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Key Success Factors – Organizational Culture Essay

In this assignment we introduce the idea that the organizational culture is the personality of an organization which can be defined, measured, sustained and changed and have an important impact on an organization’s effectiveness.

We want to define organizational culture as it is presented by two theorists, indicate levels of expressions of culture in an organization, and provide specific strategies or tools to modify organizational culture.

We know that every individual has something that psychologists have termed “personality”. An individual’s personality is made up of a set of relatively permanent and stable traits. When we describe someone as innovative, relaxed, warm or conservative, we are describing personality traits. An organization, too, has a personality, which we call the organization’s culture.

Organizational culture is an important situational variable that influence all members of an organization to various degrees, so it is important to have a sound understanding of this construct to manage and work effectively in an organization.

In this paper project we want to define organizational culture as it is presented by two theorists, indicate levels of expressions of culture in an organization, and provide specific strategies or tools to modify organizational culture.

Chapter IDefinitions of Organizational CultureWe will present how Schein defines organizational culture in “Organizational culture and leadership”(1992) as it is presented by Yukl in “Leadership in Organizations”(1998) and Ott’s definition of the organizational culture in “The Organizational Culture Perspective”(1989) as it is presented by Lawson and Shen in “Organizational Psychology”(1998).

Schein’s definition of organizational cultureSchein (1992) defines culture of a group or organization as shared assumptions and beliefs about the word and their place in it, the nature of time and space, human nature, and human relationships. Schein distinguishes between underlying beliefs (which may be unconscious) and espoused values, which may or not be consistent with these beliefs. Espoused values do not accurately reflect the culture when they are inconsistent with underlying beliefs. For example, a company may espouse open communication, but the underlying belief may be that any criticism or disagreement is detrimental and should be avoided. It is difficult to dig beneath the superficial layer of espoused values to discover the underlying beliefs and assumptions, some of which may be unconscious (Yukl,1998).

The underlying beliefs representing the culture of a group or organization are learned responses to problems of survival in the external environment and problems of internal integration.

Schein say that the primary external problems are the core mission or reason for existence of the organization, concrete objectives based on this mission, strategies for attainting these objectives, and ways to measures success in attaining objectives (Yukl, 1998).

All organizations need to solve problems of internal integration as well as problem of external adaptation. Objectives and strategies cannot be achieved effectively without cooperative effort and reasonable stability of membership in the organization.

Internal problems include the criteria for determining membership in the organization, the basis for determining status and power, criteria and procedures of allocating rewards and punishments, an ideology to explain unpredictable and uncontrollable events, rules or customs about how to handle aggression and intimacy and a shared consensus about the meaning of words and symbols.

The beliefs that develop about these issues serve as the basis for role expectation to guide behavior, let people know what is proper and improper and help people maintain comfortable relationship with each other (Yukl, 1998). Robbins (1994) and others sustain too that the shared values determine in large degree what employees see and how they respond to their world (Robbins,1990; Robbins, 1994; Stoner and Freeman, 1992)When confronted with a problem the organizational culture restricts what employees can do by suggesting the correct way – “the way we do things around here”(Bower,1966) – to conceptualize, define, analyze, and solve the problem (Robbins, 1994).

We believe that the internal and external problems are closely interconnected and organizations must deal with them simultaneously.

In conclusion, Schein (1992) defines the organizational culture as shared assumptions and beliefs about the world and their place in it, the nature of time and space, human nature, and human relationships. Organizational culture have distinct dimensions that can be defined and measured. This is important to know in order to develop and use change strategies of the culture.

Ott’s definition of the organizational cultureOn the other hand Ott (1989), in “The Organizational Culture Perspective” describe organizational culture as a social constructed, unseen, and unobservable force behind organizational activities. Organizational culture is a social energy that moves organizational members to act and unifying theme that provides meaning and direction to and mobilizes the members. It functions as an organizational control mechanism, informally approving or prohibiting behaviors (Lawson and Shen, 1998).

In short, organizational culture is a hypothetical construct that must be inferred from the share thoughts, feelings, values, and actions of organizational members.

Last, Ott suggested that organizational culture is a concept, construct, energy, idea, rather than a thing that can be directly observed, measured and manipulated.

But we do not agree that the organizational culture is just a concept, energy, idea and can not be observed, measured or manipulated because then we can not discuss about managing and changing the organizational culture. If culture exists, and we argue that it does, it should have distinct dimensions that can be defined, measured, and changed.

I n “Organization Theory – Structure, Design and Applications” Robbins (1990), propose that there are ten characteristics that when mixed and matched tap the essence of an organization’s culture:1. Individual initiative, which is the degree of responsibility, freedom, and independence that individuals have.

2. Risk tolerance. The degree to which employees are encouraged to be aggressive, innovative, and risk-seeking.

3. Direction. The degree to which the organization creates clear objectives and performance expectations.

4. Integration. The degree to which units within the organization are encouraged to operate in a coordinated manner.

5. Management support. The degree to which managers provide clear communication, assistance, and support to their subordinates.

6. Control. The number of rules and regulations, and the amount of direct supervision that are used to oversees and control employee behavior.

7. Identity. The degree to which members identify with the organization as a whole rather than with their particular work group.

8. Reward system. The degree to which reward allocation are based on employee performance criteria in contrast to seniority, favoritism and so on.

9. Conflict tolerance. The degree to which employees are encouraged to air conflicts and criticisms openly.

10. Communication patterns. The degree to which organizational communications are restricted to the formal hierarchy of authority.

These ten characteristics include both structural and behavioral dimensions which means that organizational cultures are not just reflections of their members’ attitudes and personalities. A large part of an organization’s culture can be directly traced to structurally related variables (Robbins, 1990).

John P. Kotter in “Leading Change” (1996) sustain that culture refers to norms of behavior and shared values among a group of people. Kotter(1996) says too that culture is not something that you manipulate easily but it is possible to make the transformation.

“The first step in a major transformation is to alter the norms and values.” (Kotter, p.156,1996,).

He sustain that cultures changes only after you have successfully altered people’s actions, after the new behavior produces some group benefit for a period of time, and after people see the connection between the new action and the performance improvement.

In conclusion, organizational culture is not just a concept, construct, idea, energy, ghost which can not be seen or measured but it is a system of shared meanings with a certain structural and behavioral dimensions that are closely associated and interdependent. In every organization there are patterns of beliefs, symbols, rituals, myths and practices that have evolved over time. These in turn create common understanding among members as to what the organization is and how its members should behave.

Organizational culture refers to norms of behavior and shared values among the people items which can be changed to increase the performance of an organization.

Chapter II

Levels of expression of organizational cultureAccording to Schein (1992) organizational culture is discernible at three different levels: artifacts, values and basic assumptions.

ArtifactsIt is widely agreed that the most readily observable but least exact expression of the shared meanings of the culture are represented by artifacts. Artifacts include things and the arrangement of things in an organization, as well as observable behaviors captured by organizational stories and ceremonies, rites and rituals (habitual activities rooted in values and basic assumptions like weekly or monthly departmental meetings or presentations), and norms (unwritten rules for appropriate and inappropriate behaviors). Artifacts of a culture are quickly detected but the share meaning is the key for appreciating and becoming deeply aware of the organizational culture.


Values, defined by Schein (1992) as someone’s sense of what ought to be, as distinct from what is, represent the second level of organizational culture. Shared values are important concerns and goals shared by most people in a group that tend to shape group behavior and that often persist over time even when group membership changes (Kotter, 1996).

The basic issue at this level of organizational culture is the members’ determination of what works or is successful for a given organizational problem. Values can be both espoused and enacted; however, adults pay the greatest attention to enacted or operationalized values and are more inclined to modify their own values in response to them than to values that are solely expressed or espoused (Lawson and Shen, 1998). The validity of a given value is determined by testing the preferred solution against physical or social realities. For example, out of many comparable manufacturing processes, one is selected or valued because it yields the most durable product or particular activities are performed in particular ways because the feel right or are accepted by a large majority of organizational members as the right thing to do. Hence, what works and what members agree works becomes the anvil against which values are hammered out for a particular organizational culture.

Basic assumptionsAccording to Schein (1992) when the initial preferences for organizational problem solving continue to be successful, organizational
members increasingly take the originally tentative solutions for granted and come to believe that their selected solutions actually reflect reality because they have continued to be successful. If a solution works repeatedly, it must be true, and any doubt about its efficacy is eliminated from the minds of the members and eventually from the cultural mind of the organization. For example, if the members of an organization share the beliefs that they must first and foremost learn to harmonize human actions and desires with the elements of the world, such as clean air, water, open spaces, and respect for vegetation and other living creatures it is most likely that they will be working for a “green organization”.

As the members act on their fundamental beliefs and the organization succeeds, grows, and prospers, the fundamental beliefs are taken for granted and simply acted on without further reflection or regard. According to Schein (1992) when these fundamental beliefs are shared, taken for granted and nondebatable, they become the basic assumptions of the culture.

Changing basic assumptions is an anxiety-provoking and difficult process that involves double-loop organizational learning or basically changing the important things you have done and still do, rather than single loop learning which involves getting more efficient at what you now do (Lawson and Shen,1998).

In conclusion to this chapter we have understood that there are several level of expression in the organizational culture like artifacts, values and basic assumptions which can be determined analyzed and changed. Artifacts are observable behaviors but least exact expression of the shared meanings of the culture; values represent important concerns and goals shared by most people in a group that tend to shape group behavior and also we have the basic assumptions which are the fundamental beliefs shared by all the members about the organization which are very difficult to change, but it’s possible to do this.

Chapter III

Cultural Change StrategiesOrganizational learning and organizational culture are intimately linked to each other, and this linkage provides the bases for instituting organizational cultural change. A number of different changes are possible, including elimination of existing cultural forms that symbolizes the old ideology, modification of existing cultural forms to express the new ideology, and creation of new cultural forms (Yukl, 1998).

Schein’s change strategySchein’s (1992) leader-centered change strategy is perhaps the most fully articulated. It is a strategy that involves a clinical relationship between outside consultants and informed and cooperative insiders whose primary joint task is to identify and then change the basic assumptions of the organizational culture primarily by changing either the leaders’ assumptions or changing the leaders.

The external or outside consultant has the distinct advantage of independence and transience (Wallace and Hall1996). As an outsider, the external consultant is independent of the organization’s hierarchy and status system. Detached financially, socially, and emotionally from the consultee’s system.

The outside consultant is in a position to be more objective in the assessment and diagnostic stages of the consultation process, and is free to offer new perspectives and paradigms for action. We consider that the outside consultant it’s very important to have in a change process from the organization.

Schein (1992) identified specific primary strategies that can be applied to change an organizational culture. All these strategies focus on the formal (and informal) organizational leader or leadership team and include for example: what leaders pay attention to, measure, and control; how leaders react to critical incidents and organizational crisis; observed criteria by which leaders allocate scarce resources; deliberate role modeling, teaching, and coaching; observed criteria by which leaders recruit, select, promote, retire, and excommunicate organizational members.

Schein (1992) also identified secondary strategies and reinforcement mechanism to change organizational culture that include modifying organizational rites, rituals, and stories; structuring reward system to promote change; and revising formal statements, such as the organizational mission statement (what we do), vision statements (what we aspire to be), value statements and recruitment materials. Schein’s cultural change process focuses primarily on the leader or leadership team and involves the external consultant working closely with organizational insiders who are committed to organizational change and have sufficient influence to an impact on many members of the organization.

Lawson and Shen Cultural Change StrategyLawson and Shen cultural change strategy combines features of different approaches that, in one way or the other involve changing norms, or unspoken rules of behavior, reward systems and organizational rites or organized and planned activities that have both practical and consequences (Lawson and Shen, 1998).

Basically, there are three phases to these cultural change strategy: assessment; construction and implementation of cultural and learning change projects and organizational outcome measures and project modifications. Lawson and Shen (1998) recognize too the importance of the external consultant in the changing process of the organizational culture.

Phase 1, assessment, involves three steps: identifying the client, increasing cultural awareness and establishing baselines. In the first step the external consultant focuses on identifying the organizational processes of motivational systems, leadership, decision making, conflict resolution, and individual – organizational change as the client for the change program, rather than a particular individual, group, or unit. It is important to indicate that these organizational processes will change only if individual members who give life to them change their shared and unifying patterns of thoughts, feelings, values, and actions about the critical issues in the organization.

Phase one also involves increasing cultural awareness by assembling as many of the documents that serve as a preliminary directory of an organizational culture. To obtain information about organizational stories, jokes, ceremonies and rituals; information from external persons or organization that interact regularly with the target organization. And establishing cultural baselines by creating a document that describes the current organizational culture. From the assessment document, the leadership, committed organizational members and the change consultant can identify the cultural baselines and focal processes around which the consultant can build cultural change projects.

Phase 2, construction and implementation of cultural and learning change projects, is the action phase. Once the draft mission statement is completed, the consultant expect some suggestions for revision and discuss the document to give everyone an opportunity to participate in the process.

The external consultant expect suggestions from the internal consultant or from the manager of the organization. The internal consultant is aware of the existence of sensitive records and data; through experience the inside consultant has prior knowledge of the organization’s history, social structure, power structure, communication channels, politics, and local customs and beliefs in the organizational community.

In addition, it is important to have a good collaboration between the external consultant and the internal consultant because the insider has command of the organization’s language – the jargon (favorite terms and phrases unique to the organization) which is very important to make an implementation of cultural and learning change (Wallace and Hall, 1996).

Here it is appropriate to establish some learning experiments in which a current process that supports the new mission statement is described and root causes of problems and barriers to change are identified and then to start implementing a change in a given process while monitoring changes in performance. Last it is important to initiate or reinforce an existing rite of enhancement.

Phase 3, organizational outcomes measures and project modifications, includes a synthesis and interpretation of performance or outcome measures for all cultural change projects and then decision about what modification of existing cultural change project are required and established as the way to do things in the organization. It is critical to provide systematic feedback to members so they become aware of their individual and collective sense of efficacy (capacities to execute specific patterns of actions), identify the extent of resistance to change and help to identify barriers to change in the organizational culture (Lawson and Shen, 1998) .

Cultural transformation requires time and if the leadership is not prepared for a sustained campaign then the focus will be lost and the transformation effort will dwindle and die. A good collaboration between the external consultant and the leadership of the organization is required for the success of the changing process which may take a couple of good years.

Kotter (1994) affirm too that culture changes only after you have successfully altered people’s actions, after the new behavior produces some group benefit for a period of time, and after people see the connection between the new actions and the performance improvement.

In conclusion to this chapter we have understood that a number of different changes are possible to make in an organizational culture, including elimination of existing cultural forms that symbolizes the old ideology, and creation of new cultural forms in the organizational culture to save an organization and to make it if profitable and more efficient.

We indicate that both cultural change strategies are worthy to be followed considering that both accept the importance of an external organizational psychologist consultant who is working closely with the internal consultant / manager and is promoting change strategy that involves the leadership team and change strategy for the other members of the organization by creating reinforcement mechanisms to modify organizational rites, rituals, to promote an holistic change in the organization.

ConclusionsIn conclusion to this paper project it is essential to remember that organizational culture is a situational variable that influences, to various degree, all members of an organization. We have learned that organizational culture is the unifying and shared pattern of thoughts, feelings, values, and actions that serve to bind together organizational members and distinguish them from nonmembers.

Organizational learning and organizational culture are linked to each other and this provides the bases for instituting organizational cultural change. We have seen two specify change strategies and the steps to implementate them which can be applied in a wide variety of organizations. We have understood that a solid understanding of organizational culture minimizes the unnecessary expenditure of attention and emotions regarding what, how, when and why to think, value, feel, and act in the workplace.


_____Yukl, G. (1998). Leadership in Organizations. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall_____ Kotter, P. John, (1996). Leading Change, Boston: Harvard Business School Press_____Lawson, R.B., Shen, Z. (1998). Organizational Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press_____Robbins, P. Stephen, (1990). Organization Theory – Structure, Design, and Applications. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall_____ Robbins, P. Stephen, (1994). Management -fourth edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall_____Stoner, A. James, Freeman, R. Edward, (1992). Management. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall_____Wallace, A. William, Hall, L. Donald (1996). Psychological Consultation – Perspective and Applications. Pacific Grove, C.A.: Brooks / Cole Publishing Companycopyright © Sorin Balogh

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