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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #163: Discovering the 4 Dimensions of Culture

November 18, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #163: Discovering the 4 Dimensions of Culture

Culture is the life blood of your business––it determines everything. Today, Chris and Perry talk with culture expert, Greg Cagle, and take a deep dive into the 4 Dimensions of Culture.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice president of The John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. As I’ve talked about in the past, if you want to learn more about any of the content pieces that our facilitators and coaches deliver in regards to coaching, in regards to facilitating, maybe you want to download the learner guide that Perry’s provided for us in this session, please visit And you can find that information right there.

Well, you guys know that when it comes to the titles, Perry kind of puts these on to me and sometimes I think they’re directly about me, other times he makes him so confusing I can’t even say them and we start laughing back and forth, but I’m super excited about the title for today and the series that we’re about to start. And today’s title is called Discovering the Four Dimensions of Culture. Now, here’s why I’m super excited about this. We have a guest with us today, he’s really not a guest, he’s one of us, he’s been around for a long time.

Perry Holley:    Part of the family.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s right. And he is one of our executive facilitators and coaches. And the three of us, Perry, myself and Greg Cagle, who I’m going to introduce you to in just a minute, we’re going to talk about these four dimensions of culture. And why I love this is because is something that is being talked about more now than ever. Some people would say it’s a little bit of a buzzword, or has been, or maybe it’s something that used to talk about, but we’re going to challenge you today and we’re going to talk about the dimensions of culture and then we’re going to talk about why it’s so important and even what the environment of the organization and where it’s at right now for the organizational health.

So let me introduce you to, I said our guest, and he’s not a guest of ours, he handles some of our biggest, longest standing clients. He’s been a friend of mine, even outside of our working relationship for a long time. And what I love about Greg is that he has an ability, and Perry and I are going to laugh about this, but he has an ability to just tell you how it is and then you walk away smiling, even if it was negative about you. He has worked some of the greatest leaders that we’ve had the privilege to partner with. And even just, most recently, he’s in tune with what’s going on in organizations. And that is what allowed him to get to this point where he wanted to develop and build out this culture piece. So, hey Greg, thanks so much for being here. We’re glad you’re joining us. We’re glad you gave us the opportunity to get on your calendar and for our audience to hear a little bit about you and your passion for this culture.

Greg Cagle:       Hey, it’s great. I’m glad to be here. I didn’t think, I don’t know, you guys are on podcast, what, 160 something or another. So it only took 165 podcast episodes for you guys get through your first choices. I’m glad that you finally worked your way down the list and found me worthy enough to get in here and have a conversation. So I’m pretty excited about it.

Perry Holley:    Well, that’s the only way we could get you to listen to the podcast is if we put you on it.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. That’s right.

Perry Holley:    Listen, listen, dude, I don’t need to listen, every client that I have talks to me about, “Hey man, did you hear what Chris and Perry were talking about and what’s trending on the Maxwell Podcast?” I don’t need to listen, man, they fill me in. Don’t worry about it. I got you.

Chris Goede:     Well, what I love about that, Greg is that Perry talks about that too, to where our clients in the field are listening to these 20, 25 minute leadership lessons and they’re sharing them with their teams. They’re so saying, “Hey, listen to this and then let’s talk about it.” And so we’re super excited to hear you say that from your perspective as well. So let’s talk about this. I want to spend our time really getting into the meat again, to something that you’ve been studying, something you’ve been writing about, you’re passionate about, but what got you so focused on culture being key to success for organizations around the world?

Greg Cagle:       Yeah, it kind of happened by accident, Chris you know and Perry, you know as well, in our work with leaders, so we’re coaching leaders, we’re in room with their employees, we’re doing training sessions and in too many cases, we’re doing consulting work with them and helping them in any kind of pain points they have in the organization. And what wound up happening as you begin to coach with leaders and you start talking to them on a regular basis, here’s what you find out, there’s a common theme. And that common theme is they all want to outperform their competitors, they want to be industry leaders and they’re always looking to widen the gap.

And in the years that I’ve been working with these leaders, what I’ve discovered is they’re focused on the wrong thing and they’re well meaning leaders, but here’s what I mean by that. So, they’re looking at sales reports, they’re trying to determine how their revenue stream is coming along and how their sales are coming. They’re looking at key performance indicators to make sure that they’re getting as much performance out of people as they can get, they’re looking at marketing and brand studies to determine, hey, what does our brand look like out there in the marketplace? We have the brand awareness and extension we’re looking for? So they’re looking at all these things, even employee engagement surveys, and they’re trying to manage their business through these reports.

Here’s the thing, all that stuff’s really cool and it’s very important and I think all leaders ought to look at it, but the problem is if you really want to be an industry leader, if you want to separate yourself from everyone else, if you want to create this gap where you’re in this blue ocean, and you’re deciding the rules of engagement in your industry, you got to look beyond these things. Those are lacking indicators that give you insight into your scoreboard. But as John says, “The law of the scoreboard just keeps the score.” And what is it that we’re doing to affect that score? And so, really what happened is we started working with leaders and saying, “Listen, if you’re going to be in a leader and you want an organization where your frontline employees are obsessed with delivering on your strategy, if you want frontline employees committed every single day to coming in and performing above and beyond their best past performance, you’re going to have to understand the power of culture.” So that’s kind of where it all started. And then we’ve kind of unpacked it as we’ve gone.

Perry Holley:    I love that. And you’ve inspired me. Because I think I was one of those leaders that kind of threw culture around as a buzzword. And as you’ve been educating me over the weeks and months, I’m beginning to see really the impact this has on every aspect of the business. And I was really intrigued by the fact that you developed a model called the Four Dimensions of Culture. And I wonder if that’d be a great place for us to start. And I just a reminder to our listeners, I have placed a picture of this, a graphic of it in the learner guide. If you’d like to see a picture of that, please download that learner guide at And you can see that there, but Greg, would you mind walking us through the model and maybe tell us, was there something behind why you needed a model for culture? I love it. It’s really helping me to get a picture of it, but tell us about that beast.

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Greg Cagle:       Yeah. Well, okay. So Perry, you really, you hit it right there. You said, “Tell us what it’s behind the model.” So I think before we talk about the model, we can talk about what really got us to the point of needing a culture model to begin with. And so it goes back to those conversations with those business leaders. And in fact, what we talk about with business leaders as we coach them, over time what we found out is there’s three key functions that organizations have to be able to understand and deliver on, to be successful, to be trendsetters, to be marketplace leaders. There’s three things. And in the pursuit of those three things, what we determine is that if we can understand this model that we’ve developed around culture, it gives us the ability to deliver on those three functions.

So let me tell you about those three functions real quick. The three functions that every organization does at any given point in time, there’s three things it has to do and has to do well. First of all, and most leaders understand this, the organization’s got to be able to execute on its strategy, right? We’ve got to be able to be laser focused and execute with excellence on all the strategic initiatives that we’ve outlined and that we know are key things that raise our capacity as an organization and raises the capacity of the individuals.

And so that’s number one, and most leaders get that, but there’s two other things that come along from time to time that can derail that execution of strategy if you’re not prepared. So along with executing on strategy, every organization must be prepared and able to navigate adversity or crisis, which I hear Chris kind of laughing about because Chris, I know that you know, because you’re in the hot seat, companies are coming to you with this whole pandemic thing and going, “Man, everything we thought we knew about how we were going to do business is now derailed.” I mean, you know what I’m talking about, right?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And what’s interesting, here’s what I kind of giggled about when you said that, I’m currently right now reading a book by Tim Elmore, it’s called The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership. And I kind of giggled because we talk about this great resignation that we’re seeing, which is the adversity that our organizations are seeing and feeling in regards to the pandemic. What’s every business owner right now talking about? Supply chain and labor, and they’re dealing with all of this and it’s all types of adversity. And so when you said navigates adversity, it just kind of hit home because not only do I feel it, obviously being a leader in John’s world for so long, but we are here to serve organizations around the world and they’re all dealing with it and I think you hit that on the head.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah. And I mean, if you think about it, going into 2020, we had clients, I mean the three of us, there’s probably two or three top that come to mind, they’re killing it. They’re just murdering it on strategy. And they’re having great years and all of a sudden this adversity, this crisis hits and today, look today it’s a pandemic, in 2008, it was a complete financial collapse. And then we all know how disruptive the market became around 9/11 and all of the uncertainty that goes with that. The bottom line is this, every business leader should know this, adversity and strategy don’t always work on the same calendar. You can be moving along really well, executing on your strategy and then be derailed by a crisis. In that the question is, it’s not, is crisis ever going to happen? Is adversity ever going to hit you? The question is, how do you prepare for that when you don’t know what it is? You don’t know that it’s coming? And so that’s the second leg of what organizations have to deliver on.

And then the third one and many times this third one comes out of adversity and that is being able to capitalize on opportunity. There’s two things we know about business, adversity and opportunity eventually will come our way. What we have to understand, we have to be prepared for is what does our organization need to look like? What is the environment we need to create that will allow us to navigate that adversity and maybe capitalize on any opportunity we never saw coming?

I mean, some of the biggest names we know today in business were able to capitalize on an unforeseen opportunity that jumped out nowhere and they grabbed it and they ran with it. In fact, some of the big names that we no longer refer to, in the past that were business leaders, were not able to capitalize on that same opportunity because they were locked into a culture of what we call complacency. Great example that I use in my book that I just am finishing up on four dimensions is Netflix and Blockbuster. Blockbuster had a tremendous game changing opportunity, hit them right in the face and because their culture wasn’t one to be able to capitalize on that, Netflix stole their market.

Chris Goede:     So you mentioned right there when you’re talking about complacent, let’s move into because I do think that those three things are so important that a business has to do all three of those things. What I love about these four dimensions and what I’d like to do is kind of name the dimension and then Greg, I want you to talk a little bit about it and what that means in regards to this culture. Because here’s what I do know, if you do not have a leading indicator, as Greg talked about, a healthy culture, you will not, as an organization, be able to take advantage of the opportunities that show up. You will not be able to navigate adversity. You may not, or will not be able to execute on your strategy. So let’s talk about these four dimensions.

And the good news is here, we got a lot of content for our listeners, but Greg is going to do a couple more podcasts with us and so we’re going to unpack this as we go a little bit further. Today we just want you to hear about these four dimensions and then listen in the next couple of weeks as we unpack it for you. But Greg, the first dimension that you talk about and you just mentioned it, is complacent. Talk a little bit about this dimension of culture complacency.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah. All right. So the interesting thing about the four dimensions, we list four, three of those are positive and healthy for any organization and one becomes really a negative dragon, is something that we look to eradicate. You just touched on that, so it’s complacency. So the complacent dimension, what’s interesting about the complacent dimension, couple things that all leaders need to understand. First of all, no organization starts out and says, “Hey, let’s go build a really complacent organization.” Nobody does that on purpose, right? So it’s not intentional, but what happens is it creeps up on, creeps up on you in the middle of the night.

Here’s the key thing to understand. I’ve never met an organization with a complacent culture or an overblown complacent component of their culture that wasn’t first wildly successful. Oh boy. Here’s what’s interesting, you’ll find that most organizations that slip into complacency and what is complacency anyway, it’s one simple thing, it’s resting on success and committed to the status quo. And every organization you ever talk to say, “Oh no, we think outside the box, we’re not committed to the status quo.” And then in the same breath, they’ll say things like, “Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or they’ll say things like, “Well, stick with your core business. Let’s execute on our primary execution points.”

And at the end of the day, here’s what’s really happening. The organization goes out and creates this wild success and they go, “Wow, we’re there. We’re on top of the mountain.” The next thing they do is they go, “Okay, how can we replicate this, scale this, and keep it.” They want to capture that genie, put it back in the bottle and hold it. So what do they do? They create all these processes and procedures and rules for how we’re going to do business. They literally, without realizing it, unconsciously commit themselves to the status quo, the thing that took them there. And what winds up happening over time is, yeah, they’ll stay there for a while, but what we know about business is it’s ever evolving, it’s not static and your culture better be ever evolving as well. And so when you create this static environment where we do things the way we’ve always done them and we try to replicate that success, then what happens is we become complacent and the industry walks away from us.

Chris Goede:     Man. That’s powerful that if, if you are taking notes, I hope you captured some of that. If right now, maybe you’re listening to it while you’re exercise or driving, you need to come back, listen to that, capture some of those notes, because it’s good stuff right there. All right, Greg, the second dimension of the culture is compliant. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Greg Cagle:       Okay. So the one thing that I think we ought to capture here real quick, before we get into these other three, is to deliver on those three things that we talked about, executing great strategy, navigating crisis and capitalizing on opportunity. You got to have three key components in your organization. You got to have order and structure. So we got to have an order and structure about the way we do business. You need a high level of performance and achievement and people need to be committed to that performance and achievement. And then no organization’s going to stay on top for any length of time, unless they have innovation, creativity and change built into the people that work there. So each one of these dimensions, Chris, that we’re going to talk about, each one of those serves one of those three pillars. It either serves order and structure, it serves performance and achievement or it serves innovation and creativity.

So that brings us to the compliant dimension. The compliant dimension serves the order and structure of any organization. Look, you know this and I know this, no company can accomplish its goals if it doesn’t have a certain level of organization and structure to it. We’ve got to have things that we’re compliant to, right? So this is where process, procedures live. This is where rules are. Okay. Now here’s what’s important. Why do we have that? Two reasons, to either avoid mistakes of the past or to replicate successes that we’ve had that we want to continue forward. There’s one problem though. This is very important to have this in your organization, extremely important. But one of the things that we talk about in this whole culture building is the necessary balance of all three of these components.

Perry Holley:    I think that’s huge right there. Don’t miss that point is, when I first saw this, you start talking, I’m thinking no, oh, well obviously complacence’s bad. Well compliance sounds bad too. We got to keep climbing. And you’re saying, “No, we have to have a compliant dimension, but we need to balance it and be healthy with it.” Is that what I’m hearing?

Greg Cagle:       Perry, you’re absolutely correct. In fact, let me ask you a question Perry, this is what I love about conversing with you. You always get things and you say, “Okay, let’s take that to another conversation point.” If I said to you, “Hey Perry, our organization is really successful right now and so we want to replicate some of that success.” And then I say, “And plus we’ve learned a lot from the past and we want to avoid some of those mistakes we’ve made in the past. Let’s get our processes and procedures down really tight. Let’s have the rules that we need necessary to operate with order and structure.” You would say, “Great, I’m all for it.” But then if I came back to you a year later and I said, “Hey Perry, I think we messed up here. We’ve got a procedure for everything. We’ve got a rule for everything, there’s processes and procedures all over the board.” What would you think would be the outcome of that if we allowed the compliant dimension to get overblown and out of balance with everything else, what would eventually happen in your mind?Perry Holley:    Well, I’m thinking the other, like you said, innovation, creativity, change don’t happen. Complacency probably happens. There’s no performance and the achievement, it’s just following the rules.

Greg Cagle:       Bingo. Employees begin to show up and they say, “Okay, tell us what you want to do and we’ll do it.” That’s the pure definition of complacency. So what’s interesting is you need healthy compliance, but if you over blow it and you overdo it, it drives people right into complacency, which is what you want to avoid.

But it’s definitely something that we talk about in all of our content, Chris, as you know, that we deliver to some of the leaders that we work with, it’s very healthy, it’s needed, but balance is the key.

Chris Goede:     Well, and I was thinking too, Greg, there’s probably, and don’t unpack this because we can talk about this a little bit later, but here’s what I was thinking. But because I just want to give then the high level, he’s laughing because listen, listeners, I started off before we got started recording. I said, “Here’s our challenge today, guys, we’ve got to keep this thing under 20 minutes.” That’s what we try to go. And here the two of us are, we’ve only gotten through two dimensions of the culture. But Greg, I was thinking about this and I was thinking, there are departments in an organization and there are times in an organization when you have to turn that dial up and then turn that dial back down. But you’ve got to manage those different parts of that culture so that you don’t get into a complacency.

All right. Now the third point, I know, I can see it, you want to comment on that, but don’t say anything. Okay. Hold that for the next one.

Perry Holley:    I’ve still trying to resonate, you told Greg Cagle not to unpack something. I love that.

Chris Goede:     I love it. Love it.

Greg Cagle:       No, the not to unpack is code for Cagle, shut up.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. I love it.

Perry Holley:    All right. Number three, go.

Chris Goede:     Number three. The committed, talk to us a little bit about this part of culture, the committed culture.

Greg Cagle:       All right. So in all seriousness, do respect to time, let me just quickly touch on committed. Committed is the part, this is the dimension most leaders understand the most, right? Committed is where production and performance lives in the organization. This is where achievement happens. This is where all of our goals are. This is where we inspire as leaders. We inspire and motivate people to perform and achieve at their highest level and to go beyond their best past performance, which is what we’re always looking to do. So here is where all the goals are, this is where your KPI performance goals are, this is where your sales goals live, this is where your market share increased goals lie. And we call it the committed dimension because it leaders to inspire employees at such a level that they continue to look to beat their best performance, to achieve at a higher level. And so that’s the committed dimension.

Chris Goede:     Love it. All right. Final one is courageous. Talk to us a little bit about this dimension of the courageous culture.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah, first question I usually get about the courageous dimension is leaders will say, “Why do you call it courageous dimension?” And I’d say, “Well, because it requires a tremendous amount of courage, not only from the people within the organization, but its leaders and the organization as a whole.” It takes a lot of courage, think about this, it takes a lot of courage to create innovation, creativity, and change in an organization, particularly if you’re successful because the tendency is to rely on what we know, but it takes courage to abandon what you know, in search of what you need to know to set yourself apart, to be the next industry leader, to know what your customers need before they know they need it.

And so the courageous dimension requires leaders to lead their organization in a way that they question the status quo, they don’t look for affirmation, they look for healthy debate from their employees and they look for employees to come up with the creativity and innovation required to look at what’s next. In fact, to abandon your knowledge and experience of the past and search out what you need to learn and know to be the next industry leader. So very, very courageous step here. And it requires a lot of courage, both from leaders and employees.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, I think, Chris, we got to have him back because I’ve got about a hundred questions and I want to dive deeper onto, so how do you know which dimensions, how your health and your balance are at each of the dimensions? And then what do you do if you find yourself out of balance and what are some of the tactics that we can put in there? But Chris, before I close, why don’t you wrap it up for us?

Chris Goede:     Yeah, here’s what I know, leaders, your culture is going to happen one way or another. You have to be intentional about it in order for you to accomplish even just the three things that Greg talked about, in order for you to have a healthy EBITDA and to have a healthy team accomplishing KPIs, you better figure out on the front end, what that culture’s going to be. What Greg has done right here is really laid out four dimensions of what it could look like.

Now I get excited because there is so much more behind the curtain. We’ve talked with Greg, here’s what I love about this, this content is not only a passion of Greg’s, a passion of ours, but it is our job, it is our goal every day to help solve organization leaders’ problems. What are they struggling with? And that’s what we, this is where this has come from. We’ve had several organizations that our team has worked with, Greg’s worked with closely and they said, “This is what we are struggling with. Can you help us?” And out of that has come communication courses around these culture, has come this passion that Greg has for these four dimensions of culture.

And listen, we all know this. I’m going to say it, but I just want people to listen to this again. Remember people are our most appreciable asset and they are our biggest expense when it comes to our P and Ls. And if we don’t figure out how to get the culture right, to get the discretionary effort and get them moving in the right direction, I think we’re wasting, we’re not being a good steward of our resources. So I’m super excited, we got two more sessions around culture that we’re doing with Greg, but why it’s so important is that if you are interested, my here’s my closing thought, go to Let us know that this is something that you want to talk about in regards to, just from a leader standpoint, from a team standpoint, we’ve developed some training around it. We got content. Let us know. We would be happy to serve you in this area.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris and thank you, Greg. Look forward to having you back next week to continue the conversation. Just a reminder, you can get the learner guide, you can download that at You can also leave a comment or a question for us there. And as Chris said, you can let us know if you’d like more information on the four dimensions of culture and Greg’s upcoming book on that subject, we’d be glad to provide that for you. We appreciate you being here. We’re always grateful that you would spend time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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