space do you have? What kind of physical spaces do you use? Are they reconfigurable? Should they be? What technology do you use? How do you increase employee satisfaction, and thus increase their productivity? So to that end, I thought it’d be worthwhile to just take a look at some modern thoughts on what corporate culture is.

What is it? It’s kind of vague, right? What is our “corporate culture”? It’s kind of a combination of attitudes, beliefs, habits, outlooks, and so on that the corporation or the company or the organization has. You might have, say, like a strong culture where everybody understands this is the overall goal of our business. “We are a part of it, and we feel like we have the ability and the permission to do what we can to achieve those goals.”

Other companies maybe don’t have such a strong, they have a weaker culture where the main motivation is “Do what you’re told to do. Complete these tasks because they need to be done. ‘Why?’ is not really in your wheelhouse? It doesn’t matter. That’s above your pay grade. Get a paycheck and that’s it.”

But as I said before, companies are made up of people. Organizations are made up of people. They all came into there…they were all children, they all had childhoods. They all went through high school. They all have their own histories, their own backgrounds, their own hopes, dreams, expectations. And they really do need to feel like they’re part of something a little bigger than themselves.

And this is why companies with this, I’m going to call it “old-fashioned”, weak corporate culture of do-the-tasks/get-the-paycheck/be-quiet, they’re dying out and they’re not going to last. They’re certainly not going to last until the end of this century. I don’t think they’re going to last until the middle of this century.

So, if you type in “corporate culture” into a search engine, you will find a gazillion articles out there. I’ve kind of culled together different organizational types from a variety of sources, and I’ll just kind of list them out here very quickly.

So, one type is sort of the Academy. The Academy culture means the important thing is highly skilled employees. Training and development is important (these are what allow you to advance within the organization). And employees are motivated because they feel like their knowledge is valuable, their abilities [are] valuable, and they have the ability to improve those skills. So, this is really what the Academy concept is, is we look at skills and improving our workers’ skills.

The Normative type of culture is a bit stricter. There’re pretty strict rules, pretty strict guidelines that you have to follow, and you pretty much have to do, when you work there, what’s expected of you. So what motivates them? Well, because you can still motivate people in this kind of a corporate culture because people understand what their role is inside the overall plan. And there are plenty of carrots, maybe micro rewards and so on, to keep them motivated. So, they get that they’re a cog in a bigger machine, but they understand what that machine does, and they agree with it.

Something a bit similar is what’s known as the Power culture. And that means only a few people really have power. And this is a bit of a sort of an old-fashioned, almost militarily based top-down kind of a corporate culture structure, right? A few people hold all the power. And the goal for advancement is to get into that corner office, to become one of those top managers who have the power and hold the reins of that company.

Another type of corporate culture is known as the Role culture – R O L E. What that means is every department and every employee, they know what their responsibilities are, this is clearly defined. Performance reviews and hard work, these are how people get recognized, these are how people get motivated. So, this is sometimes known as Club culture. Like everybody has their specialty, and they’re rewarded for the way that they work and for achieving goals.

Again, something a bit similar, the Task culture. What is success in a culture like this is achieving targets, solving problems. So very often in this kind of an environment, employees will work in small teams and they’ll pool their abilities, a little bit of each-according-to-their-strengths kind of an idea. It’s the ability to work collaboratively and creatively that motivates people in this kind of a corporate culture. And keep in mind, I’m saying “corporate culture”, but it really is organizational culture. This applies to anything. It doesn’t have to be just a for-profit business.

Then there’s the Fortress culture, which means the organization is all. Employees that produce continue to get work. Those that fall short lose their jobs. So really, it’s all about the performance reviews and advancement and getting a higher title, maybe a bit more responsibility, pay raises. Again, this sounds familiar, this sounds like a classic 20th century corporation of some sort. This is what motivates people.

Then you have Pragmatic cultures. These are almost completely focused, not on the workers but on the customers or the consumers, the people who purchase the goods and services. So, rules and guidelines may shift and change throughout a year or even throughout half a year (or even a quarter) depending on what customers need. It can even shift on a case-by-case basis, depending on what a particular customer wants. So, in a culture like this, the people working there are valued for being flexible and being agile and able to adapt. And it’s all customer satisfaction feedback. That’s what motivates everything. If the customers are happy, then we’re happy. Think of a high-end hotel or a spa or something like that.

Team-basedcultures are kind of the opposite of Fortress-based cultures. Team cultures, it’s the individuals that are more important than the overall organization. Basically, the concept there is if the workers are happy, then they’ll do a good job. Very often there’ll be extra benefits, extra little perks. There’ll be a lot of team building things or even just sort of relaxed hanging-out-together days, whatever, a long lunch where the whole company goes and has a food truck or something, and they all hang out. It’s sometimes called a Person culture as well. It’s very much focused on the workers. Happy workers…this is what we used to say in California (I’m from California) and they had a great ad campaign of these happy California cows, and they said, “Hey you know, happy cows make happy milk.” And that’s the concept here.

You get a Consistency culture, which is that in this organization we do things a certain way and you are supposed to stick to that script and not deviate. So, this is really the opposite of this flexible, Pragmatic culture, right? Employees, basically, are shaped to fit a role as opposed to the other way around. Those that can do it, those that can allow themselves to become molded into the job, will do very well. And again, something like this, a culture like this, performance reviews are basically everything. It’s the motivation.

I’ve got two more. We’ve got the Process culture. And here we’re looking for employees that are self-starters, that can be independent, that can manage projects inside of a holistic way. Basically, it’s a little bit like, say, in a high-end kitchen, the executive chef doesn’t stand there and watch every single cook or sous chef or everybody on the line cook each dish. They trust them. They say, “You know what you’re doing, you do it. And if you need to improvise, then improvise. What I care about is the end product.” Performance reviews in something like this are not super important. Really, what management looks at is patterns of work, how the people work together. Are they maximizing the way they can? This is a very flexible sort of a culture. Employees in a culture like this are motivated because they know what they’re supposed to do, but they also have a certain amount of freedom in how they do it. So, they’re valued as being experts.

And the final type of culture I’ll mention is sometimes called the Bet-Your-Company culture, which is the company has a single idea. We do a thing, and success or failure depends on decisions that the employees themselves make. This could be risky. I mean, if it turns out to be successful, then this can really be a great thing. A lot of software startups use this kind of a culture, right? We make a media player, we make a certain kind of camera or whatever, and everybody there pitches in whenever they can. So, it’s a little bit like that Process culture, but everybody is more focused on the one goal of that company. Very often, especially a startup (the purpose of a startup, really, is to get bought). So that’s just a few. You can look up lots and lots and lots of other ones out there.

Very often an organization isn’t going to be just one. There’ll be one or two or maybe even three of these cultural types. Sometimes different departments will have quite a bit of autonomy. And so, Department A may have one kind of a culture, Department B may have a different one.

But, figuring out, basically, the focus of your organization and the feeling of that organization, is an important step in trying to get really the best out of the people who comprise that organization.

So, we think about the different types of corporations or organizations out there, and how they affect the employees. Well, as I said, people come into a position with their own history and their own expectations. So, there are different kinds of employees as well. I mean obviously there are things like full-time employees, part-time employees, but that’s not really what I’m getting at. I’m talking about different sort of approaches towards the concept of work.

So an old-fashioned way of looking at things is you get people basically who were looking for a paycheck, that’s it; people who want to feel useful, and then people who have sort of a personal mission and they’re looking to use this job as a stepping stone into something else. I mean, that’s all pretty classic thinking.

What I want to do, I want to look at two lists, basically, of a much more differentiated list of employee types. One of them was from Inc. Magazine a few years ago. They come up with (one, two, three, four, five) six different types, and here are their types.

So, you’ve got your Totally Committed. These people, life is work, work is life. They love companies that have lots and lots and lots of extras on-site; lots of perks, cooks, food, beds, showers. They don’t want to go home. Steve Jobs was one of these kinds of guys. He never wanted to leave Apple headquarters, and actually, frankly, expressed disbelief and sometimes anger when people said, “Hey Steve, I want to go home for the weekend” because he didn’t understand. “What do you have at home that we don’t have here?”

Then you get your Higher Purpose people. These are people who really want to feel like they’re making some kind of a difference. So, someone with this kind of approach towards work, working for a company that makes glass bottles, mmm, maybe that’s not such a great fit, right?

You got your Malcontented types. These are people who, frankly, just don’t care about work. Work is a means to life. They can work here, they can work there, they don’t really care. It’s really just kind of, it’s just something you’ve got to do.

Similar to that, you get your Bottom-Line folks who are really, again the specifics of the job just don’t matter. What they care about is how much money they bring home and what benefits they get, and that’s it. And they’re not loyal and they’ll jump ship very, very quickly.

You get your Old-Fashioned types who probably would spend an entire career, from the age of 18 up, with a single company if they had the opportunity to do so, and if it made sense. They want to be, “I’m a Fuller Brush man” or whatever, this is what they want.

And then we have these millennialsMillennialInc. Magazine says, is a type, and there the motivation is that there’s more to the job and the company than just profit. Profit can no longer be the only reason a company exists for this kind of an employee mindset. And they need flexibility. They do not do well in constricted, top-down, hierarchical organizations.

And then there’s a guy who writes about motivation in the workplace named James Sale, who created Motivational Maps. Obviously, that comes from his book Mapping Motivation, Unlocking the Key to Employee Energy and Engagement. And he comes up with nine types of workers based on specific motivations, which I think is a very interesting way to look at things.

So, he says you’ve got your Defender. A defender wants stability, wants clarity, wants to understand what they’re supposed to do, how they do things, how they get promoted. Security. Friend wants to belong. They want friendships, they want to feel fulfilled with the people that they work with. The Star wants to be recognized for what they accomplish and respected. The Director wants influence and power. The Builder wants material satisfaction (again, benefits, comfort, salary). The Expert wants to gain knowledge and skills. The Creator wants change and innovation and wants to feel like they’re a part of that. Sort of the Spirit wants independence and autonomy. And your Searcher wants purpose and meaning.

So, just as examples of the kind of jobs that people like this are attracted to: your Defender might get into, say public service in some way, shape or form. Your Friend personality is probably gonna join team-based or project-based companies or organizations. Your Star is going to try and run a media empire or become an actor. Your Director might get into the military or something like that. Builder might get into sport, if it pays well. Your Expert might become a research scientist or something like this. Your Creator is going to go on to found something like Apple or Microsoft. You’re sort of Spirit person is going to go on and be, I don’t know, like an astronaut or you know, someone who’s going to enhance space exploration, like SpaceX or something. And your Searcher’s going to work for some big organization, like Oxfam or something like that. Again, these are just examples.

Sales actually uses a thing called Motivational Maps. This is one way you can kind of determine….Because a lot of companies do this now; they don’t really interview new people so much as they give them a battery of tests, personality tests and so on, just to see what their skills are. Some companies use Myers-Briggs to get those types. Some people use the Jung Typology Test. Other people use what’s known as the Higher Success Employment Testing System. And so on.

Now on the one hand, these tests are pretty complex and pretty comprehensive, and so they’re actually fairly good at figuring out personality types. The danger of course is, as always, grouping people together. Each person is unique, so they will most likely have a combination of say, for example, Myers-Brigg personality types.

Unless you have one manager for each employee, there’s no way to really deal with them exclusively as individuals. So, you do need some kind of categorization system in order to understand these people and effectively lead them and engage them and inspire them and get the best work out of them. So, that’s basically an overview of different organizational types, different cultures, different employee personality types and motivations.

This kind of lays the groundwork for us to really start to understand that communications is people communicating with people. And it’s not just random people, it’s specific people communicating with specific people.

In the next podcast, we’re going to take a look at Human-Centered Design, or HCD, principles and how we can tailor our messages, tweak our messages, so that we, the specific “us”, can communicate with “them”, the specific audience that we’re dealing with, as well as create a whole culture of ongoing assessment and how we can constantly be improving our efforts in communications. So that’s next week. And until then, I’d like to thank everybody for listening.