Organizational Culture

Organizational Culture

What is Organizational Culture?

A single definition of Organizational Culture has proven to be very elusive. No one definition of Organizational Culture has emerged in the literature. One of the issues involving culture is that it is defined both in terms of its causes and effect. For example, these are the two ways in which cultures often defined.
  1. Outcomes- Defining culture as a manifest pattern of behavior- Many people use the term culture to describe patterns of cross individual behavioral consistency For example, when people say that culture is “The way we do things around here,” they are defining consistent way is in which people perform tasks, solve problems, resolve conflicts, treat customers, and treat employees.
  1. Process- Defining culture as a set of mechanisms creating cross individual behavioral consistency- In this case, culture is defined as the informal values, norms, and beliefs that control how individuals and groups in an organization interact with each other and with people outside the organization.
Both of these approaches are relevant to understanding a culture. It is important to know what types of behavior culture has the greatest impact (outcomes) and how culture works to control the behavior of organizational members. We will address these two questions later in the module.

Functions of Organizational Culture

Behavioral control
  1. Encourages stability
  2. Provides source of identity
  3. Provides source of identity

Draw Backs of Culture

  1. Barrier to change and improvement
  1. Barrier to diversity
  1. Barrier to cross departmental and cross-organizational cooperation
  1. Barrier to mergers and acquisitions

What Types of Behavior Does Organizational Culture  Control?

Using the outcome approach, cultures are described in terms of the following variables:

Innovation versus Stability-

The degree to which organizational members are encouraged to be innovative,
  • creative and to take risks.

Strategic versus Operational Focus-

The degree to which the members of the management team focus on the long
  • term big picture versus attention to detail.

Outcome versus Process Orientation-

The degree to which management focuses on outcomes, goals, and results rather than on techniques, processes, or methods used to
  • achieve these results.

Task Versus Social Focus-

The relative emphasis on effect of decisions on organizational members and relationships
  • over task accomplishment at all costs

Team versus Individual orientation

The degree to which work activities are organized around teams rather than
  • individuals

Customer Focus versus Cost Control-

The degree to which managers and employees are concerned about customer satisfaction and Service rather than minimizing
  • costs

Internal versus External Orientation-

The degree to which the organization focuses on and is adaptive to changes in its environment.  

Cultural Control Mechanisms

How does organizational culture control the behavior of organizational members? If consistent behavioral patterns are the outcomes or products of a culture, what is it that causes many people to act in a similar manner? There are four basic ways in which a culture, or more accurately members of a reference group representing a culture, creates high levels of cross individual behavioral consistency. There are:

Social Norms

Social norms are the most basic and most obvious of cultural control mechanisms. In its basic form, a social norm is simply a behavioral expectation that people will act in a certain way in certain situations. Norms (as opposed to rules) are enforced by other members of a reference group by the use of social sanctions. Norms have been categorized by level.
  1. Peripheral norms are general expectations that make interactions easier and more pleasant. Because adherence of these norms is not essential to the functioning of the group, violation of these norms general results in mild social sanctions.
  2. Relevant norms encompass behaviors that are important to group functioning. Violation of these norms often results in non-inclusion in important group functions and activities
  3. Pivotal norms represent behaviors that are essential to effective group functioning. Individuals violating these norms are often subject to expulsion from the group.

Shared Values

As a cultural control mechanism, the keyword in shared values is shared. The issue is not whether or not a particular individual‘s behavior can best be explained and/or predicted by his or her values, but rather how widely is that value shared among organizational members, and more importantly, how responsible was the organization/culture in developing that value within the individual.

What is a value?

Any phenomenon that is some degree of worth to the members of giving groups: The conception of the desirable that establishes a general direction of action rather than a specific objective. Values are the conscious, effective desires or wants of people that guide their behavior
How are values formed/developed within individuals? We like to think that our values are unique to us and an essential part of who we are. The critical question here is, how much of our values are derived from our reference group affiliation? We find that for most people, their values are generally consistent with the values of the reference group in which they were socialized. There are two kinds of values:
  1. Instrumental values represent the ―means‖ an individual prefers for achieving important ―ends.‖
  2. Terminal values are preferences concerning ―ends‖ to be When an individual can no long answer the question of
These components of culture have a well – defined linkage with each other which binds a culture and makes the change in any one of the components difficult. However, change in any one of these components causes chain reactions amongst others. Their interrelationship is presented in Fig. 1.1
Culture is a very powerful force at the workplace, which is consciously and deliberately cultivated and is passed on to the incoming employees. It reflects the true nature and personality of an organization.
There are various myths about organizational culture. Some of them are presented here along with the counter arguments.
  1. Organizational Culture is same as organizational climate :

          In management literature, there is often ambiguity about the two concepts – organizational culture and organizational climate. As explained earlier, organizational culture is a macro phenomenon which refers to the patterns of beliefs, assumptions, values, and behaviors reflecting commonality in people working together.
  1. Culture is same as „groupthink‟ :

        Since culture refers to shared assumptions and beliefs, it is likely to cause confusion. Groupthink refers to group members hiding any differences in how they feel and think and             behave in a certain way. The phenomenon of groupthink is mostly used in a face – to – face situation when dealing with small groups. Culture, on the other hand, is a much larger         phenomenon characterized by historical myths, symbols, beliefs, and artifacts.
  1. Culture is same as the organisation :

Culture is a result of sustained interaction among people in organizations and exists commonly in thoughts, feelings, and behavior of people. Organizations, on the other hand, consist of a set of expectations and a system of reward and punishment sustained by rules, regulations, and norms of behavior.

Culture is a social structure :

Social structures in various collectives exhibit tangible and specific ways in which people relate to one another overtly. However, culture operates on a system of unseen, abstract, and emotionally loaded forms which guide organizational members to deal with their physical and social needs.

Levels of Organizational Culture

One comes across a number of elements in the organization which depict its culture. Organizational culture can be viewed at three levels based on manifestations of the culture in tangible and intangible forms identifies these levels.

 Levels of Organizational Culture

  1. At Level One the Organizational Culture can be observed in the form of physical objects, technology and other visible forms of behavior like ceremonies and rituals. Though the culture would be visible in various forms, it would be only at the superficial level. For example, people may interact with one another but what the underlying feelings are or whether there is an understanding among them would require probing.
  1. At Level Two there is greater awareness and internalization of cultural values. People in the organization try solutions of a problem in ways which have been tried and tested earlier. If the group is successful there will be shared perception of that success‘, leading to cognitive changes turning perception into values and beliefs.
  1.  Level Three represents a process of conversion. When the group repeatedly observes that the method that was tried earlier works most of the time, it becomes the preferred solution‘ and gets converted into underlying assumptions or dominant value orientation. The conversion process has both advantages. The advantages are that the dominant value orientation guides behavior, however at the same time it may influence objective and rational thinking.

Patterns of Organizational Culture

Types of Organizational Culture

Organizational culture can vary in a number of ways. It is these variances that differentiate one organization from the others. Some of the basis of the differentiation are presented below:
  1. Strong vs weak culture :

Organizational culture can be labeled as strong or weak based on shared nests of the core values among organizational members and the degree of commitment the members have to these core values. The higher the shared nests and commitment, the stronger the culture increases the possibility of behavior consistency amongst its members, while a weak culture opens avenues for each one of the members showing concerns unique to themselves.
  1. Soft vs hard culture :

Soft work culture can emerge in an organization where the organization pursues multiple and conflicting goals. In a soft culture, the employees choose to pursue a few objectives which serve personal or sectional interests. A typical example of soft culture can be found in a number of public sector organizations in India where the management feels constrained to take action against employees to maintain high productivity. The culture is welfare oriented; people are held accountable for their mistakes but are not rewarded for good performance. Consequently, the employees consider work to be less important than personal and social obligations. Sinha (1990) has presented a case study of a public sector fertilizer company which was established in an industrially backward rural area to promote employment generation and industrial activity. Under pressure from local communities and the government, the company succumbed to overstaffing, converting mechanized operations into manual operations, payment of overtime, and poor discipline. This resulted in huge financial losses (up to 60 percent of the capital) to the company.

Formal vs informal culture :

The work culture of an organization, to a large extent, is influenced by the formal components of organizational culture. Roles, responsibilities, accountability, rules and regulations are components of formal culture. They set the expectations that the organization has from every member and indicates the consequences if these expectations are not fulfilled.

Organizational Culture