What Do People in Organizations Around the World Value Most?

Values are a key part of your organization’s culture; they affect the entire organization and its members. They can spill over to the community, influence what other organizations in your country do, and even change the world.

Whether you are leading an organization located in a single country or one that operates in multiple countries around the world, cultivating a productive organizational culture has never been more important. Envisioning the kind of culture that will maximize your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness is the first step to creating it. Given this, what is the ideal culture for your organization?

Global Ideal Culture Profile

We put this question about ideal culture to more than 39,000 people in 1,348 organizations in 55 different countries. Using the Organizational Culture Inventory® (OCI®) Ideal, we asked them to share their beliefs about the importance of 120 different behaviors to maximizing the productivity and long-term effectiveness of their organizations. Here’s what we found:

  • The behaviors that are most valued across countries are invariably Constructive (colored blue in the visual). They include both task-oriented behaviors such as “think ahead and plan” and “know the business” as well as people-oriented behaviors such as “cooperate with others” and “help others to grow and develop.”
  • At the other extreme, the behaviors least valued across countries are all Defensive—mostly Passive (colored green) with a few Aggressive (colored red).

specific behaviors
To get a clear picture of the responses to all 120 behaviors, we plotted the results from the 55 different countries onto our Circumplex. [If you are not already familiar with it, our interactive circumplex provides a quick explanation.] The resulting profile, which is shown below, provides a picture of what a Global Ideal Culture Profile looks like.

global ideal

As indicated by the length of the blue extensions on the Global Profile, people around the world strongly agree that the Constructive styles are most important—especially Self-Actualizing (Style 12, located at the top center of the circumplex) and Humanistic-Encouraging (Style 1, which is more people-oriented and located to the right of Style 12). Connecting this back to specific behaviors, people agree, for example, that “communicate ideas” (which is an aspect of the Self-Actualizing style) and “be a good listener” (Humanistic-Encouraging style) are highly important to their organizations’ productivity and effectiveness. Similarly, they agree that “know the business” (associated with the more task-oriented Achievement Style 11, to the left) and “cooperate with others” (part of Affiliative, Style 2) are critical. In fact, all the behaviors strongly valued across the countries studied are among those associated with Constructive cultures.

The relative length of the red extensions indicates that, across countries, the four Aggressive/Defensive styles are valued less than the Constructive styles. The moderately strong extension for Style 7 reflects the tendency for people to view certain Oppositional behaviors, such as “points out flaws,” as somewhat important. However, as shown in the earlier visual, other Oppositional behaviors such as “refuse to accept criticism” are not valued or are only slightly valued across the various countries. Similarly, though Competitive (Style 9) is somewhat extended in the Global Ideal Profile, certain behaviors, such as “compete rather than cooperate” generally are not valued. This is likely the case because they contradict and can suppress the Constructive behaviors that people value more.

The Passive/Defensive styles (green) have the weakest extensions on the Global Ideal Profile. As mentioned earlier, most of the specific behaviors identified as least important to maximizing productivity and effectiveness are those associated with Passive/Defensive cultures. For instance, “tell people different things to avoid conflict” is an aspect of Conventional cultures (Style 4), “follow orders…even when they’re wrong” is an example of Dependent (Style 5), and “not get involved” is an example of Avoidance (Style 6). Though these behaviors may be viewed as necessary in certain countries (e.g., to maintain one’s security in the organization), they are not viewed as ideal.

Ideal Profiles Around the World

Although people around the world tend to value Constructive behaviors the most, there are differences with respect to the value they place on Aggressive/Defensive and Passive/Defensive styles. This is reflected by the differences in the length of the extensions in the Ideal Culture Profiles from Organizations Around the World.[1]

ideal culture around the world

The differences between organizations in different countries in terms of the value placed on certain Defensive styles are partly due to differences in societal values. For example, Power Distance, is defined by Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, as the extent to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect an unequal distribution of power[2]. Countries in our data set that are relatively high in Power Distance include Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Poland (in the Eastern Europe cluster); the Philippines and India (Far East); and Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia (Latin America). The ideal profiles for our sample of organizations in these countries show relatively strong extensions in the Aggressive/Defensive and Passive/Defensive styles. This is in contrast to the modest extensions for the countries in our sample that are relatively low in Power Distance—Nordic countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Finland as well as Anglo countries such as New Zealand, Ireland, and England.

Individualism versus Collectivism is another societal value that is related to the differences in beliefs regarding the appropriateness of Defensive styles for organizations. Hofstede defines Individualism as the degree to which members of a society are loosely integrated and expected to look after themselves and their immediate family. He contrasts that with Collectivism, which is the degree to which members of a society are instead tightly integrated into strong, cohesive groups (from birth onward) that provide continued protection in exchange for unquestioned loyalty for a lifetime.[3] The most Collectivistic countries in our sample, relatively speaking, are Colombia, Peru, and Chile (in the Latin America cluster), and South Korea and China (Confucian Asia). These countries have relatively strong extensions along the Defensive styles relative to those that are more Individualistic. The least Collectivistic and most Individualistic countries in our sample are primarily Anglo and include the United States, Australia, England, and Canada.

The Values and Ideals of Organizations Can and Do Change

As people within organizations try new behaviors and approaches—or when they experience that old behaviors and approaches are no longer working as well as they once did—their beliefs change regarding what they and their organization should strive for in creating an effective culture. One illustration of this is the culture transformation of one of the fastest growing wine companies in the world, Delicato Family Wines based in the U.S. As leaders and other members learned more about their own culture and successfully implemented various culture change initiatives, their day-to-day norms (current culture) along with their beliefs about the behaviors most important to their business (ideal culture) shifted in a more Constructive and less Defensive direction. To hear more about the shift in Delicato’s Ideal Culture from Emily Ingram (EVP, HR), click on the clip below, which is from the webinar about their culture journey.

When the shared values within some organizations evolve and the effects are noticed, the values of other local organizations can also evolve.[4] One example are the slight shifts we’ve seen over the years in the Ideal profiles generated by organizations in the United States. For example, as U.S. organizations have learned more about the downsides of Aggressive/Defensive styles (and as the stories about their experiences have become more public and widespread), the value placed on those styles has decreased. This is evidenced by comparing our Historical Ideal (generated in 2001) to the composite ideal profile for the U.S. based on more recent data. The most noticeable differences between the two profiles are the decreases in the Aggressive/Defensive styles. However, there is also a slight decrease in the Constructive, Self-Actualizing style. In addition, there are slight increases on the people-oriented side—specifically in Affiliative (Constructive) as well as Conventional, and Dependent (Passive/Defensive).

u.s. ideal over time

Another good example is Romania—a country for which we have extensive data on organizational culture collected by our affiliate office, Human Synergistics Romania in Bucharest. As organizations from other countries opened operations in Romania, the values and beliefs of the people who worked in those organizations changed. And, over time, the values and beliefs of people who worked in other Romanian organizations also began to change. In our white paper, The Impact of Leaders and Managers in Different Countries (2014), Iuliana Stan, Managing Partner of Human Synergistics Romania, explains:

Before 1990, Romania had one of the most oppressive Communist governments and was almost completely isolated with little technology and no international trade—not even with other Communist countries. This was a result of the centrally imposed isolationism, especially during the 1980s. Decision making was highly centralized and only members of the small governing elite had the authority to participate.

In 1992, Microsoft became the first international company to start operating in Romania. By 1997, IBM, Oracle, P&G, and mobile-telecom operators also started operations here. These organizations introduced Romanians to international practices and education on leadership and management. Only in the last five years have local Romanian companies started becoming significant names in the international market. We can now say that there is no difference between an international company in Romania and certain domestic firms.

Shown below are composite Ideal Culture Profiles for Romanian organizations. On the left side is the 2008-2009 Ideal Profile which is based on responses to the OCI Ideal from 349 individuals in Romanian organizations. Next to it is the 2021-2022 Ideal Profile which is based on responses from 1,087 individuals in Romanian organizations. The profiles indicate a noticeable shift away from Aggressive/Defensive values, particularly Competitive (Style 9) and Power (Style 8), as well as decreases on the Passive/Defensive side in Dependent (Style 5), Approval (Style 3), and Conventional (Style 4). Oppositional (Style 7) stayed about the same and Avoidance (Style 6) slightly increased. Nevertheless, the already strong Constructive styles remained the same or grew even stronger as evidenced by the greater extension in the Humanistic-Encouraging style.

romania ideal over time
More generally, as illustrated by the above two examples, organizations in various countries seem to place somewhat less value on Aggressive/Defensive styles than was previously the case. Given the negative relationships between Aggressive/Defensive styles and desirable outcomes, we see the movement away from these styles as a positive trend.

Attention to Culture Matters

Whether an organization’s leaders choose nurture and take care of their culture or simply take it as a fait accompli, culture affects how the people within their organization interact, work together, approach tasks, solve, problems, and work to achieve goals. Because of this, culture influences everything: from an organization’s ability to adapt and innovate; to its efficiency and effectiveness in implementing strategies; to its success in attracting, engaging, and retaining talent. For many successful organizations, culture is a vital asset, supports their mission and strategy, and provides a distinct competitive advantage.[5]

However, the benefits of creating more effective organizational cultures don’t end there. As already mentioned, the culture of organizations can disseminate and affect the broader societies in which they operate. For example, we see significant relationships between less Defensive ideal cultures in organizations and greater prosperity, human development, freedoms, and investment in and attraction and retention of talent in their country relative to other countries. Whether this is the result of less Defensive organizational cultures, or that greater prosperity, freedom, human development, and talent lead organizations to have less Defensive cultures—or both—awareness of these relationships is important and reinforces the movement toward more Constructive and less Defensive organizational cultures. This movement begins with defining what is ideal for your organization.

defensive values

What is your organization’s ideal culture? Contact us to find out how you can use the OCI Ideal to get a picture of your organization’s ideal culture.


[1] Categorization of countries into societal clusters is based on that used in Robert J. House, Paul J. Hanges, Mansour Javidan, Peter W. Dorfman, and Vipin Gupta (Eds.), Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The Globe Study of 62 Societies (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2004), p.190-191.

[2] Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Culture and Organizations: Software of the Mind (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010), p.61.

[3] Ibid., p. 92.

[4] In our book, Creating Constructive Cultures we discuss the way in which increasingly more Constructive values and norms in an organization can “spill over” the boundaries of an organization—whether it is locally owned or part of a multinational company—and gradually lead to changes in values and norms within other organizations, the larger community, and even the country. See, for example, pages 55 and 195.

[5] For case study examples of this from around the globe as well as summary of the research on the relationships between the OCI styles and outcomes, see Creating Constructive Cultures.

About the Author

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Janet Szumal, PhD

Dr. Janet L. Szumal is a senior research associate for Human Synergistics Inc. and is the author of Creating Constructive Cultures, with Dr. Robert A. Cooke. She has developed various assessments and simulations including Management/Impact®, Organizational Change Challenge™, Project Management Challenge™, Performance Management Challenge™, and Cultural Change Situation™.