The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model
Aligning the Drivers of High Organizational Performance
When people or departments are out of sync with each other, it's easy for things to go wrong.
Perhaps people aren't sure what other departments do, or aren't clear on the company's goals and how the work they do fits into the "bigger picture." Or perhaps their personal values diverge significantly from the organization's values, resulting in friction.
The problem is that when different drivers of performance don't work well together, performance and productivity can ultimately suffer.
In this article, we'll take a look at the Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model. It's an easy framework you can use to analyze the key drivers of performance in your organization and improve them so that they all work in harmony with one another.
What Is the Congruence Model?
The Congruence Model was developed in the early 1980s by organizational theorists David A. Nadler and Michael L. Tushman.  It's a powerful tool for identifying the root causes of organizational performance issues and how you might fix them.
It's based on the principle that a team or organization can only succeed when the work, the people who do it, the organizational structure, and the culture all "fit" together – or, in other words, when they are "congruent" (see figure 1, below). 
Where there is incongruence, or a poor fit, between these four critical elements, problems will arise.
For example, you may have brilliant people working for you, but if your organization's culture is not a good fit for the way they work, their brilliance won't shine through.
Likewise, you can have the latest technology and processes, but decision making will be slow and problematic if the organizational culture is bureaucratic.
The Congruence Model offers a systematic way to avoid these types of conflicts.
The Congruence Model is also a useful tool for thinking through how changes you make within a team or organization will impact other areas of the business.
How to Use the Congruence Model
To apply the Congruence Model, follow these three steps:
look at each component – work, people, structure, and culture – and then analyze how they relate to one another.
Step One: Analyze Each Element
First, take a look at each component of the model – work, people, structure, and culture – and then analyze how they relate to one another.
Analyze the critical tasks that underpin your organization's performance, from two perspectives – what work is done, and how it is processed.
Consider what skills or knowledge individual tasks require, whether they are mechanical or creative, and how the work flows. Identify approaches that work best – for example, quick, thorough, empathic, analytical, precise, or enthusiastic – and what the stresses and rewards of the work are.
Look at who interacts to get these tasks done – bosses, peers, and external stakeholders, for example.
Identify the skills, knowledge, experience, and education that they possess. Then, explore how they like to be compensated, rewarded and recognized for their work. Also, consider how committed they are to the organzation, and what career progression expectations they have.
Map your organization's structures, systems and processes. Do this by considering the following:
- Does the organization have distinct business units or divisions (for example, regional, functional, or product- or market-specific)?
- Are there different levels or ranks, or does it have a flat structure?
- How distinct or rigid are the reporting lines?
Also, consider how standardized work is within your organization, and look at the rules, policies, procedures, measures, incentive schemes, and rewards that govern it.
This is often the element that can have the greatest influence on performance, but it;s also the hardest one to analyze.
Think about the "unwritten rules" that define how work really gets done. (These stem from people's attitudes, beliefs, values, behavior, and so on, and from the processes and structures that you've already examined.) Look at how information flows around the organization, and whether there are any political networks in play.
Step Two: Analyze the Relationships Between the Elements
Now organize the four elements into the following six pairs, and analyze how they interrelate.
- Work and People: is the work being done by the most able and skilled people? Does the work meet individuals' needs?
- Work and Structure: is work done in a well-coordinated manner, given the organizational structure in place? Is that structure sufficient to meet the demands of the work being done?
- Structure and People: does the organizational structure allow people to work together effectively? Does it meet people's needs? Are people's perceptions of the formal structure clear or distorted?
- People and Culture: are people happy with the culture or is there conflict? Does the culture align to people's values, in general?
- Culture and Work: does the culture help or hinder work performance?
- Structure and Culture: do the culture and the organizational structure complement one another, or do they compete?
As you work through these pairs, identify areas of congruence and incongruence, and consider how your organization's performance measures against its goals.
Step Three: Build and Sustain Congruence
Now, consider what steps you could take to reconfigure each element, and resolve the incompatibilities that you've identified.
As you identify solutions and move forward with them, don't forget to look at how you could strengthen the things that are already well coordinated. It's as important to reinforce and sustain what is already congruent, as it is to fix what's incongruent.
According to the Congruence Model, the best strategies for fixing incongruence will be those that reflect the unique character of your team or organization, and the environment that you operate in. This is why one organization can thrive on a certain structure or type of work, while another apparently similar one struggles to make a profit.
The Work, People, Structure, and Culture headings of the Congruence Model are just one way of analyzing how compatible different parts of your organization are.
You could, for example, adapt the framework to assess your marketing performance. Just replace Work, People, Structure, and Culture with The 4Ps of Marketing – Product, Price, Promotion, and Place, and follow the same steps as above.
Or, you could try another approach. A popular alternative model is The McKinsey 7-S Framework, which analyzes Strategy, Structure, Systems, Style/Culture, Staff, Skills, and Shared Values.
Limitations of the Congruence Model
There are several limitations to be aware of when using the Congruence Model.
- The Congruence Model is a tool for analyzing team or organizational problems, and a useful starting point for transforming performance. It's not, however, a tool for telling you how to fix those problems.
- It doesn't recommend a "best" culture or "best" structure, nor any specific action plans or problem-solving techniques. You'll need individual tools to help you here. Task Allocation, for example, can help you to pair the right people with the right work. And Organization Design is an effective approach for aligning work and structure.
- The model focuses mostly on the internal environment – it's often important to consider what's happening outside the team or organization as well. (Tools such as PEST Analysis and PMESII-PT can be useful here.)
Organizations are effective when the four key components of performance – tasks, people, structure, and culture – fit together and work in harmony with each other.
When this is achieved, performance is high, it's easier to set and achieve organizational goals, and retain and attract talent.
However, if one component is out of sync with another, it can cause friction that has a negative impact on the entire organization, and which can limit productivity and performance.
You can use the Congruence Model to look at the organizational components that contribute to your overall team or business performance, and identify which are congruent and incongruent with each other.
With each element working in finely tuned unison, your organization will be primed to fulfill its performance potential!
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