What Are the 8 Core Elements of Culture?

March 14, 2023
March 14, 2023 Jamie Notter


There are many ways to measure culture, but we’ve chosen the 8 core elements of Agility, Collaboration, Growth, Inclusion, Innovation, Solutions, Technologies, and Transparency specifically because they represent the key choices every organization must make about how much they will align with traditional management practices, and how much they will embrace the new model that we call “future of work.”

  • Both generational shifts and the increased pace of change are requiring everyone to make at least SOME movement toward futurist cultures in order to attract the right talent and achieve growth.
  • A gut feeling of how futurist you are will usually be inaccurate, but exploring how your organization approaches those 8 culture elements will give you a much clearer picture. Our culture assessment, of course, will give you a crystal-clear picture.


We’ve been researching and writing about this for more than a decade. Our first book, Humanize, started to describe the emerging “future of work,” inspired by the internet revolution we were witnessing (specifically in the form of social media). Our “trellis” of issues identified four major principles, each of which had three layers to them (culture, process, and behavior). It looked like this:

  • Open: Decentralization, Systems Thinking, Ownership
  • Trustworthy: Transparency, Truth, Authenticity
  • Generative: Inclusion, Collaboration, Relationship Building
  • Courageous: Learning, Experimentation, Personal Development.

You can see that within those twelve components lie the foundation of the 8 core elements we eventually decided on. We went deeper into several of these areas in our next book, When Millennials Take Over, where we explored the capacities of Digital, Clear, Fluid, and Fast.

[Side note: both of these books are effectively out of print at this point, but if you haven’t read them yet, you can get them for your kindle at Amazon, or you can get digital copies of both books (plus some additional resources) for only $7.99 at our culture education website.]

Then in 2016, we collaborated with HR leader, Charlie Judy, to pull it all together in our WorkXO culture assessment, and that’s where the 8 core elements emerged.

Words like innovation, collaboration, and transparency, however, are quite common in the culture and management space, so they can mean different things to different people. Here’s what we mean by them.

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Agility refers to how easily an organization can change and shift, as well as its ability to move quickly when needed. Agility is driven by how an organization distributes power and decision-making, plus its discipline around effective and efficient action. Traditional organizations are more fixed and consistent, and futurist organizations are more nimble, fluid and fast. The majority of organizations today are committed to moving quickly in a changing environment, but fall short of the discipline required to achieve breakthrough agility.

Collaboration refers to the expectations, norms, and practices related to how individuals and groups work together inside an organization, including communication and information flow, structural boundaries, and problem solving. Traditional organizations are more proprietary and controlled in their approach to collaboration, and futurist organizations are more networked and open. Most organizations today value collaboration among individual employees, but they are still a bit awkward when it comes to internal groups collaborating, either vertically or horizontally.

Growth refers to how the organizational environment supports the growth, development and effectiveness of employees, as well as the stakeholders and communities they serve. Traditional organizations emphasize practicality and organizational needs, and futurist organizations focus on deeper meaning and expanding individual agency. Most organizations today attend to growth at a high level, but fail to invest in the deeper development of employees.

Inclusion refers to how an organization values difference and supports employees being fully human, all within a system that is open and accessible. Traditional organizations choose exclusivity and control, where futurist organizations are more open and deeply human. Most organizations today show a commitment to the human side of inclusion, but are not backing that up structurally within the system.

Innovation refers to how organizations are able to unlock new value based on how they embrace change, manage risk, and encourage experimentation. Traditional organizations value established approaches with proven track records, and futurist organizations are more generative and dynamic, expecting to find value in the unknown. Most organizations today support the concepts of innovation inside their culture, but are hesitant to invest in consistent practices, due to a fear of risk and failure.

Solutions refers to how an organization balances both external and internal needs when generating work-related solutions, as well as a balance between customization and standardization. Traditional organizations value standardization and prioritizing organizational needs, where futurist organizations value customization and the needs of employees and users. Most organizations today will customize, but usually only enough to solve immediate problems, and they are reluctant to design solutions around deeper needs.

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Technologies refers to how an organization employs and maintains technologies (digital and otherwise) to achieve objectives, including issues of modernity, reliability, and effectiveness. Traditional organizations rely more heavily on existing technologies and strategies and are hesitant to invest in digital solutions, and futurist organizations are early adopters who fully embrace a digital mindset and heavily invest in digital transformation. Most organizations today are leaning into the digital mindset, but have not yet found enough resources to invest substantially in digital.

Transparency refers to how both vertical and horizontal information flow within an organization impacts decision making, as well as looking at internal enabling capacities for transparency like trust and conflict management. Traditional organizations are more private, emphasizing control of information and release on a need-to-know basis only, and futurist organizations make information as visible as possible—proactively—trusting the system to manage the risk. Most organizations today emphasize the need for transparency, but rely on it happening reactively, rather than creating systems that distribute information before someone needs to ask.

Figuring out where you are on the continuum of traditional to futurist for all 8 of these culture elements is the first step in creating a culture that drives your success. Remember, the goal is NOT to be super futurist in everything. While we are all in the process of moving toward the futurist end of the spectrum (no one is 100% traditional any more), I still see plenty of amazing organizations that far less than 100% futurist.

The real value is in understanding the nuances of your culture patterns, where specific pieces of those 8 elements are more futurist than other pieces. Some of those patterns are holding you back and messing with success, and when you fix those, you create a culture that your top talent wouldn’t consider leaving.

Learn more about our culture assessment here, and get started working on those patterns.


Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.