Competing Values Framework and SPoR

The work of Cameron and Quinn (1999) and their Competing Values Framework (CVFs) should be essential research for anyone in risk and safety interested in culture particularly, the politics of culture. (Cameron, K., and Quinn, R., (1999). Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, Based on the Competing Values Framework. Addison-Wesley, New York.)

In SPoR, we have been using the work of Cameron and Quinn for many years as part of our MiProfile Diagnostic ( ), cultural studies and on-site culture observation training. The SPoR on-site culture observation method is focused on learning through experiential learning, listening and insitu Semiotic knowing.

The SPoR on-site Semiotic walk training is particularly helpful for developing insight about culture and the Collective Unconscious. Such a walk is NOT about observing behaviours, the darling of Safety. This is because culture is NOT ‘what we do around here’.


When one learns to reject this nonsense behaviourist definition and unlearn the behaviourist/engineering paradigm of culture, then learning about culture commences. This was discovered recently by participants in the free SPoR online module on Culture and Risk (

We will be undertaking 2 days of workshops in Semiotics and a one Semiotic Walk in Vienna 26, 27, 28 June 2023. If you are interested in learning this unique way of seeing the world and culture, you can register here:

The Competing Values Framework is a quadrant-based tool that can be used to overlay with the SPoR iCue Engagement method to enable insight into the political and cultural Discourse of an organisation.

One thing is for sure, unless one considers and understands the political dimension of culture, one isn’t studying culture. Unless one has the political capability, education and experience to investigate culture, one isn’t studying culture. If there is anything that pulls apart organisations and culture, it is dysfunctional politics. A toxic culture is an unsafe culture and the foundation for toxic culture is zero.

CVFs have been in use for many years as a part of Transdisciplinary research ( ). It is no surprise that the work of Cameron and Quinn is just another cultural silence ( in the risk and safety world that thinks that culture is an engineering exercise (eg. Hopkins, Busch) that we shouldn’t talk about.

A full outline of CVFs and socio-political Discourse was discussed in For the Love of Zero (pp.141-150) published by SPoR in 2012. Your free download is here:

The discussion of this section of the book is situated in the context of the Beaconsfield Disaster ( in which Dr Long served on the Emergency Coordination Operations Group (ECOG).

It is in this method that SPoR uses a semiotic understanding of cultural politics using the CVFs. In this case we have renamed Cameron and Quinn’s quadrants from: Clan, Adhocracy, Hierarchy and Market to: Democracy, Adhocracy, Autocracy and Bureaucracy. This change (and the addition of the psychology of colour) helps better understand political forces and energies at work in a culture. We then use the MiProfile Diagnostic tool and the SPoR Culture iCue Audit Tool (See Figure 1. SPoR Culture Audit Tool) to map the political culture.

Figure 1. SPoR Culture Audit Tool


This tool is also supplemented by the SPoR Visual and Spacial Literacy Tool and the Social Politics Tool. In SPoR, we offer many practical, positive and constructive methods for free to those who want to learn and be more effective in how they tackle culture.

Both of these complementary methods (tools) enable the diagnostic process in addition to the MiProfile diagnostic. By the time these SPoR methods have be undertaken, leaders in organisations have extensive insight into the political culture of their organisation.

The political dynamics at work in the organisation can then be mapped on the SPoR CVF Framework. This Framework helps position various unconscious energies and forces in the organisation against the CVF Framework. The dynamics of the Framework are mapped at Figure 2. SPoR CVF Framework.

Figure 2. SPoR CVF Framework.


These can also be mapped according to Management Actions: Figure 3. Management Actions.

Figure 3. Management Actions.


These maps help understand the SPoR CVF method. The following descriptors help explain each sector of the CVF quadrant:



The idea of clan indicates a family-type organisation, usually characterised by a strong emphasis on team work, employee development, partnership, participation, loyalty and mutuality. It is believed that through these approaches safety is best achieved. Some core values in a democracy culture are: trust, loyalty, intimacy, friendliness, concern, respect, equality. These values are secured by high centralisation where flexibility can operate within clear boundaries which are accepted, owned and shared. The focus of such a political culture is on maintaining an internal and flexible approach to management with room for individual and group discretion within accepted boundaries.


The idea of an open and adhocratic culture should not be interpreted “do as you like”. The idea of being “ad hoc” has its focus on the temporary nature of things (what Weick calls bricolage), it is more interested in the immediate, the specialised and dynamic. Such a political culture is more open to change and flexibility, able to move quickly with either the unexpected or with new demands. The major values of the open adhocratic culture are adaptability, creativity, managing uncertainty, movement and discretion within accepted boundaries. Whilst the focus is on flexibility, the methodology is less centralised and more conscious of external considerations eg. positioning against competition. In this way, the creativity and flexibility are perceived as mechanisms to get the edge on external challenges. The adhocratic political culture is conscious of its own distinctives, in other words, what makes it different from the rest.


The Bureaucratic culture has its emphasis on high organisation and formalisation, this is not vested in individuals or persons but in processes, systems and policies. The core values of the Bureaucratic culture are security, certainty, respect, containment, stability and control. The bureaucratic nature of management is not seen as a negative but a positive where boundaries help enable individuals and groups within the structures to relax, develop relationships, enjoy work and feel secure in the knowledge that the processes, policies, systems and directions are clear. A clear and secure culture is viewed in relationship to competitors in the market and differentiation is based on performance. This kind of political culture is the one most desired by the safety industry. Unfortunately, order and control disable the benefits of other political cultures.


The idea of hierarchy has its emphasis on people, particularly centralised leadership, often situated in the charismata of one person. In this culture, value is placed on order, organisation, smooth running procedures, trust, competence, authority, charism, intelligence, efficiency and pace. There are not too many structures in this culture instead there is a trust in strong, energetic and charismatic leadership who make effective and responsible decisions which often by-pass the slowness of bureaucratic organisations. Leaders of this type engender confidence in the workforce, security is felt because the leader knows where things are going.

Further See Figure 4. CVF Descriptors

Figure 4. CVF Descriptors


The four quadrants are labelled indicating high or low formalisation and high and low centralisation. It is between these dynamics that a healthy dialectical relationship should be maintained, where a sense of political balance is discovered.

SPoR CVF semiotic mapping illustrates trends, political energies, forces and dynamic relationships between the organising process and risk outcomes.

These criteria assist in the assessment mix of various cultural and sub-cultural indicators in the MiProfile Diagnostic and iCue Observation Tool, and matches them to organisational structures.

For example, diagnostic results which indicate high levels of autocracy (low formalisation) tend to show low levels of flexibility and problem solving capacity often because the organisational leadership style potentially limits a problem solving approach to safety management. The outcomes of low problem solving capacity is often perceived in low levels of resilience and readiness to manage the unexpected. Results which indicate low resilience, low organisational learning capacity and error readiness are often characterised by an equally strong sub-culture of rigid safety systems, behaviourist worldview and poor safety thinking.

The results for each cultural category are semiotically mapped, creating a ‘cultural type’. These can also be anchored to various archetypes that are well known in Jungian terminology. Such Archetypes help focus on the political power as a force in itself (, way beyond the nature of the individuals in the group. For example, the myth of the hero Archetype (common in safety) is a destructive type that pulls apart commonality, mutuality, everyday meaning and community. The elevation of types (such as superheroes also common in safety) above others: disables listening, builds relational barriers, disables empathy, fosters arrogance and a dangerous sense of overconfidence/hubris.

The SPoR CVF Method assists analysis and determination of how to tackle political-cultural challenges to address core risk sub-cultures and cultural values that underpin attitudes, pathway blocks, political dynamics and dissonant beliefs.

Mapping results using the CVF Tool

When results are plotted on the SPoR CVF quadrant it should be understood in the following way. The dotted line represents a score of 50% and results for each statement in each quadrant are plotted against that line. An indicator within the line represents a score less than 50% and closer to the outside of the quadrant represents a higher score. In the diagram below it is clear that all scores are high except for the score for autocracy which indicates that this cultural value is in some sense of imbalance with other scores.

In this way the semiotic map appears to give a quantitative indication of qualitative (subjective observation and analysis). It is critical to remember that culture cannot be measured and that measurement is anathema to cultural understanding.

See: Figure 5. CVF Dominant Types, Figure 6. CVF Conflict Pairs and Figure 7. CVF Deficit Types

Figure 5. CVF Dominant Types




Figure 6. CVF Conflict Pairs




Figure 7. CVF Deficit Types

Where-is-the-Collective? Where-is-the-Individual?
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Where-is-the-Leader? Where-is-the-Policy&Process?
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I’m sure you get such thorough socio-political analysis and assurance from your current safety culture survey?

Unfortunately, I am yet to read any discussion about culture in the safety industry that helps organisations understand the connection between political types, risk and safety. This is what a SPoR methodology and methods offer. SPoR not only thinks differently, it provides constructive and practical methods to enact differently.

Meanwhile, back in behaviourist-engineering world the repetition of the same old paradigm ensures that nothing changes except the expansion of paperwork and systems.

Once a SPoR CVF analysis is undertaken for an organisation, leaders begin to see and experience semiotically what is going on and move away from the nonsense assumption that behaviours are evidence of culture. This then gives a realistic and practical way forward to help leaders tackle the many cultural challenges they face.

If such a method is of interest or if you want to know more, you can contact and we can offer a SPoR person to come into your organisation and help work with you using this methodology and method.

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