In this paper I look at how organisations develop ‘culture’ and how this culture can be created, manipulated and changed my management. I also look at what other factors can change and affect a companies’ culture. The paper will take the following format. A definition of culture and the problems associated with its definition. I then look at how organisationl culture develops, with an explanation of the levels of cultural analysis, a look at the various different types of culture, and the role of the leader/manager in creating the organisations culture. How culture can be changed and the skills and actions needed by management to successfully implement a cultural change. I then finish with a conclusion.
2.Defining organisational culture
What is organisational culture? This it has been found, is not an easy question to answer. The concept of culture has its roots in anthropology, the study of human affairs. In this context, culture has been used to designate two different things. A tribe or a social group is studied as a ‘culture’ that produces and may have cultural artefacts. The second use of the term refers to aspects within a given culture, such as customs, rituals, knowledge and so on. (Sackman, S, 1991). In the context of organisational culture it is largely the second approach that is studied. Although people may not be aware consciously of culture, it still has a persuasive influence over their behaviour and actions. (Mullins, L, 2002). This statement explains that although we may not have the knowledge that we belong to a certain cultural group it will still have an impact on our behaviour and in an organisational sense, our working lives.
The culture concept began to affect organisational thinking in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Although is it evident in ideas from a number of earlier writers, for example Bernard (1938) and Jacques (1952). If we look at a number of different of organisations it is clear to see that ‘things are done differently’. This idea applies to all organisations, even in similar companies that are operating in the same industry. Tesco provides much the same service as Sainsburys, but on close inspection we would be able to see the differences in which the two companies operate.
It is more difficult however to describe how things are ‘done differently’, or why the company ‘feels’ different. A major problem with the concept of culture is the degree to which individuals, organisations or entire communities display characteristics which are consistent within it. (Martin, J, 2001). Do all British people display characteristics that are consistent with British culture? It is clear that although there are many similarities in the behaviour of people within a defined culture, that individual differences provide some variety. The same must also be assumed in the context of organisational culture.
Another problem with finding a definition for organisational culture is the sheer number of definitions that already exist. Kroeber and Kluckhorn list more than 250 definitions of culture, that include components such as ideas, concepts, ideologies values, attitudes, goals, norms, learned behaviours, symbols, rites, rituals, customs, myths, habits or artefacts such as tools and other material representations. (Sackman, S, 1991). This inevitably leads to confusion amongst researchers as to a universal definition of organisational culture.
The term ‘the way we do things around here’ (Deal and Kennedy, 1988) is often accepted as an operational definition of organisational culture. However this offers little in terms of the content of culture.
Kilman et al. (1985) suggests ‘culture is the reflects the ideologies, shared philosophies, values beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, expectations, and norms of an organisation’
3.Levels of culture
Now we have looked at a definition of organisational culture we should look deeper into what develops and makes up an organisations culture.
According to Schein (1985), organisational culture is made up of three levels.
Visible organisational structures and processes
(Hard to decipher)
Strategies, goals, philosophies
Unconscious, taken for granted beliefs, habits of perception, thought thought and feeling
(Ultimate source of values and action)
The Levels of Organizational Culture, Schein, E (1985)
These form the surface level of culture. They include all the things that a person sees, hears and has contact with. In an organisation it would be the architecture of the environment such as the management hierarchy, its technology, its creations and products and its style in terms of manners of address both up and down the hierarchy, dress codes and formal procedures.
Schein identifies the most important point of this level being that artefacts are easy to identify but hard to decipher. Two organisations may well have the same system in operation but they can mean different things in terms of the culture of the organisation. Schein puts his point into an example by saying both the Egyptians and Mayas built large pyramids, but they were tombs in one culture and temples in the other. This point is contradicted by Gagliardi (1990) who says ‘ones own response to physical artefacts such as buildings and other office layouts can lead to the identification of major images and root metaphors that reflect the deepest levels of culture’.
This is supported by my own experience. I have worked in a supermarket, an organisation with a tall management hierarchy. Many of the artefacts of the organisation gave the impression of a very formal culture. A strict uniformed dress code was in place, with management wearing different colours from subordinates, and formal forms of address being used. The company was also largely bureaucratic with countless forms to be filled out a large numbers of standard procedures in place. One person however may look at a very informal organisation and class it as inefficient and unproductive, while another may class it as innovative and free from unnecessary bureaucracy, this depends on the individuals previous preconceptions about the artefacts that are present.
Values are usually one persons beliefs about a given situation. If a manager believes that at a certain time of the year his/her company should run at a lower capacity due to demand etc. This is attributed to his personal values. Only once these values are acted on, successfully implemented and accepted by the organisation do they become transformed into underlying assumptions. From a marketing perspective, some of these values may remain conscious and may be explicitly stated in a company’s mission statement as the “dominant values of the organisation” (Deal and Kennedy, 1982). Only values that are concrete that can be physically and socially validated, they are confirmed by the group’s experiences, go through his transformation process.
If a solution to a problem works frequently then it is often accepted as a rule for solving the given problem. The power of culture comes forth because these assumptions are shared within the group and are therefore mutually reinforced. These assumptions can often cause problems when someone new, with a different set of underlying assumptions from a previous culture, joins the organisation.
As humans we like stability. Any decision which challenges or questions an underlying assumption, such as changing a costing method, or a method of
production, will likely lead to anxiety and defensiveness within the organisation. A skill required by managers wishing to change aspects of an organisations culture is to recognise this connection, to get to the deeper levels of culture, and to deal with the anxiety that results when these assumptions are changed.
The three stages are linked constantly together. ‘Basic assumptions are treated as the essence- what culture really is; and values and behaviours are treated as observed manifestations of the culture essence.’ (Mullins, 2002).
We are able to see now how culture is developed in term of ‘values’ being acted upon and accepted by the organisation, these values being transformed into ‘underlying assumptions’ and the artefacts of the organisation being formed by the interpretation of these underlying assumptions.
4.Types of organisational culture
Handy (1993) identifies four types of organisational culture.
Power cultures revolve around a focal person or small group, this person or group has absolute power throughout the entire organisation. It is often found in small entrepreneurial companies, and relies largely on trust and communication. It is normally non-bureaucratic with few formal procedures. The success of the organisation depends largely on the skill of the focal person or group.
Role cultures are often largely bureaucratic, it is often described as a small number of senior managers resting on the strong pillars of the various functions of the organisation. Each person has a specified role within a function of the organisation which in turn has a specified role within organisation as a whole. These roles are expected to be adhered to and it is rare for an individual or function to deviate into different areas of the business. Predictability and stability are two main themes within this type of culture. This type of culture often develops in large companies with large numbers of staff and a tall management hierarchy. Companies with this type of culture tend to have steady objectives and operate in largely predictive markets. Again this relates back my own experience as this type of culture is largely prevalent in supermarket chains.
Task cultures recognise the objectives and goals of the organisation as being paramount. Handy describes this as a ‘net’ or ‘matrix’ culture. Power is often shared by a team of experts who are highly manoeuvrable to suit the needs of the organisation. It largely found in team or project based organisations such as consultancy firms or engineers.
Person cultures are largely individual orientated. Any structure is solely suited to aid the individuals within the organisation. There is no specific power structure with individuals having complete power over their own operations. Examples of this would be barristers chambers, architects, business consultants, individuals that have come together to share resources such as office space and admin support.
Some people are more suited to different types of cultures than others. Where one person will be happy working in an organisation with a task culture, he/she may feel constricted and undervalued in a role culture environment. Another person may be the opposite and may feel secure within a largely role orientated company.
An important skill for managers is being able firstly to identify the type of culture his/her organisation is operating in and then to hire the correct people for that culture, this helps in reducing any anxiety caused by changes to underlying assumptions previously discussed.
There are many other models of the types of organisational culture available to the researcher. Writings by Deal and Kennedy on the generic cultures, Ouchi’s type Z companies, and several more. The focus of this paper however is on the development and change of culture and this will be explored in the following sections.
5. Factors affecting the development of culture
The role of the founder
‘Organisations do not form accidentally or spontaneously. They are “created” because one or more individuals perceive that the coordinated and concerted action of a number of people can accomplish something that an individual cannot’ (Frost,p et al. 1991)
At the beginning of an organisations life the founder often has complete control over the organisation. He/she will make most of not all of the important decisions over all areas of the organisations operations. ‘Because they had the original idea, founders will typically have their own notion, based on their own cultural history and personality of how to get the idea fulfilled. (Schein, 1985). Since the founder started the group it is natural to assume that he/she also impose their thoughts, values and assumptions on the group. As new members enter the group the founders assumption will be changed and modified to suit the new organisation, but will always have the biggest impact on what becomes the organisational culture.
This has large implications for the future of the organisation. If the company was founded by an informal, easy going type of person then this is the type of organisational culture that is likely to develop. Similarly if the organisation is founded by a formal, autocratic person, the company will likely develop this kind of organisational culture. This will continue to form the organisations culture and have a large influence on the actions of the company even if new leaders are brought in to the organisation. The assumptions of the founder will already be deep routed and form the basis of the culture.
Size affects an organisation because of the formality that is often required in larger companies. A large company with many levels of management and a large number of functions or even businesses cannot realistically operate on an informal level. This has implications for the culture of the organisation.
If the company uses highly technological systems and procedures in its operations ie pharmaceuticals, the cultural emphasis will be on the technical skills of its employees. A company in the service sector may have a cultural slant towards customer service.
Goals and objectives
What the organisation wants to achieve will also affect culture. An organisation that wishes to become a market leader may inherit cultural values that reflect that attitude, i.e. company image focused, or have a heavy marketing orientation.
There are many environmental factors that can affect an organisations culture, stakeholders, competitors, government etc. etc. How a company chooses to interact with each of these environmental forces will determine how the organisations culture develops.
The preferred style of work amongst both senior management and employees has a large effect on the organisations culture. If senior management attempt to implement a culture that is unacceptable to employees a reaction will follow, industrial action, low motivation, poor productivity etc. Likewise if employees attempt to force management into following their own culture then a negative reaction will also result. i.e. relocation or the replacement of workers.
(Section taken from Martin, J, Organizational Behaviour, 2001)
Senior management need to realise the factors that affect an organisations culture and attempt to you analyse the likely impact major business decisions may have. Failure to do may have negative consequences for the culture and hence the success of the company.
6.Cultural change, the role of management
“There is some considerable debate as to whether changing something as deep-seated as corporate culture is possible’ Writers with this view usually focus on the deeper levels of culture, the underlying assumptions. Turner (1986) supports this view by suggesting that it would not be possible to manipulate it accurately because it becomes such an integral part of the organisations fabric. Because these are taken for granted assumptions about organisational life, members cannot envision any other way of operating.
Those advocating corporate culture usually focus on the surface elements of culture, the artefacts. These are more easily changed than the deeper routed assumptions. Some writers have argued that unless the deeper assumptions are changed that the company will revert back to old ways of operating. Despite these arguments there is wide consensus that cultural change should only be attempted as a last resort and after other avenues have been sought.
(Cummings, Worley, 1993)
A primary task of management is to control the activity of employees to best serve defined organizational interests. They can achieve this control using formalized rules (bureaucratic mechanisms), economic rewards and sanctions or values and norms about how the work is to be done (“clan” or cultural mechanisms) (Wilkins and Ouchi, 1983; cited by Sinclair, A, 1993). This statement reflects the common view that organisational culture needs to be aligned with organisational strategy if the company is to be successful. Many companies have now realised the importance of developing strategies harmonious with the organisations culture.
Sometimes however culture needs to be changed, if circumstances require an organisation to follow a particular strategic route or a significant change affects the organisation i.e. market forces, government action, rapid growth etc. then the culture will have to be adjusted to suit the strategy and external environment.
Managers require many skills in order to successfully change an organisations culture. It is a lengthy process that is full of danger. Staff need to be reassured and convinced that the new culture will work, otherwise defence mechanisms and the problems discussed earlier may begin show.
The following guidelines to changing culture have been cited in (Cummings, T, Worley, C, Organization development and change, 1993)
1.Clear strategic vision- the firm needs to have a clear view of its operational strategy if culture is to be changed. Managers need to know where the company is now and where it is planning on going.
2.Top-management commitment- cultural change must be managed from the top of the organisation. Senior managers need to be committed to the new culture. They must have the staying to see the changes through.
3.Symbolic leadership- executives must communicate the new culture through their own actions. Their behaviour needs to symbolise the behaviours and actions that are being sought in the entire organisation. In an example given in the text, the CEO of Dana Corporation Rene McPherson threw the companies multi-volume policy manuals into a waste paper basket during a meeting and replaced them with a one page set of principles.
4.Supporting organisational change- the culture change must also be supported by changes in the organisational structure and operations, ‘the artefacts’ as have already been discussed. They can get people aware of the behaviours required in the new culture for the organisation to be successful.
5.Selection and socialization of newcomers and termination of deviants. One of the most important methods in changing an organisations culture is hiring the right people. This is particularly prominent in management positions where the manager has influence over the behaviour of subordinates.
6.Ethical and legal sensibility- sometimes when culture change happens some employees feel they are being hard done by, maybe due to a change in roles, due a promise made during the transition that has been fulfilled. This may lead to legal battles and or resignations from the company.
These steps demonstrate some of the ways that managers can influence and successfully change an organisations culture. There is of course no universal solution to changing or influencing culture, all companies are different and individual approaches are more than likely necessary for cultural change to be successful.
An example of cultural change is given in (Martin, J, Organizational Behaviour, 2001). In this case study of a motor car dealership in the UK, the newly appointed managing director wanted to change the company culture. The existing culture was largely autocratic with instructions coming down the hierarchy and staff carrying out these instructions. She wanted to change the culture so that the company has a more had team based approach with decision making at team level and initiative being used at all levels of the organisation.
To do this she had to use drastic tactics such as showing staff a video of disappointed customers and even accepting a loss in revenue while the changes were being made. Along with this approach she introduced many changed such as more staff training, revision of pay schemes, continuous improvement groups, multi-functional teams etc. After three years the culture change was deemed complete and she could turn her hand to the future of the company.
This case study highlights the often drastic measures and level of commitment that is required by managers to introduce a culture change to an organisation.
It is relatively clear that organisational culture exists and that it plays a huge part in an organisations actions and the behaviour of its employees. Very few writers now argue with this point. I have discussed how culture develops in an organisation and the different levels and types of culture that emerge. Referring back to the second part of the original question, we have seen how managers can influence and attempt to change an organisations culture and the various problems that are encountered in this process. Although there are debates as to whether an organisations culture can or cannot be changed it would seem that there is a mid-point between the two arguments.
There are examples of successful culture changes and I have given one in the text. It is clear that if properly organised and implemented a cultural change can be achieved. However we cannot assume that the culture has been changed all together. If the underlying assumptions are as strong as Schein and other writers claim then these will always affect the company culture in some shape or form. If the new culture is not carefully controlled could reappear. To conclude I would say, although cultural can be changed to suit the environment and organisational strategy, that managers should be cautious take into account the underlying principles that govern the organisational culture.
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