Cover: Exploring Differences in Organizational Culture Within the Department of Defense

Exploring Differences in Organizational Culture Within the Department of Defense

Published Jun 22, 2023

by James Ryseff, Jonathan Welch, Lewis Schneider


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As the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) pivots to deal with the pacing threat posed by China, its leadership recognizes that it can no longer rely on its technological advantage to ensure victory. Instead, DoD's leaders recognize that they must change the culture of the department to make it more innovative and adaptive in order to overcome new threats. The authors of this report analyzed the organizational culture of communities within DoD to understand how the current culture could be characterized and how DoD's culture varies within the department. Building on this research could help DoD's leaders achieve their desired cultural change.

For this report, the authors used the Competing Values Framework (CVF) as an organizing framework for their analysis of organizational culture. The CVF differentiates among types of organizational culture and categorizes it into four dimensions: Adhocracy, Hierarchy, Clan, and Market. An Adhocracy culture dimension has a flexible, externally oriented culture; a Hierarchy culture has a stable, internally focused culture; a Clan culture has a flexible, internally oriented culture; and a Market culture has a stable, externally oriented culture.

Key Findings

  • Overall, most of the military services and operational communities that the authors analyzed demonstrated a substantially greater affinity for Hierarchy than Adhocracy.
  • The most significant relative variations in organizational culture are between operational communities that emphasize the Clan culture and those that emphasize the Market culture.
  • DoD does not have a monoculture. The authors' analysis shows meaningful variations across the military services and operational communities within DoD for the values that these entities instill in their members and the way they think about solving problems. Consequently, if DoD leadership wants to change the department's culture, they will find that some communities already have a greater affinity for the desired end culture. The members of these subcultures could be valuable change agents and allies for a larger effort to transform DoD's organizational culture.
  • There is little evidence that the most recent updates to DoD's acquisition regulations have sent a signal to DoD's acquisition workforce supporting a change in the direction of the Adhocracy organizational culture dimension.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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