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Basically, organizational culture is the personality of the organization.

Culture is comprised of the assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs


(artifacts) of organization members and their behaviors. Members of an
organization soon come to sense the particular culture of an organization.
Culture is one of those terms that's difficult to express distinctly, but
everyone knows it when they sense it. For example, the culture of a large,
for-profit corporation is quite different than that of a hospital which is
quite different that that of a university. You can tell the culture of an
organization by looking at the arrangement of furniture, what they brag
about, what members wear, etc. -- similar to what you can use to get a
feeling about someone's personality.

Corporate culture can be looked at as a system. Inputs include feedback


from, e.g., society, professions, laws, stories, heroes, values on
competition or service, etc. The process is based on our assumptions,
values and norms, e.g., our values on money, time, facilities, space and
people. Outputs or effects of our culture are, e.g., organizational
behaviors, technologies, strategies, image, products, services,
appearance, etc.

The concept of culture is particularly important when attempting to


manage organization-wide change. Practitioners are coming to realize
that, despite the best-laid plans, organizational change must include not
only changing structures and processes, but also changing the corporate
culture as well.

There's been a great deal of literature generated over the past decade
about the concept of organizational culture -- particularly in regard to
learning how to change organizational culture. Organizational change
efforts are rumored to fail the vast majority of the time. Usually, this
failure is credited to lack of understanding about the strong role of culture
and the role it plays in organizations. That's one of the reasons that many
strategic planners now place as much emphasis on identifying strategic
values as they do mission and vision.

Some Types of Culture


There are different types of culture just like there are different types of
personality. Researcher Jeffrey Sonnenfeld identified the following four
types of cultures.

Academy Culture
Employees are highly skilled and tend to stay in the organization, while
working their way up the ranks. The organization provides a stable
environment in which employees can development and exercise their
skills. Examples are universities, hospitals, large corporations, etc.

Baseball Team Culture


Employees are "free agents" who have highly prized skills. They are in
high demand and can rather easily get jobs elsewhere. This type of culture
exists in fast-paced, high-risk organizations, such as investment banking,
advertising, etc.

Club Culture
The most important requirement for employees in this culture is to fit into
the group. Usually employees start at the bottom and stay with the
organization. The organization promotes from within and highly values
seniority. Examples are the military, some law firms, etc.

Fortress Culture
Employees don't know if they'll be laid off or not. These organizations
often undergo massive reorganization. There are many opportunities for
those with timely, specialized skills. Examples are savings and loans, large
car companies, etc.

What Is Culture?
Your organization's culture is not the espoused list of values developed at an
offsite by the executive team and framed on the wall in your lobby. These are
ideals. What you strive to be as an organization and what values you hope to
endorse, may be different from the values, beliefs, and norms expressed in your
actual practices and behavior. Don't fool yourself. It is critical that you find out
who you really are as well as striving for who you want to be. Awakening the
emperor to the fact that he/she has no clothes is often a risky and delicate first
step in closing the gap between the real and the ideal. Cultural assessment can
provide measurable data about the real organizational values and norms that
can be used to get management's attention. It can dispel some of management's
illusions about what really matters in the organization and will tell them how far
off the mark things really are. Management may find that it is not practicing
what it preaches. However, telling the CEO the truth about the organization
he/she has built, can often be dangerous to your career progress. Delivering
such a message takes skill as a coach and a willingness to take risks and
confront conflict.

Basic Assumptions, Values And Norms Drive Practices And Behaviors

The culture of an organization operates at both a conscious and unconscious


level. Often the people who see your culture more clearly are those from the
outside--the new hires, the consultants or vendors. When coaching or advising
senior management, remember that culture comprises the deeply rooted but
often unconscious beliefs, values and norms shared by the members of the
organization. Those not living inside the culture can often see it more
objectively. Better to ask a New Yorker to tell you what Californians are like than
ask a Californian.

Culture drives the organization and its actions. It is somewhat like "the operating
system" of the organization. It guides how employees think, act and feel. It is
dynamic and fluid, and it is never static. A culture may be effective at one time,
under a given set of circumstances and ineffective at another time. There is no
generically good culture. There are however, generic patterns of health and
pathology.

Culture Operates At Various Levels - The Visible Artifacts To The Deeply


Rooted And Unconscious

Culture can be viewed at several levels. Some aspects of culture are visible and
tangible and others are intangible and unconscious. Basic assumptions that
guide the organization are deeply rooted and often taken for granted. Avoidance
of conflict is a value that is an excellent example of an unconscious norm that
may have a major influence on the organization but is frequently unconscious.
For an insider, this is difficult or impossible to see, particularly if the individual
has "grown up" in the organizational culture. Recently hired employees, the
external consultant and the executive coach is frequently in the best position to
identify these unconscious assumptions or values. Espoused or secondary values
are at a more conscious level; these are the values that people in the
organization discuss, promote and try to live by. All employees of Hewlett
Packard, for example, are required to become familiar with the values embodied
in the "HP Way."

Some of the most visible expressions of the culture are called artifacts. These
include the architecture and decor, the clothing people wear, the organizational
processes and structures, and the rituals, symbols and celebrations. Other
concrete manifestation of culture are found in commonly used language and
jargon, logos, brochures, company slogans, as well as status symbols such as
cars, window offices, titles, and of course value statements and priorities. An
outsider can often spot these artifacts easily upon entering an organization. For
insiders, however, these artifacts have often become part of the background.

The Role of the Leader in Transmitting Culture

One of the critical factors in understanding a corporate culture is the degree to


which it is leader-centric. Ask yourself, how central is our leader to the style of
this organization? If you are the leader yourself, the culture of your company is
likely to reflect your personality, including your neurosis. So if the CEO avoids
conflict and tends to sweep it under the carpet, don't be surprised if you see
avoidance of conflict played out in the organization. The behavior that is
modeled by the leader and the management team profoundly shapes the culture
and practices of the organization. What management emphasizes, rewards and
punishes can tell you what is really important. The behavior of members of the
senior team, their reactions in a crises and what they talk routinely talk about,
all sets the tone of the culture. If the culture is already firmly established when
the CEO assumed leadership and he/she simply inherited a strong set of
traditions, then he/she may play the role of the guardian of the old culture. On
the other hand, CEOs such as Lou Gerstner at IBM, or Lee Iococca at Chrysler
were brought in to be a change agent charged with dramatically transforming
the organizational culture.

Why Assess Culture?

Closing The Gap Between The Real And Ideal Culture

Why would a company be interested in assessing its culture? If the organization


wants to maximize its ability to attain its strategic objectives, it must understand
if the prevailing culture supports and drives the actions necessary to achieve its
strategic goals. Cultural assessment can enable a company to analyze the gap
between the current and desired culture. Developing a picture of the ideal and
then taking a realistic look at the gaps is vital information that can be used to
design interventions to close the gaps and bring specific elements of culture into
line. If your competitive environment is changing fast, your organizational
culture may also need to change. However, you may only need to change some
of its practices and secondary values while keeping a few precious and non-
negotiable core values intact. Often an objective assessment tool can be zero in
on a limited number of elements of culture that need to change, rather than
embarking on the futile attempt to change the entire culture.

Value and Goal Alignment across Subcultures, Divisions and Geographic


Regions

In many companies there is a strong dominant culture that is pervasive


throughout the organization and across business units or even regions. This kind
of organization is said to possess a high level of cultural integration. However,
often the culture in large organizations is not singular or uniform. Organizations
can vary widely in terms of the degree of cultural integration and the strength of
the subcultures that coexist. Subcultures may share certain characteristics,
norms, values and beliefs or be totally different. These subcultures can function
cooperatively or be in conflict with each other. In general, subcultures can differ
by function, (engineering vs. marketing), by their place in the hierarchy,
(management vs. administrators, assistants) by division, by site, or by
geographic region and country.

It may be both undesirable and unrealistic to try to homogenize the organization


across all of its parts. Still, a thoughtful assessment of the culture can facilitate
the alignment of values and strategic goals across subcultures and geographic
areas. It is very important for global companies to tolerate and support a certain
amount of cultural differentiation. Yet there may be a core of values, a subset of
four or five deeply held principles that management thinks should cut across
subcultures, divisions, and international settings.

Individual-Organization Fit

Corporations that are growing fast must hire a large number of new employees.
It is critical that these new hires are a good fit with the current culture. If an
individual is out of synch with the culture, the organization's cultural antibodies
will often attack. However, there must also be a good fit with the culture that
you are trying to create. It is now possible to make hiring decisions based on
quantitative assessment of the compatibility between the candidate's
personality, values and behaviors and both the current and desired culture.

Organizational Change

Today the pace of change is so rapid, particularly in the high tech industries.
Only organizations that can adapt to this fast changing environment can survive.
However, as Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porris has demonstrated,
enduring great companies are usually built on both a solid foundation of timeless
core values, but also on the adaptability of their behavioral practices, secondary
values, structures and other cultural artifacts. The secret to a company that will
last is its ability to manage both continuity and change. Such companies are
capable of responding with nimbleness to the environmental drivers that
necessitate change in strategy and practices. These drivers include: rapid
technological change, changes in industries and markets, deregulation,
aggressive competition, the global economy, increased organizational
complexity, new business models. Getting a profile of the current culture can
enable organizations to thoughtfully bring the elements of the culture into
alignment and move forward towards an ideal.

Organizations develop cultures whether they try to or not. If your intention is to


appraise individual-organization fit, align culture with its strategic goals,
understand subcultures, assess mergers and acquisitions partners, or to make
organizational changes in practices or values, understanding your culture in an
objective manner can give you a business advantage and spare you enormous
time and money. Not understanding your culture in today's business world can
be fatal. Sometimes the emperor or empress needs to be told that his/her baby
is ugly. Having objective measurement tools such as HCG's "Cultural Assessment
Tool" can provide a consultant or coach with valuable objective measurement of
existing culture. Executives are frequently analytical and quantitative in their
orientation. Having data and an assessment tool to deliver a painful message
may be the key to getting management to pay attention and face the reality of
what kind of culture really exists. It is also useful in preventing the demise of the
messenger.
Organizational culture can loosely be defined as the shared assumptions, beliefs, and
"normal behaviors" (norms) of a group. These are powerful influences on the way
people live and act, and they define what is "normal" and how to sanction those who
are not "normal." To a large degree, what we do is determined by our culture.

Organizational culture is similar to, say, regional culture. The same person in
different organizations (or parts of the same organization) would act in different
ways.

Culture is very powerful. (One example is the cultural change effort at British
Airways, which transformed an unprofitable airline with a poor reputation into a
paragon of politeness and profit).

organizational culture

organizational Culture refers to the values, beliefs and customs of an organization. Whereas
organizational structure is relatively easy to draw and describe, organizational culture is less
tangible.

There have been numerous studies in this area.

Influences on Organizational Culture

National Culture is an important influence in culture. Geert Hofstede demonstrated that


there are regional differences, and the following broad categories are suggested for Europe:

 Germanic
 Scandinavian
 Anglo-Saxon
 Latin

The Members of the organisation bring their own individual experiences, beliefs and values.

Work-groups within the organisation have their own interactions and behaviours which
impact on the wider organisation.

Task Culture can be imported. That is to say, for example, that computer technicians will
have expertise, language and behaviours gained independently of the organisation, that set
them apart from colleagues, and yet that influence the culture of the organisation.

Senior Management may determine a Corporate Culture. They may wish to impose
corporate values and standards of behaviour that specifically reflect the objectives of the
organisation.

Strong/Weak Cultures
Strong Culture is said to exist where staff respond to stimulus because of their alignment to
organisational values.

Conversely, there is Weak Culture where there is little alignment with organisational values
and control must be exercised through extensive procedures and bureacracy.

Where culture is strong - people do things because they believe it is the right thing to do -
there is a risk of another phenomenon, Groupthink. This is a state where people think so
alike that they do not challenge organisational thinking, and there is a reduced capacity for
innovative thought. This could occur, for example where there is heavy reliance on a central
charismatic figure in the organisation, or where there is an evangelical belief in the
organisation's values.

By contrast, bureacratic organisations may miss opportunities for innovation, through


reliance on established procedures.

Innovative organisations need individuals who are prepared to challenge the status quo - be it
groupthink or bureaucracy, and also need procedures to implement new ideas effectively.

Classifying Organisational Culture

Several methods have been used to classify organisational culture. Some are described below:

Hofstede

Hofstede demostrated that there are national and regional cultural groupings that affect the
behaviour of organisations.

Hofstede identified five characteristics of culture in his study of national influences:

 Power distance - The degree to which a society expects there to be differences in the
levels of power. A high score suggests that there is an expectation that some
individuals wield larger amounts of power than others. A low score reflects the view
that all people should have equal rights.
 Uncertainty avoidance reflects the extent to which a society accepts uncertainty and
risk.
 individualism vs collectivism - individualism is contrasted with collectivism', and
refers to the extent to which people are expected to stand up for themselves, or
alternatively act predominantly as a member of the group or organisation.
 Masculinity vs femininity - refers to the value placed on traditionally male or female
values. Male values for example include competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and
the accumulation of wealth and material possessions.
 Long vs short term orientation

Deal and Kennedy

Deal and Kennedy defined organisational culture as the way things get done around here.
They measured organisations in respect of:
 Feedback - quick feedback means an instant response. This could be in monetary
terms, but could also be seen in other ways, such as the impact of a great save in a
soccer match.
 Risk - represents the degree of uncertainty in the organisation's activities.

Using these parameters, they were able to suggest four classifications of organisational
culture:

The Tough Guy Macho Culture. Feedback is quick and the rewards are high. This often
applies to fast moving financial activities such as brokerage, but could also apply to
policemen or women, or athletes competing in team sports. This can be a very stressful
culture in which to operate.

The Work Hard/Play Hard Culture is characterised by few risks being taken, all with rapid
feedback. This is typical in large organisations which strive for high quality customer service.
They are often characterised by team meetings, jargon and buzzwords.

The Bet your Company Culture, where big stakes decisions are taken, but it may be years
before the results are known. Typically, these might involve development or exploration
projects, which take years to come to fruition, such as could be expected with oil exploration
or aviation.

The Process Culture occurs in organisations where there is little or no feedback. People
become bogged down with how things are done not with what is to be achieved. This is often
associated with bureaucracies. Whilst it is easy to criticise these cultures for being over
cautious or bogged down in red tape, they do produce consistent results, which is ideal in, for
example, public services.

Charles Handy

Handy (1985) popularised a method of looking at culture which some scholars have used to
link organizational structure to Organizational Culture. He descibes:

 a Power Culture which concentrates power in a few pairs of hands. Control radiates
from the centre like a web. Power Cultures have few rules and little bureaucracy;
swift decisions can ensue.
 In a Role Culture, people have clearly delegated authorities within a highly defined
structure. Typically, these organisations form hierarchical bureaucracies. Power
derives from a person's position and little scope exists for expert power.
 By contrast, in a Task Culture, teams form to solve particular problems. Power
derives from expertise so long as a team requires expertise. These cultures often
feature the multiple reporting lines of a matrix structure.
 A Person Culture exists where all individuals believe themselves superior to the
organisation. Survival can become difficult for such organisations, since the concept
of an organisation suggests that a group of like-minded individuals pursue the
organisational goals. Some professional partnerships can operate as person cultures,
because each partner brings a peculiar expertise and clientele to the firm.

Elements of Culture
Johnson (1988) described a cultural web, identifying a number of elements that can be used
to describe or influence Organisational Culture:

 The Paradigm: What the organisation is about; what it does; its mission; its values.
 Control Systems: The processes in place to monitor what is going on. Role cultures
would have vast rule books. There would be more reliance on individualism in a
power culture.
 Organisational Structures: Reporting lines, hierarchies, and the way that work flows
through the business.
 Power Structures: Who makes the decisions, how widely spread is power, and on
what is power based?
 Symbols: These include the logos and designs, but would extend to symbols of
power, such as car parking spaces and executive washrooms!
 Rituals and Routines: Management meetings, board reports and so on may become
more habitual than necessary.
 Stories and Myths: build up about people and events, and convey a message about
what is valued within the organisation.

These elements may overlap. Power structures may depend on control systems, which may
exploit the very rituals that generate stories.

Figures in Organizational Culture

 John Kotter
 Edgar Schein
 Geert Hofstede
 Fons Trompenaars

Sources

Kotter, John. 1992 Corporate Culture and Performance, Free Press; (April 7, 1992) ISBN:
0029184673

Johnson, G. (1988) "Rethinking Incrementalism", Strategic Management Journal Vol 9 pp75-


91

Hofstede, G. (1980) Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work Related


Values, Beverley Hills, CA, Sage Publications

Handy, C.B. (1985) Understanding Organisations, 3rd Edn, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

Deal T. E. and Kennedy, A. A. (1982) Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of
Corporate Life, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.

Black, Richard J. (2003) Organisational Culture: Creating the Influence Needed for Strategic
Success, London UK, ISBN: 158112211X