The Denison Model

In this section, you will learn the basics of the Denison model and what it can tell you about critical aspects of your organization’s culture.

The Denison model is based on over two decades of research linking culture to bottom-line performance measures. The Denison model was developed by Dr. Daniel Denison, formerly of the University of Michigan Business School, and currently Professor of Organization Development at IMD - International Institute of Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dr. Denison’s research focuses on the link between organizational culture and bottom-line performance measures such as profitability, growth, quality, innovation, customer and employee satisfaction.


Beliefs and Assumptions

At the center of the model are “Beliefs and Assumptions.” Each of us have deeply held beliefs about our organization, our coworkers, our customers, our competitors and our industry. These beliefs and assumptions, and their associated behaviors, determine the culture of an organization. The Denison model and surveys allow us to reveal the underlying beliefs and assumptions in recognizable and measurable ways that impact organizational performance.      

Read an example of Beliefs and Assumptions at work.

Traits and Indexes

The model answers four key questions about your organization:

These are the traits in the Denison model. Each of these organizational traits is further broken down into three indexes. These indexes describe specific behaviors in business language to make the results both relevant and actionable in your organization. Let’s take a closer look at each index.

Mission: Defining a meaningful long-term direction for the organization.

  • Strategic Direction & Intent: Do employees understand the strategies identified by the organization and do they think the strategies will work?

  • Goals & Objectives: Are there short-term goals that help link what employees do on a day-to-day basis to the strategy and vision of the organization? Do employees understand how their job fits in?  

  • Vision: Do employees share a common desired future state for the organization? Do they understand the vision? Does it motivate and excite them?


Adaptability: Translating the demands of the external environment into action.

  • Creating Change: Can employees read the external environment and react to trends and changes?  Do employees constantly look for new and improved ways to do their work?

  • Customer Focus: Do we understand the needs of our customers?  Are employees committed to responding to their ever-changing needs?  Is customer focus a primary concern throughout the organization?   

  • Organizational Learning: Is importance placed on learning in the workplace?  Do we create an environment where reasonable risk taking and innovation can occur?  Do we share knowledge across the organization?


Involvement: Building human capability and creating a shared sense of ownership and responsibility throughout the organization.

  • Empowerment: Do employees feel informed and involved in the work that they do? Do they feel they can have a positive impact on the organization?

  • Team Orientation: Is teamwork encouraged AND practiced in the organization? Do employees value collaboration and feel mutually accountable for common goals?

  • Capability Development: Do employees believe that they are being invested in and that their skills are improving?  Is the organization’s bench strength improving? Does the organization have the skills it needs to be competitive today and into the future?


Consistency: Defining the values and systems that are the basis of the culture.

  • Core Values: Do employees share a set of values that create a strong sense of identity and a clear set of expectations?  Do leaders model and reinforce those values?

  • Agreement: Is the organization able to reach agreement on critical issues? Can employees reconcile differences in a constructive way when problems arise?

  • Coordination & Integration: Do employees from different parts of the organization share a common perspective that allows them to work effectively across organizational boundaries?  Do they work to eliminate ‘silos’ and promote actions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole?   



Dynamic Tensions

Leaders, managers and employees often feel as though they are being pulled in different directions during the natural course of doing business. This push/pull or dynamic tension is normal and it forces us to think about the external environment and internal operation while maintaining consistency and being adaptive. The Denison model and surveys capture these dynamic tensions and offer valuable insight about how effectively we are managing them

Flexible and Stable

  • Flexible (Adaptability and Involvement): Organizations that are strong in these traits can change quickly in response to their environment. They tend to be successful at being innovative and satisfying their customers.   

  • Stable (Mission and Consistency): These organizations tend to be focused and have some level of predictability. They know where they are headed and have the tools and systems in place to get there. They create alignment that results in efficient, profitable performance.



External Focus and Internal Focus

  • External Focus (Adaptability and Mission): These organizations have an eye towards the market and are able to adapt and change in response to what they see. The result is the ability to grow as they meet the current and future needs of the marketplace.

  • Internal Focus (Involvement and Consistency): These organizations’ focus is on the alignment of internal systems, processes and people of the organization. High scores in Internal Focus typically predict efficient operating performance, higher levels of quality and increased employee satisfaction.



Cross Patterns

  • Top-down Bottom-up Alignment (Mission and Involvement): Organizations must have a balance between the Mission (top-down) and employee Involvement (bottom-up). They need to learn how to link the purpose and strategies of the organization to the shared sense of responsibility, ownership and commitment of the employees. When there is balance between these traits, we see effective two-way communication and an engaged, focused workforce.

  • Customer Value Chain (Adaptability and Consistency): This is represented by the tension created between Adaptability, which is largely concerned with the market, and Consistency, which looks at the internal values, systems and processes. High performing organizations must be able to adapt and respond to the market and develop systems and processes that allow them to execute in a way that produces quality products and services.



Access slides on the Denison Model Overview to help you explain
the model at any point in the process. There are also additional slides on
the Denison model available on the Resources page.


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