Challenging Industry Assumptions: Unveiling Cultural Similarities

But my industry is different! … We often hear this from our clients when we present data-based evidence that Constructive organizational norms lead to increased effectiveness, while Defensive norms decrease effectiveness. But are industry-specific norms and expectations for interacting with others and approaching work hindering our potential for success? Let’s dive deeper.

The Impact of Industry Standards on Effectiveness

Many businesses and professional practices strive to adhere to industry standards or the required or ordinary manner of performance in their field. For example, the medical field has standards of care for cardiac repair; similarly, ISO standards for quality management are reviewed and updated almost yearly. These standards serve various purposes, especially providing professional or legal guidelines for what is considered reasonable.

However, when it comes to norms and expectations for interacting with others and approaching work, are they specific to each industry? Can we expect that the effectiveness of Constructive behavioral norms transcends industry boundaries? Janet Szumal’s research on the Global Ideal Culture Profile indicates that people across countries strongly agree on the importance of Constructive styles. And our published research on organizational cultures across industries does not show significant differences across the industries studied. But can we show that Constructive styles are associated with effectiveness more than Defensive styles?

Challenging Fundamental Assumptions

Organizations and leaders often have fundamental assumptions about what motivates their members. These assumptions influence management styles and, ultimately, the behavioral norms and expectations within their organizations. One such assumption is that members dislike their work and have little motivation, leading to a ‘hands-on’ management approach that involves micromanaging to ensure tasks are done properly.

This assumption gives rise to the belief that Constructive styles won’t work in certain industries, leading management to state, “My industry is different.” Manufacturing organizations, for example, argue that their workforce requires close attention to every behavior and detailed job planning to minimize mistakes. They believe that allowing individual thoughts and autonomy wouldn’t increase effectiveness. However, when comparing Constructive and Defensive cultures within manufacturing organizations, we find that Constructive organizations (which encourage individual discretion and initiative) report higher effectiveness in three key areas (see Figure 1):

  1. Role Clarity (and Conflict): The extent to which people receive clear messages regarding what is expected of them (and the extent to which they receive inconsistent expectations from the organization and/or are expected to do things that conflict with their own preferences).
  2. Satisfaction: The extent to which members report positive appraisals of their work situation.
  3. Quality of Service/Products: The extent to which the organization has achieved service excellence with respect to internal and/or external customers/clients.

Figure 1 (click image to enlarge)

Challenging Assumptions in Education and Non-Profit Sectors

Another assumption is that the work itself is satisfying, and members are self-motivated, needing little direction. This assumption is commonly made and applied within the Educational and Non-Profit sectors. Educational and Non-Profit organizations provide services that aim to help others grow, develop, or heal. However, leaders in these industries often hesitate to compare themselves to ‘businesses’ with traditional bottom-lines, as the focus is on social causes, the clients or patients they serve, or the public at large. This can ultimately lead to understating the needs of employees.

Figures 2 and 3 present comparisons between Educational organizations with Constructive versus Defensive cultures and for Non-Profits (NPOs) with Constructive cultures and those with Defensive cultures. Once again, we find that members of Constructive organizations report higher effectiveness in the three important areas.

Figure 2 (click image to enlarge)

Figure 3 (click image to enlarge)

Exploring the Legal Services Industry

Legal Services is an industry known for its competitive and aggressive nature, with firms and brands that uniquely set themselves apart from competitors. However, even in this industry, Constructive organizations report higher effectiveness in terms of the three important outcomes (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 (click image to enlarge)

Constructive Norms: Breaking Industry Assumptions

These examples clearly demonstrate that Constructive norms provide an environment for increased effectiveness across industries. Culture matters, and to enhance effectiveness, regardless of your industry, embracing Constructive norms should be the goal.

Ready to Assess Your Organizational Culture?

How effective is your organizational culture? Contact us to find out how you can use the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) to gain valuable insights and paint a clearer picture of your organization’s effectiveness and full potential.

And if you are already accredited in the OCI®, our recently updated Comparative Results by Industry reports can offer valuable insights. These insights will enhance your recommendations and conversations with clients and prospects. Contact us today for details.





4 Douglas McGregor developed two contrasting theories that explained how managers’ beliefs about what motivates their people can affect their management style. He labeled these Theory X and Theory Y. While these theories have been refined and updated, for present purposes the simple dichotomy works. See

5 See Justin Henry’s “Everyone Talks About Their Law Firm’s ‘Culture,’ But Is It Possible to Measure It?” in

Stress and Well-Being in the Workplace

Each year, experts predict the emerging trends for workplaces. Usually they identify several different streams of trends on which to focus, but their lists almost invariably include employee stress and well-being. One important survey supporting such predictions is sponsored by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (

Since 2014, SIOP has surveyed its members about the top issues they see impacting the workplace. Trends 2022, lists ten broad, complex issues that its members indicated (in October 2021) would likely impact the workplace in 2022, and all but one involve stress and well-being.

Stress and well-being have been implicated as being associated with employees’ physical health, motivation, and job satisfaction. With proper planning, leaders can reduce stress and optimize employees’ mental health and these related outcomes.

Reducing stress and improving well-being in any industry or field is important, including higher education. So, it is very exciting that our research article “Health Implications of Job-Related Stress, Motivation and Satisfaction in Higher Education Faculty and Administrators” was chosen as the Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education’s – Literati Award Winner 2021 Outstanding Paper. In summary, this paper discusses trends found in the higher-education sector concerning health outcomes and three individual level organizational outcomes: job satisfaction, motivation, and job stress. These trends suggest that lower job satisfaction, lower motivation, and higher job stress (as measured by the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory) increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, GERD, diabetes, and burnout in faculty and administrators. These risks can be reduced by implementing direct health-related activities (e.g., health fairs). Additionally, organizational initiatives such as needs assessments around culture, stress-management workshops, and job description reviews can be used to identify and eliminate work-related demands that may be crucial risk factors of illness. Indeed, the adoption of organizational and managerial styles that promote healthful outcomes apply as much to higher education as to other industries.

The topic of stress and well-being in the workplace extends beyond academic interest. For example, in November 2021, The INFORMS Roundtable—the premier destination for top-level leaders in operations research and managerial science (OR/MS) practice—dedicated a session to “Mental Health and Well-Being.” This session included Tara Davis from the American Psychological Association (APA), who discussed the steps that the association was taking in their own offices to “Create a Psychologically Healthy (Virtual/Hybrid) Workplace.” These steps addressed three organizational outcomes—job satisfaction, motivation, and job stress—and focused on mitigating negative factors, including increasing employee involvement, formal and informal; recognition; and reducing “meeting overload.” In the same meeting, I (representing Human Synergistics) and Dale Hintz, of Excellent Cultures, reviewed research indicating that Constructive cultural styles at all levels of the organization led to increased job satisfaction and motivation, and decreased stress.

However, addressing job-related stress may be elusive, as perceived stress is a function of change, and many of the changes encountered by workers are new, unprecedented, and rapid. Leaders and managers have difficulty planning for change under these conditions. To address these challenges, Dr. Robert A. Cooke, Cathleen Cooke, and Michael Kern discussed some of the factors that leaders and managers can address to prepare their organizations to adapt and thrive in the future. These factors include identifying Constructive cultural norms for hybrid organizations that promote effectiveness at all levels; creating a pervasive culture that is strong and consistently Constructive across the entire organization for both remote and onsite employees; and shaping organizational culture via levers for change such as employee involvement, goal setting, and rewards and recognition.

Optimizing employee well-being works best when you address the sources of stress, which often are under the organization’s control. Both research and practical experience support adjusting levers that impact job satisfaction, motivation, and perceived job stress, including organizational culture, managerial styles, and recognition. And while this focus may seem daunting in these turbulent times, it is these very conditions that make it necessary to address these levers. Focusing on organizational norms and expectations that promote effectiveness will promote employee well-being in the short term as well as organizational health in the long term.