Culturally Responsive


An organization in its ideal state is able to identify, leverage, and respond to internal and external cultural influences to maximize value. It has an externally focused dimension allowing them to deeply understand nuances in the marketplace and the subtle shifts in attitudes, preferences, and patterns. It also pays close attention to the internal organizational dimension that carries with it the attitudes, preferences, and patterns of the enterprise.

Organizations that embrace the Culturally Responsive Mindset have mastered the alignment of three different levels of strengths on two differing dimensions that enable cultural responsiveness to be realized.1


They have an externally focused dimension allowing them to deeply understand nuances in the marketplace and the subtle shifts in attitudes, preferences, and patterns. They also pay close attention to the internal, organizational dimension that carries with it the attitudes, preferences, and patterns of the enterprise.

The three levels that Culturally Responsive organizations effectively navigate include:

People Level

The People Level is the articulation of individual and personal values. These are represented when a person acts both as an individual and as a leader operating within the organization.2 These values become the base in which you interact and respond to variables within the organization.3

  • Communication and feedback is prevalent, characterized by trust and candor.
  • Ideas are evaluated based on merits of possibility and impact.
    Relationships are fostered that edify and develop individuals.
  • Growth opportunities are readily available and are actively embraced.

Practice Level

The Practice Level is the heart and soul of where culture resides in the organization. It is influenced by the processes deployed by leadership and then manifested through the execution of the team.4

  • Teams are equally empowered and responsible for business outcomes.
  • Leadership is both facilitative, innovative, and willing to accept a level of risk.
  • The organization is flexible, values teamwork, and encourages social interaction.

Purpose Level

The Purpose Level is articulated through desired outcomes or the value an organization desires to create. Often viewed as the most difficult to define, the Purpose Level provides individuals and practices direction on where the organization intends to go.

  • The organization has clearly defined values that are apparent in practice.
  • Customer interest drives the mission, which drives the organizational architecture.
  • Outcomes feed directly back into the developing organization.
  • Visions of possibility create strategic advantages.

Pain Points

Organizations that struggle with developing or sustaining a Culturally Responsive Mindset may experience actions,5 behaviors, and beliefs that reflect:6

Ineffective Communication

Ineffective communication is a critical flaw7 that leads to lower levels of trust and commitment, reduced employee engagement with increased employee churn, emotional disconnection, and estrangement.

Communication serves four key functions within the organization: control, motivation, emotional expression, and information. Any level of ineffectiveness with communication transference and understanding results in a distorted mental image for people in the organization.

Risk Normalization

Organizations that are not Culturally Responsive run the risk of becoming socially homogeneous; they begin to normalize behaviors such that variation, diversity, creativity, and risk all begin to look the same.

Highly productive and valuable informal communication channels become more formal and carry less rich meaning. Innovation carries a lessening impact with markets slowly becoming underserved, and the enterprise becomes increasingly resistant to change.

Conflicting/Confounded Objectives8

The rich cultural fabric comprised of numerous positive tensions quickly loses its lustre in an organization that is not Culturally Responsive. As it becomes more alike, it grows less aligned and less attentive.

This growing misalignment becomes apparent in increasing impermeability within communities of practice (a siloed organization emerges). Outwardly it seems peaceful and cooperative but ultimately it results in fiercely competing interests, political disunity and personal alienation.

Departments fight for scarce funding to support objectives that are not systematically aligned and leaders spend precious energy on organizational balance rather than organizational inertia.

It’s not uncommon to see confounded interests reflected in the annual budget processes; identical requests coming from different departments, reflecting differing requirements and hosting differing objectives and outcomes. While organizations busily pay for the same item several times over, the market slowly erodes in response to the confusion.


The Culturally Responsive organization, or one that is actively striving to grow in that direction, is on a journey of continuous improvement that is both beneficial and sustainable for employees and consumers alike.9 Cultural responsiveness is a fundamental attribute that supports the growth and development of a transformationally networked organization.10


  • Cameron, K. S., Quinn, R.E., Degraff, J., Thakor, A.V., (2006) Competing Values Leadership: Creating Value in Organizations
  • Schein, E. H., (2004) Organizational Culture and Leadership
  • Baer, M., Frese, M., (2003) Journal of Organizational Behavior
  • Galbraith, J., Downey, D., Keates, A., (2002) Designing Dynamic Organizations Weisbord, M. (1978). Organizational diagnosis, six places to look for trouble with or without a theory, The Journal of group and organizational management
  • DeGraff, J., Quinn, S. E., (2007) Leading Innovation
  • Robbins, S.P. (1994 – 2005) Essentials of Organizational Behavior
  • Thomas, K. W., Schmidt, W., H., (1976) Survey of Managerial Interests with Respect to Conflict”
  • Nadler, D.A.. & Tushman, M.L. (1997). Competing by design. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Mascitelli, R., (2000) “From Experience to Harnessing Tacit Knowledge to Achieve Breakthrough Innovation”, Journal of Product Innovation Management
  • Kotter, J.P., (2014) “Accelerate” Harvard Business Review Press