Using Archetypes to Help Uncover Your Organizational Culture: Part 1

This blog may take you back to your college Intro to Psychology course, but Carl Jung continues to have an impact on how we view our world—both the world we move through every day and the complicated world of our internal psyche. Among his theories, Jung believed that there are universal constructs, often subconscious, which have a powerful impact on us as individuals and collectively in groups who coexist. These archetypes are the deeply held beliefs, often unconscious, about ourselves, our family and even the people we meet every day. You may automatically define your new friend as a devoted Caregiver, driven Hero or fun-loving Jester. An archetype often gives structure to the nuances of a first impression. Can you see the power of these archetypal profiles in company communications, brands and cultures?

Although Jung leverages hundreds of archetypes in his work, IBM Employment Branding, an offering of IBM Talent Acquisition & Optimization, uses an even dozen. While a single archetype can help define a consumer brand, it is the mix of the 12 archetypes—both those present and those not present—that define an organization’s cultural feel or personality. These archetypes define our character, the story we tell about ourselves and the story we are shaping for ourselves.

I believe the origins of our archetypes are the stories we have told as a way of ordering the chaos of the universe. Before there was science to explain how the world works, we told stories—and the stories developed common characters and themes that continue to define us today. Most societies had wise Sage figures to go to for answers, or Rulers for leadership and structure, or Explorers that kept us expanding into new frontiers. Our companies and cultures today are no different. We must know our strengths and shape our stories in order to create the culture we work within to succeed or profit to from an ever-evolving market.

It is important to remember that there is no one archetype, or archetypal profile, which creates success for any one organization. Archetypes are not inherently bad or good. Heroes get things done, but they can burn themselves out. Jesters are fun, but have great disdain for mundane administrative tasks. Rulers, who often have a bad rap, may be as likely to foster efficiency and effectiveness as mind-numbing bureaucracy. A full cultural assessment does not just rely on an archetypal profile, but also deeper unspoken truths gained through deeper conversations and a review of existing data that all companies keep.

Archetypal analysis works differently than most organizational culture instruments because it is more than a list of where we rate among competing values. A profile of archetypal strengths and values helps us understand culture in a way that is fundamental to people across regions, generations and cultures.

About eight years ago we met Dr. Carol Pearson, who was convinced that Jungian archetypes could help guide us in our lives, help define the story of a brand, or help profile the nuances of an organizational culture. Dr. Pearson spent many years developing and validating the instrument, then called the Organizational and Team Culture Indicator (OTCI). After using the instrument (so much more than just a survey), we were astounded by the results. CEOs and line managers alike were mesmerized. One CEO even told us, “Now I know why we do all the stupid stuff we do.” So we went ahead and purchased the instrument. It’s now called the IBM Organizational Cultural Insight Survey.

Let me be perfectly clear. No single cultural survey can give you everything you need for creating a strong employment brand, managing your culture, decreasing turnover, improving employee engagement and facilitating stronger leadership communication that inspires change. But it can be done by taking a holistic look at your company culture. Review your existing data, talk to your people—from leaders and influencers to high performers and new hires. And then validate what you hear from the conversations with a cultural survey to help build the story.


Interested in learning more about how archetypes can help organizations understand their culture? Continue on to Part 2.