Competing Values Framework

Judging effectiveness of organizations.

History and Orientation

The Competing Values Framework emerged from a series of empirical studies on the notion of organizational effectiveness (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983). These efforts were an attempt to make sense of effectiveness criteria. Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983) discovered two dimensions of effectiveness. The first dimension is related to organizational focus, from an internal emphasis on people in the organization to an external focus of the organization itself. The second dimension represents the contrast between stability and control and flexibility and change.

The Competing Values Framework received its name because the criteria within the four models seem at first to carry conflicting messages. We want our organizations to be adaptable and flexible, but we also want them to be stable and controlled.

Core Assumptions and Statements

The framework has four quadrants.

1) Internal Process Model: based on hierarchy, emphasis on measurement, documentation and information management. These processes bring stability and control. Hierarchies seem to function best when the task to be done is well understood and when time is not an important factor.

2) Open Systems Model: based on an organic system, emphasis on adaptability, readiness, growth, resource acquisition and external support. These processes bring innovation and creativity. People are not controlled but inspired.

3) Rational Goal Model: based on profit, emphasis on rational action. It assumes that planning and goal setting results into productivity and efficiency. Tasks are clarified; objectives are set and action is taken.

4) Human Relations Model: based on cohesion and morale with emphasis on human resource and training. People are seen not as isolated individuals, but as cooperating members of a common social system with a common stake in what happens.

While the models seem to be four entirely different perspectives or domains, they can be viewed as closely related and interwoven. They are four subdomains of a larger construct: organizational and managerial effectiveness. The four models in the framework represent the unseen values over which people, programs, policies, and organizations live and die.

Conceptual Model


Human relations model Open system model

Means: cohesion, morale Means: flexibility, readiness

Ends: human resource development Ends: growth, resource acquisition

Internal External

Means: information management, Means: planning, goal setting

communication Ends: productivity, efficiency

Ends: Stability, control

Internal process model Rational goal model


Source: Quinn (1988).

Favorite Methods

Various methods, predominant surveys.

See for example:

Quinn, R., & Spreitzer, G. (1991).  The psychometric of the competing values
culture instrument and an analysis of the impact of organizational culture
on quality of life.  In R. Woodman & W. Passmore (Eds.), Research in
organizational change and development.  Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Scope and Application

The competing value framework can be used in organizational context. It can be used as a strategic tool to develop supervision and management programs. It can also be used to help organizations diagnose their existing and desired cultures. Furthermore, it can be seen a tool to examine organizational gaps. Another function might be to use it as a teaching tool for practicing managers or to help interpret and understand various organizational functions and processes. Another application is to help organizational members better understand the similarities and differences of managerial leadership roles.


A study on Ohio State University was conducted to analyze the dominant culture. Here the dominant culture, current and preferred were described and the strength of the culture. Furthermore, the cultural findings were reported by groups of individuals. The result of this study showed that almost two thirds of the colleges and universities nation wide have a Human Relations Model type.


Key publications

O’Neill, R.M & Quinn, R.E. (1993). Editor’s Note: Applications of the Competing Values Framework. Human Resource Management, 32, (1), 1-7.

Quinn, R.E. (1988). Beyond Rational Management: Mastering the Paradoxes and Competing Demands of High Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Quinn, R.E. & Rohrbaugh, J. (1983). A spatial model of effectiveness criteria: Towards a competing values approach to organizational analysis. Management Science, 29, 363-377.

Hooijberg, R. (1996). A multidirectional approach toward leadership: An extension of the concept of behavioral complexity. Human Relations, 49(7), 917-947.

Smart, J. C., & Hamm, R. E. (1993). Organizational effectiveness and mission orientations of two-year colleges. Research in Higher Education, 34(4), 489-502.

Smart, J. C., & St. John, E. P. (1996). Organizational culture and effectiveness in higher education: A test of the "Culture Type" and "Strong Culture" hypotheses. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 16(3), 219-241.

Bensimon, E.M., Neumann, A., and Birnbaum, R. (1989). Making sense of administrative leadership: The 'L' word in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Quinn, R.E., Cameron, K.S. (1999). Onderzoeken en veranderen van organisatiecultuur. Academic Service: Schoonhoven.

See also Organizational Communication