Organizational culture

8 August 2016

The dictionary definition of a culture is “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular group of people or a society”. An organisation is made up of individuals and the culture of an organization defines how things are done in an organisation and what behaviour and actions are considered as acceptable or not acceptable. Hofstede defines culture as the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes members of one group or category of people from another(1).

Organisational culture is not that different from social culture where the code of conduct for society is laid down based on a deep founded value system and people who relate to such culture fit into that part of the society. Culture therefore gives an organisation a sense of identity – ‘who we are’, ‘what we stand for’, ‘what we do’. Handy classifies an organisations culture into 4 i. e.

Organizational culture Essay Example

The power culture where a central figure defines the culture of the organisation, Role culture which is based on bureaucracy, task culture which lays emphasis on culture being derived from job orientation and finally the person culture which states that it is the individual who is the central focus of organisational culture (2). Organisational culture recognises an organisation as a social system and thus where an organisation does not have a formal culture it cannot be interpreted that there is no organisational culture at all(3).

Culture is seen as largest controlling system as not only does it affect the overall organisational behaviour, but also the covert behaviour (4). The fact is that the organisational culture actually has a visible side and an invisible side. The surface is made up of artefacts, languages, symbols which can be correlated to give an overview on what the organisation formally wants to disclose as its culture. The invisible side, on the other hand is based on basic values, deep beliefs, values and norms.

Thus even where it looks like a group does not have any defined code of conduct, they are subconsciously following the culture derived from the invisible layer which has a pervasive influence over their behaviour and actions. (5). Schein suggests something similar when he says that an organisation’s culture is in fact made up of three levels which consist of the artefacts and creations(the Physical level) , the values and the basic underlying assumptions (which make up the invisible organic side of organisational culture) (6).

But finding a hierarchy for different elements that go into building an organisations culture is not a good way to interpret culture because for organisational culture there is no one element which supersedes the other. All the elements work together at the same time to give an organisation its cultural identity. The cultural web presented by Jhonson, Scholes and Whittington (7)suggest how both physical indicators such as the organisation and power structures are as significant as the legends and stories of the organisation and its founders when it comes to defining the organisational paradigm.

So it becomes clear that an organisation’s culture is much deeper and extends beyond the physical space, the formal code of conduct and the overt group behaviour. The common values, beliefs and attitude of the members of an organisation define what kind of people an organisation will attract and Chatman & Cha, in defining the three main criteria for developing a suitable organisational culture, give more weightage to a better cultural fit even if it comes at the expense of overlooking some technical skills while carrying on the recruitment and selection process during staffing (8).

This cultural matching of ideas and beliefs between an organisation and its members is critical for the achievement of organisational goals as the culture influences every part of an organisation’s existence right from the processes of structural design, decision making, group behaviour to motivation and control. Thus the culture of an organisation has an influence and to an extent acts as a driver for everyone who forms a part of an organisation whether it is at an individual level or a group level.

This view is supported by Harrison and Stokes when they say that “Culture impacts most aspects of organizational life, such as how decisions are made, who makes them, how rewards are distributed, who is promoted, how people are treated, how the organization responds to its environment, and so on”(9) In fact, these assumptions, beliefs, norms and values which are shared by the organisation’s members that can significantly affect strategy formulation and implementation.

Organisational cultural is in every sense just that, a culture. So not only does it act as an internal binding force which keeps the organisation together and in harmony, but it also defines how an individual should present himself and his organisation when he represents it. For example Price Waterhouse Coopers takes pride in the ever increasing diversity of its workforce and works to instil the idea of flexible but diligent working. This ideology could be considered as values forming part of PWC’s organisational culture.

So whenever an employee comes in touch with a client these values will be automatically be reflected in his conduct and the outside world will reflect on the value system of the company based on its culture. This is the point where the organisational culture comes in touch with the national culture. The organisation’s culture is enveloped in the national culture. In fact the national culture is a very important factor in shaping the organisations culture along with other factors such as personality of the founder.

National cultural values are learned early, held deeply and change slowly over the course of generations. Thus organisations belonging to the same country are based on a similar set of values and tend to have identical cultures except in cases of countries like India where huge regional cultural differences exist. But the fact that organisational culture is deeply influenced by national culture does not make them the same thing.

The research of Geert Hofstede has shown that cultural differences between nations are found on the deepest level; i.e. on the level of values. In comparison, cultural differences among organisations are especially identified on the level of practices. Practices are more tangible than values. And this is explained by Hofstede’s “Cultural Onion” where the values core does not change and even when something seems outdated it can still play a role in influencing culture. The other 3 layers can learned through training and practice and it is through these layers that an organisation develops its culture.

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