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Aligning Intended and Permitted Organizational Cultures: The Key to Unlocking Your Company's Full Potential

Updated: Jul 3

We at FIC Human Resource Partners are thrilled to see a trusted business media source like Inc. Magazine addressing the topic of permitted organizational cultures in their recent article titled "Want to Know How to Change a Company's Culture? Science Says First Focus on the Things Employees Are Allowed to Get Away With." As culture consultants, we have recognized the importance of understanding the relationship between both intended and permitted cultures from our inception, at a time when few others in our field were discussing it. Our comprehensive consulting services have always gathered nuanced insights into intended and permitted cultures, not just at the macro-organizational level, but also misalignment of microcultures such as divisions, regions, cities, branches, departments and even individual teams. The Inc. article provides a great starting point for this crucial conversation. But having been involved in the work of identifying, understanding, and aligning permitted cultures with intended cultures for as long as we have, we know just how much more involved the process really is.

Our Insights into Intended and Permitted Cultures

Relationship between implicit, explicit, macro and micro cultures.  A shaded hexagon labeled Permitted Culture containing 12 hexagons labeled as micro cultures 1-12 which is partially overlaying a shaded hexagon labeled Intended culture. Micro culture hexagons that fall entirely within the Intended culture hexagon are green, the micro culture hexagon that is partly outside of the intended culture hexagon is yellow, the microculture hexagons that are mostly outside of the intended culture hexagon are orange, and the microculture hexagons completely outside of the intended culture hexagon are red.  This representation shows the level of misalignment that micro and macro level permitted cultures can have in relation to the intended culture.

An organization's intended culture refers to the explicitly communicated behaviors, values and expectations that leadership wants their culture to consist of.  These Intended culture elements are meant to shape the way employees approach their work, peer interactions, and manager-employee relationships. Intended culture is essentially the company's governing intentions for its culture.

In contrast, the permitted culture is the organic, implicitly accepted reality of what day-to-day behaviors and interactions between colleagues and leaders are actually allowed. The permitted culture arises from what is tolerated in practice across the organization, even if certain elements conflict with the intended culture communicated in official policies and leadership proclamations.

Misalignment between intended and permitted cultures can significantly impact employee wellbeing, performance, business opportunities and innovation. Examples of intended/permitted culture misalignments include:

  • Intending a "speak up" culture of openness to feedback, but permitting managers to penalize employees who raise legitimate concerns.

  • Intending to foster collaboration but permitting a cutthroat competitive environment of information hoarding.

  • Intending to drive quality but permitting schedule pressures to force compromises on product standards.

  • Intending to promote based on merit but permitting favoritism and a culture of managing up.

Macro and microcultures also play a key role here. The macro-culture refers to the overall culture across an organization, whereas micro-cultures exist at levels like divisions, branches, and teams. Just as an ecosystem contains various micro-habitats, an organizational macro-culture contains many micro-cultures. Maintaining alignment of permitted cultures with intended cultures requires recognizing differences across micro-cultures and identifying the unique requirements necessary to align them with the organization's intended cultural values.

We’ve Developed Culture Models to Better Understand Your Workplace Culture

At FIC, we understand organizational culture is multifaceted and nuanced. Effectively aligning permitted cultures with intended cultures requires leveraging multiple models concurrently to develop a holistic understanding. While existing models provided a starting point, they were never designed to be used in an integrated fashion for the detailed cultural insights we aim to provide our clients. This led us to develop our own proprietary models and methods, such as the SIO Culture Model, The 9 Principles of Employee Care, and our Safety Culture Framework.

The SIO Culture Model

Our holistic view of organizational culture encompassing:

  • Social Culture: Examines how employees experience and feel within the culture. Focuses on identity, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, authenticity, and psychological safety.

  • Ideological Culture: Examines the values, principles, hierarchy, authority, communication, priorities, efficiency, and collaboration that underlie decision-making and organizational priorities.

  • Operational Culture: Examines how work gets done and the outcomes of the organization's values, principles and priorities. Covers innovation, productivity, agility, ethics, community, and wellbeing.

SIO Culture Model. Nested Text showing the relationship of Organizational culture across 3 culture dimensions and 18 culture elements.  Organizational Culture is made up of 3 Culture dimensions: Social Culture, Ideological Culture, and Operational Culture. Each culture dimension has 6 culture elements.  Social Culture: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, Authenticity, Psychological safety. Ideological Culture: Hierarchy, authority, communication, priorities, efficiency, collaboration. Operational Culture: Innovation, productivity, agility, ethics, community, wellbeing. Copywrite 2023 FIC Human Resource Partners.

The 9 Principles of Employee Care

Our framework for empowering employees by meeting core human needs at work:

  1. Human Relationships: Cultivating meaningful connections and fostering a sense of camaraderie among employees, encouraging collaboration and teamwork.

  2. Human Respect: Promoting a culture of respect and dignity, acknowledging, and appreciating the unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences of every employee.

  3. Human Relevance: Recognizing and valuing the individual skills, talents, and contributions of employees, creating opportunities for growth and development.

  4. Human Recognition: Implementing effective recognition and rewards programs to celebrate employee achievements and contributions, fostering a culture of appreciation and gratitude.

  5. Human Responsibility:  Encouraging accountability and ethical behavior, nurturing a culture of trust and integrity within the organization.

  6. Human Routines: Designing work processes and routines that prioritize employee well-being, promote work-life balance, and mitigate burnout.

  7. Human Readiness: Providing employees with the necessary skills, resources, and support to excel in their roles, fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptability.

  8. Human Records: Ensuring ethical, accurate, and transparent record-keeping and use practices, protecting employee data and privacy, and maintaining fair and consistent HR policies.

  9. Human Representation:  Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the organization, ensuring that every employee feels represented and valued.

Safety Culture Framework

Our model for fostering a robust safety culture across four key dimensions:

  1. Organizational Commitment: The extent to which safety is prioritized and integrated into overall strategy, goals and values.

  2. Management and Communication: How safety is managed and communicated at the facility level.

  3. Practices and Performance: The integration of safety into daily operations and practices within departments.

  4. Individual Understanding and Adherence: The safety knowledge, skills and behaviors of each employee.

Culture Measurement Is Necessary to Align Permitted Cultures with Intended Cultures

Aligning Permitted cultures with Intended cultures requires understanding your culture at every level and across the entire employee lifecycle. That's why we've developed a suite of powerful diagnostic tools building upon our core culture frameworks:

Organizational Culture Quality Assessment (OCQA): Our comprehensive annual survey provides an employee-based, holistic view of your culture across social, ideological and operational dimensions. Leveraging our SIO Culture Model, the OCQA surfaces permitted culture realities and macro-micro misalignments.

Employee Care Survey:  A targeted annual assessment benchmarking your culture against our 9 Principles. Administered anonymously, the survey gathers candid employee feedback to identify experience gaps across groups and monitor year-over-year progress.

Engagement and Pulse Surveys: Augmented with key questions from our OCQA, Employee Care, Safety Culture, and Mattering Surveys, these enable tracking of cultural metrics tied to employee engagement. Pulse surveys provide quick progress checks on initiatives and emerging trends between annual assessments.

Quality of Hire Survey: This survey gathers crucial insights from both managers and new hires at the 90-day and 6-month marks. It assesses recruitment effectiveness, onboarding, role alignment and support to optimize hiring and nourish long-term employee success.

Exit Survey: Our Exit Survey combines standard exit questions with elements of our OCQA and Employee Care surveys. Contrasted with onboarding insights, this illuminates cultural factors behind turnover to focus retention efforts.

Linking data across these tools provides powerful clarity on your cultural health, culture alignments, and employee experience throughout their journey. The result - holistic, actionable insights to embed cultural best practices for sustainable success.

Aligning Permitted Cultures with Intended Cultures Requires Expert Guidance

Assessing culture is just the starting point – aligning your permitted culture with your intended culture requires an experienced guide. Our Nuance Culture Consulting brings together all our proprietary tools and models with a comprehensive change management approach. Leveraging our AIDE framework (Assess, Interview, Develop, Engage), we partner with you closely to:

Assess:  Shifting cultures requires precision. That’s why we administer a comprehensive culture assessment survey that combines our Organizational Culture Quality Assessment, Employee Care, Safety Culture, and Mattering surveys. This comprehensive survey dives deep into your organization’s culture, examining the Social, Ideological, and Operational dimensions of the SIO Model and your ability to deliver on the 9 Principles of Employee Care. The result? A roadmap that reveals misalignments, inclusion barriers, and untapped potential. Consider it your cultural GPS.

Interview:  Numbers only tell part of the story. Our approach goes beyond data. We engage in extensive qualitative interviews—from leadership, where we seek to understand your intended culture, to employees where we seek to dive deeper into the context and realities behind the trends and misalignments identified in the comprehensive culture survey. We listen, learn, and uncover the nuances that matter leading to actionable recommendations.

Develop:  Turning insights into impact—that’s our sweet spot. We craft focused action plans that address microculture misalignments bringing them into alignment with the intended culture. From policy enhancements to training and development, we’re all about creating a level playing field. As each microculture comes into alignment with your intended culture you will see culture improvement at the macro-organizational level.

Engage:  Transformation isn’t a solo act. Our team works with you to implement culture improvements. We oversee the rollout of initiatives through project management, tracking engagement levels, and gathering continuous feedback via pulse surveys. But it doesn’t stop there. We provide ongoing support for your culture working teams, facilitating training and coaching.

With targeted offerings like DEI strategy, pay equity audits, and accessibility reviews, we meet you where you are on your culture journey. Our consultants work with you every step of the way to align your permitted cultures with your intended culture.

This hands-on collaborative process cements lasting culture improvements tied directly to your strategic goals. And yes, progress is quantified—we follow up with annual organizational culture assessments.

The Takeaway

Organizational culture is not a "set it and forget it" proposition. It requires active stewardship, human-centric design, and a nuanced approach to uncovering and aligning the intended and permitted cultural realities.  Nor does culture improvement happen on its own. It requires deep understanding, intentional and informed effort.  Organizational culture must be managed and nurtured.

At FIC Human Resources Partners, culture is our passion and our craft. With models like SIO and the 9 Principles of Employee Care, diagnostics like OCQA, and our proven AIDE consulting framework, we stand ready to be your partners in building an aligned culture that empowers your people and drives your success.


Contact us for help aligning your permitted culture with your intended culture.


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