The Competing Values Framework: an Introduction and Modern Application in the Field of Information Science

Michael Gallagher
INFO 640
November 4, 2005

The nature of human interaction is such that any strategy developed in one instance can be applied to that instance only unless criteria are established that identify the commonalities of the strategy. In essence, an effective strategy in one situation, unless universally applicable, will succeed only in that instance; any attempt to apply it to a larger context is destined for failure by way of context and exceptions to the rule. Organizations are mere extensions of human interaction. They represent larger models of basic human interaction mechanisms. As such, their governing dynamics are often quite similar and unfortunately, similar measures of success are often applicable only to given instances. What is more daunting is the fact that often contradictory measures are equally successful, depending on the nature of the interaction and the organization. Management theories attempt to develop effective strategies, often without attempting to reconcile these contradictory values.
In response to these inherent inconsistencies, the Competing Values Framework (CVF) attempts to create a unified theory of the nature of management, stressing the interaction of the various roles and states that an effective manager must perform in. It is considered a direct response to the fluid nature of organizational management and one of the first attempts to understand management as a constantly evolving, often contradictory exercise. The basic premise revolves around the fact that what worked in any given situation today, may not work tomorrow if certain variables are altered. A static approach to management is often the death knell of an antiquated organization. On the contrary, an organization that sincerely values changes as a development tool will subscribe to the notion that effective management must also be change oriented. This change in management often invokes seeming contradictions. How can one possibly be reflective and decisive at the same time? Is it possible to incorporate a visionary approach to management and still be attentive to detail? Effective leadership “requires a balancing and simultaneous mastery of seemingly contradictory and paradoxical capabilities” (Cameron). In essence, the answer to the aforementioned questions is yes and no, depending on the time, space and the situation in question.
The organization of this report will be in the spirit of the Internal Process Model, stressing the consolidation of information and the continuity of purpose as found in the Competing Values Framework. The report will be organized according to the following categories:
I. Theory Overview
II. Theorist Background
III. Theory Application
IV. Theory Appropriateness

I. Theory Overview
The Competing Values Framework (CVF) was developed in response to the numerous variables that affect the outcome of any given organizational situation. Certain theories prior to the development of CVF stressed the importance of organizational focus, namely the focus of an organization on one particular management strategy. However, subsequent management theories applied similar logic to a myriad of variables, thus presenting a confusing mishmash of independently logical strategies. CVF was created in direct response to the perceived lack of foundation in the field of leadership as made evident by the significant amounts of unconnected empirical investigations (Cameron). The Competing Values Framework attempted to define and categorize the variables at work in any given organization. The research conducted on behalf of this theory discovered that many of the variables were in actual contradiction of one another, thus producing an internal competition amongst the variables that determine organizational focus. The Competing Values Framework “highlights the competing tensions and conflicts inherent in any human system” (Paulin, Ferguson, Payaud, 2000). The nature and structure of these inherent conflicts form the basis for the Competing Values Framework.
The Competing Values Framework was initially developed as an attempt to “resolve the apparent lack of agreement about effective responses to environmental and organizational complexity” (Brown, Dodd, 1997, 374). This inherent complexity establishes a basis for indecision and mismanagement if not addressed properly. The Competing Values Framework addresses this complexity by emphasizing the conflicts between stability and change and, between internal organization and the external environment (Paulin, Ferguson, Payaud, 2000, 329). Although CVF attempts to explain the underlying conflicts present in any given organization, it exists as a unified theory rather than a prescriptive course of measure. According to Brown and Dodd, “embracing the CVF does not require one to disabuse oneself of any particular theoretical approach to organizational or management theory” (375). Rather, the Competing Values Framework allows an organization to witness what organizing principles they are exhibiting which further enables them to conduct internal investigations into the appropriateness of their focus. The CVF is not the cure, but rather the diagnosis.
The variables which account for competing values within an organization are represented by four different categories within a grid. This grid is, in essence, a Cartesian plane with two axis intersecting one another forming four distinct categories. The two axis account for two different dimensions of organizational structure, the flexibility-stability dimension and the external-internal focus dimension (Cartan, Vilkinas, 2000, 175). The horizontal axis accounts for two polar opposite concerns of organizational focus (Brown, Dodd, 1997, 374). The vertical axis identifies the organizational structure, ranging from flexibility at the top of the axis to a control focus at the bottom (374). The resulting figure is illustrated below:

Quadrant 1
Open Systems

Quadrant 2
Rational Goal

Quadrant 3
Internal Process

Quadrant 4
Human Relations


Within each quadrant, two aspects of organizational focus intermesh allowing for the creation of four distinct categories. Each of these quadrants corresponds to an organizational model. The variables found in Quadrant 1 constitute the Open Systems Model. The Open Systems Model values adaptability, change capacity, and an orientation towards external resources and customers (Brown, Dodd, 1997, 374). This particular model is especially indicative of an organization that is involved in projects that are especially fluid and where the capacity for change often dictates success. Quadrant 2 is referred to as the Rational Goal Model, which values efficiency in all aspects of the organization, especially as they relate to planning, operations, and goal setting (374). The Rational Goal Model emphasizes the notion that organizations exist “because they are ore efficient than the market system alone” (Cooper, Quinn, 1993, 180). Organizations exhibiting these tendencies are concerned with rational goals, such as profits and effective use of resources.
The model presented in Quadrant 3 is referred to as the Internal Process Model and because it shares an axis with the Rational Goal Model, many of the same characteristics are shared as well. However, what separates the Internal Process Model from the Rational Goal Model is the focus on internal organizational matters which is prevalent in Quadrant 3. The Internal Process Model emphasizes stability, control, and internal continuity (Cooper, Quinn, 1993, 179). The definition of success for an organization exhibiting Internal Process Model tendencies is the projection of stability and the sense of projected equilibrium (180).
Quadrant 4 presents the Human Relations Model, which emphasizes internal organizational matters yet values flexibility (Brown, Dodd, 1997, 374). In this model, human development, cohesion and morale are extremely important and represent the organizational thrust of management (374). The Human Relations Model deviates considerably from the Internal Process Model because it values the informal nature of human communication more than codified rules and procedures (Cooper, Quinn, 1993, 180). This human communication is valued as a change agent, in contrast to the Internal Process Model which views change with suspicion. These four quadrants form the basis of the Competing Values Framework.
As applied to organizational structure, these four categories are useful in establishing focus and resource strengths and deficiencies. However, since the Competing Values Framework is a unified theory, it can effectively be applied to any human system, including management theory. The four category definitions still apply, but several distinctions are included within each category allowing for depth of analysis. These distinctions are referred to as roles and they correspond with a variety of management focuses. For example, the Open Systems Model, identified in Quadrant 1, also contains the Innovator and Broker roles. These roles value change capacity and therefore innovation and brokering are well suited to this quadrant. If an organization values change as an organizing principle, then their focus will most likely fall in the Open Systems Model and, consequently, management strategy will correspond to either the Innovator or Broker roles or both. An illustration of this type of organization is Ford Motor Company, which affected a focus shift to respond to growing consumer demands and increased competition (Cooper, Quinn, 1993, 180). As an industry, automobile manufacturing requires innovation to be considered successful; constant adjustments must be made to the design and features of an automobile for the consumer to take notice. However, in a perfect CVF scenario, various departments within Ford would have a Rational Goal Model focus being preoccupied with sales and market fluctuations. Thus, while the overall focus of Ford would adhere to an Open Systems Model, certain inconsistencies exist in individual departments.
The Rational Goal Model contains the roles of Director and Producer, emphasizing the logical nature of this model’s transactions. Since the focus of the Rational Goals Model is tangible and routinely quantifiable, the roles of Director and Producer are designed to maximize organizational resources in an attempt to abide by this organizational focus. Administrative skills are especially valued in both the Director and Producer roles because they best serve the needs of rational goals, mainly strategic planning and profit margins. An example of this type of organization would be industries involved in sales of mass proportions, such as Pepsi and Coke (Cooper, Quinn, 1993, 180). The volume and subsequent profits must be increased in order to satisfy Rational Goal Model demands. Therefore, management strategies in these particular roles would be designed to satisfy those demands.
Within the Internal Process Model, the roles of Monitor and Coordinator exist, stressing the desired result of consolidation and continuity. The Monitor role, according to Vilkinas and Cartan, monitors progress, collects information and holds regular reviews, traits apt for an organization that has established routines and practices that do not vary considerably over time (176). By way of an illustration, university offices such as the Registrar and Bursar display many of the characteristics of the Monitor role. Their respective practices are fairly well established and therefore management strategies can focus on the efficiency of the employee through monitoring and reviews. The Coordinator role values the coordination of activities, the development and adherence to schedules and the perception of order in the workplace. The Coordinator and Monitor role differ slightly; the Coordinator role encapsulates more of a strategic planning role, establishing routines and order rather than abiding by them, developing schedules rather than following them and projecting order when there is very little. However, what they have in common is their internal focus on stability; both inherently value stability.
The Human Relations Model, with its emphasis on internal flexibility, contains the roles of Facilitator and Mentor. The Facilitator role builds teams, establishes consensus and manages conflict (179). Since the stress in the Human Relations Model is human commitment, the Facilitator values the relationships that management develops with employees as well as the relationship employees develop with themselves. The Facilitator role is well suited towards an organization involved in cohesive activities, where a social atmosphere is encouraged to maintain morale; examples of this type of organization would be those involved in creative enterprises, such as public relations and advertising. The Mentor role develops staff, listens emphatically and treats each staff member in a caring way (179). This particular role is effective in organizations that attempt to create a family atmosphere amongst its workers, allowing the mutual bonds of trust and respect to assist the organization in weathering trying periods.
Taken as a whole, these roles represent the spectrum of management strategy with each role suited to one or many situations and with each organization simultaneously demanding differing roles. The fact that these roles often coexist within the same organization attests to the conflicting nature of management, organizational culture and the systems which represent these variables.

II. Theorist Background
The Competing Values Framework was developed by Quinn and Rohrbraugh and published in a paper entitled “A spatial model of effectiveness criteria: toward a competing values approach to organizational analysis” (1983). Campbell’s criteria for organizational effectiveness, as published in “New perspectives on organizational effectiveness”, served as the foundation for the Competing Values Framework, alluding as it does to the underlying notions of competitiveness within an organization. Subsequent articles define the scope of application for the Competing Values Framework, by both Quinn and related theorists. Quinn published articles applying the framework to organizational life cycles (Quinn, Cameron, 1983), organizational cultures (Quinn, Spreitzer, 1991), Management Information Systems (Cooper, Quinn, 1993) and to the empowerment of middle management for the purpose of enacting transformational change (Spreitzer, Quinn, 1996).
Related theorists have also used the Competing Values Framework to analyze a variety of organizations in their capacity for change. Sendelbach applied the CVF to management training and development techniques (1993). Giek and Lees used the framework to organize the educational efforts of the human resource function in state government (1993). Furthermore, the Competing Values Framework has been used to assess such diverse topics as corporate ethical codes (Stevens, 1996), commercial banking (Paulin, Ferguson, Payaud, 2000) teaching strategies (Thompson, 1993) and the particulars of an Australian organizational context (Lamond, 2003).
The diversity of the scholarly work performed on the Competing Values Framework attests to its applicability as a flexible analysis tool. Further research areas of interest might include the ability of the Competing Values Framework to apply to armed forces readiness stature, educational reorganization, and budgetary concerns.

III. Theory Application
In the field of information science, the Competing Values Framework is directly applicable both as a tool for analysis as well as transformative change. Since the CVF is a unifying principle, it is especially useful when combining these two principles in one measure, to analyze organizational culture and subsequent management strategy and to develop a cohesive measure for change. Thus, for the purposes of this report, the Competing Values Framework will be applied to an academic library affiliated with a university that is looking to cultivate an extensive and current technology collection. Although this is a theoretical exercise, the fundamentals of the Competing Values Framework in comparison to this type of library is a sound structure; a library in this situation would be exhibiting many of the same conflicting values as mentioned in the CVF.
An established academic library would presumably be accustomed to a stable organizational environment. Much of the work within the library itself would involve internal and regulated goals, cultivated over a course of time and strengthened by tradition. An academic library would exist within the Internal Process Model, stressing the internal nature of the work being carried out. Furthermore, management roles would predictably be of that internal variety, ranging from Monitor to Coordinator and perhaps Facilitator and Mentor, located within the Human Relations Model. Within this Internal Process Model, the characteristic of stability would dominate. Since the Monitor and Coordinator Roles stress such activities such as scheduling, collecting information and conducting routine review sessions, these roles would be applicable to an academic library setting. Since the stress is on team building and staff development in the Human Relation Model, this quadrant would also be applicable to an academic library. Since the Human Relation Model stresses team cohesion, an academic library would naturally adopt such a management strategy in an attempt to develop independent work units, capable of performing required tasks with little social friction.
Although the Human Relations Model is more flexible than the Internal Process Model, both of these approaches might prove problematic when applied to the change mechanism being proposed, namely the development of a technology collection. For a project of this magnitude, certain aspects of the Internal Process Model must be retained, namely the Monitor role, which stresses the monitoring of employees and the collection of information, and the Coordinator role, which stresses the coordination and scheduling of activities. However, a greater degree of external organizational focus must be developed, leading to an organizational shift to the Open Systems Model, the Rational Goal Model, or some combination of the two.
Although the Human Relations Model is not completely suitable to the completion of this task, certain aspects prove useful when establishing a change mechanism. Since the Human Relations Model stresses cohesion and team building, it will prove useful when implemented change proves stressful or overwhelming to the individual employee. This employee will be strengthened by the knowledge of their participation in the community of action as well as their reliance on the perceived trust of the group. However, since the nature of the project is pragmatically high-task, then the organization must initiate a shift of focus to a model more pragmatically suited to their needs, namely the Rational Goal Model.
The acquisition of materials for a proposed technology collection would represent an attempt to articulate focus and maximize output, one of the main focuses of the Rational Goal Model. The planning team would first develop a cohesive planning statement, which would serve to articulate the goals of the project. A Director role would be well suited to this undertaking because their inherent focus is to clarify priorities and provide direction. This is a considerable shift from the Monitor, Coordinator, Facilitator, or Mentor role that had been exhibited in the library setting up to this point. Therefore, for the purposes of such an organizational shift, it might be most efficient to retain services from outside the department to initiate this change. The existing structure of the organization would be left intact and the change mechanisms would be allowed to operate unhindered. Social networks established under the guidance of the Human Relations Model would retain their cohesiveness. Furthermore, the pragmatic priorities of the acquired Producer or Director roles would be filtered through the existing structure of the Internal Process or Human Relation Models.
The Producer or Director would provide direction to the work units as well as clarifying priorities. Furthermore, specific goals would be developed and relayed to the work units, affording measurable criteria that prove suited to the Rational Goal Model, which measures success through maximization of output. In the case of collection development, the Producer or Director would develop a prioritized list of activities, ranging from material identification to cataloging. These activities would be distributed according to the readiness level of the individual work units, criteria for evaluation would be developed, and the social cohesion of the individual work units would provide the foundation for group interaction and success.
Certain dangers exist considering the nature of this project as ongoing. Once the initial collection has been developed, continuous investigation will be required to identify the pertinent literature. The ongoing and seemingly unpredictable nature of materials acquisition often lends itself to a Rational Goal Model, as well as an Open System Model. Therefore, it would be necessary to enact some permanent organizational change to properly address this unpredictability. Since the original structure of the academic library was based on the Human Relation and Internal Process models, this partial permanent shift might prove problematic. For instance, certain aspects of the department will be performing under varying measures of organizational focus. Once the initial phae of the project is complete, the majority of the department will naturally gravitate towards their original model, either the Human Relation or the Internal Process Model. However, certain slivers of the department, namely those involved in technology materials acquisition will be forced to operate in a model seemingly at odds with the rest of their department. This might, if not properly managed, lead to a fracture within the department, leading to deterioration in the cohesion of the work units.
Furthermore, channels of communication must be established between the academic library and the technology departments. These channels of communication must be maintained to ensure that the information needs of the technology departments are being met and that the material being acquired by the academic library is being utilized. A Human Relations Model would be adept at maintaining these channels of communication, a natural state for the academic library, but one that might prove somewhat foreign to the technology departments. The technology departments might have an alternative organizational focus with less emphasis on collaborative activities, placing it at odds with the focus of the academic library. Therefore, it is critical to bridge that gap with human relations and definable goals, a systematic combination of the Monitor and Mentor roles. If this combination is enacted, proper channels of communication can be maintained and the integrity of the relationship between these departments can be strengthened.

IV. Theory Appropriateness
The strength of the Competing Values Framework is its universality; it can be applied to most any structure or situation because it identifies the underlying principles of human interaction. As previously mentioned, all organizations are mere extensions of basic human interaction and, as such, are subject to the same laws governing their behavior. However, what the Competing Values Framework identifies is that, even in the most basic form of human interaction, there exist competitive values seemingly contradicting one another. Therefore, proper management will seek to identify and effectively control these competitive values.
The Competing Values Framework is especially applicable to the field of information science. Any information organization is subject to the competing values of organization and innovation, to the competing values of stability and flux. An academic library for instance stresses employee cohesion and team building exercises, yet still requires strict adherence to internal and rational goals, such as material acquisition and budgeting. These values are at odds with one another. Therefore, an effective management strategy involving an information organization would need a limited mastery of several distinct roles. These roles would serve the organization by responding to the fluctuating nature of the demands of the field. For example, what percentage of materials acquisition should be in print or electronic form? An organization solely dedicated to internal processes would be concerned with the stability and tradition of policy; an organization concerned with rational goals would be concerned with the effects that these materials might have on our competitiveness. These conflicting goals and procedures demand an underlying logic, a systematic framework which permeates every decision and management strategy. The Competing Values Framework provides exactly this type of foundation.


Brown, F.W. & Dodd, N.G. (1997). “Utilizing organizational culture gap analysis
to determine human resource development needs.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 19(7), 374-385.

Cameron, K. (n.d.). “An introduction to the Competing Values Framework.”
Retrieved October 17, 2005, from 20Introduction%20Article.pdf

“Competing Values Framework” (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2005, from

Cooper, R.B., & Quinn, R.E. (1993). “Implications of the Competing Values
Framework for management information systems.” Human Resources Management, 32 (1), 175-201. Retrieved October 22, 2005, from ProQuest database.

Giek, D.G., & Lees, P.L. (1993). “On massive change: Using the Competing Values
Framework to organize the educational efforts of the human resource function
in New York state government.” Human Resource Management, 32(1), 9-28.
Retrieved October 22, 2005, from ProQuest database.

Hooijberg, R., & Petrock, F. (1993). “On cultural change: Using the Competing Values
Framework to help leaders execute a transformational strategy.” Human Resource Management, 32(1), 29-50. Retrieved October 22, 2005, from ProQuest database.

Lamond, D. (2003). “The value of Quinn’s competing values model in an
Australian context.” Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18(1), 46-59. Retrieved
October 22, 2005, from Emerald Fulltext database.

Paulin, M., Ferguson, R.J., & Payaud, M. (2000). “Effectiveness of relational and
transactional cultures in commercial banking: Putting client-value into the
competing values model.” International Journal of Bank Marketing, 18(7),
328-337. Retrieved October 25, 2005, from Emerald Fulltext database.

Quinn, R.E., & Cameron, K. (1983). “Organizational life cycles and shifting criteria
of effectiveness: Some preliminary evidence.” Management Science, 29(1), 33- 51.

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.

Quinn, R.E., & Spreitzer, G.M. (1991). “The psychometrics of the competing values
culture instrument and an analysis of the impact of organizational culture on
quality of life.” Research in Organizational Change and Development, 5, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT., 115-142.

Sendelbach, N.B. (1993). “The Competing Values Framework for management
training and development: A tool for understanding complex issues and tasks.”
Human Resource Management, 32(1), 75-99. Retrieved October 22, 2005, from
ProQuest database.

Stevens, B. (1996). “Using the Competing Values Framework to assess
corporate ethical codes.” The Journal of Business Communication, 33(1),
71-84. Retrieved October 24, 2005, from Emerald Fulltext Database.

Spreitzer, G.M., & Quinn, R.E., (1996). “Empowering middle managers to be
transformational leaders.” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 32(3), 237-261.
Retrieved October 24, 2005, from ABI/INFOR Global database.

Thompson, M.P. (1993). “Using the Competing Values Framework in the classroom.”
Human Resource Management, 32(1), 101-119. Retrieved October 22, 2005, from
ProQuest database.

Vilkinas, T., & Cartan, G. (2000). “The behavioral control room for managers: The
integrator role.” Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 22(4),
175-185. Retrieved October 22, 2005, from ProQuest.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.