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Organizational culture describes the thought process (Psychology), attitude (responses) based on organizational experience, ideology and values. According to Richard Black organization culture is “the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization.” (Source: Black, Richard J. (2003) Organizational Culture: Creating the Influence Needed for Strategic Success, London UK, ISBN 1-58112-211-X)
Organization Culture has been classified by different researchers in different ways. Geert Hofstede after studying over 100,000 employees across the globe of IBM identified 5 dimensions of national influences:
• Power Distance: The measure to which the people of the society yearn for power, a higher score would indicate individuals wield power in larger amounts than others.
• Avoidance of uncertainty is another parameter to the extent people are comfortable with uncertain situations.
• Individualism and collectivism: The tendency of people to stand for themselves or act as a member of the group and work towards the nest interest of the group.
• Male and female values: assertiveness, competiveness, being ambitious and tendency to accumulate wealth are traits of Male values.
• Time bound orientation: Significance attached to future and past. The long term horizon society tends to be thrift whereas the short time societies tend to be more valued.
This point was further proven by Fritz Rieger and Durhane Wong-Rieger. They researched 9 airlines: Lufthansa ( Germany), Alitalia( Italy), PIA ( Pakistan), VARIG ( Brazil), Thai International ( Thailand), SIA ( Singapore), Garuda( Indonesia), PAL ( Philippines) and Air Canada ( Canada). Cultural indices representing power was clearly visible in their research. It also suggested that Air Canada had low risk profile; Thai employees preferred working in small groups and developed strong relationships with their co-workers. However the approach taken by Roger Harrison is closer to study of corporate culture. He describes the culture under four categories:
• Power Culture: This type of culture is where the power is concentrated in a few hands. Such organizations have few rules and regulations and little to no bureaucracy. The decision making in such cultures is quick.
• Role Culture: In such an organization the employees have delegated and defined authorities typically this culture would lead to hierarchical bureaucracies.
• Task Culture: This type of culture is dominated by problem solvers.
• Person Culture: In this type of a scenario each individual thinks himself to be over the (superior) the organization.
A Strong organization culture exists when the employees of the company responds the same way to any external stimulus due to their alignment to the values of the organization. Some of the advantages of strong organizational culture are:
• Guides better decision making
• Provides an identity to members
• Improves employees commitment
• Provides a justification for employee’s actions
But researchers view this to me more relevant in cases when the business environment of the industry is considerably stable. In cases of volatility in the industry, the advantages of strong culture are not as big as they are in a stable environment. The reason for this is the fact that in uncertain environment the profits are crunched, new policies are framed by the company to cut cost and avoid loses hence the employees often are faced with the hard task of working against the previously set standards, this may even turn into a disadvantage if the market scenario is worsening, since the customers may still expect eh same kind of treatment that they use to get during the stable economic scenario. But with proper communication and transparent communication this problem can be overcome.
Culture in Airlines Industries
In the airline industry culture plays a very important role. When, in a company the corporate values are embedded strongly and are widely accepted and shared by the employees, the company always benefits. Research highlights that as compared to peers; companies with strong corporate values experience higher growth of income, better return n investment and have better stock performance. The idea of having strong culture is that the alignment between employee response and the company’s objectives. This is especially relevant in the service industry, the employees all response to the same stimulus in the same way, this leads to a consistency in the customer experience. This is of special interest considering the different background and culture of the travelers.
At the basic level, culture is observed as a set of response to stimulus. Some examples of this basic culture are the degree of formality in the employee’s response, the way employees conduct themselves their dress code. The next level is the behavior of the employees. If we go to even deeper levels are the beliefs of the employees. Generally these are not evident to the outsider but think of a scenario where the first two levels are not the same for the travelers of the airline, this would create a feeling of partiality and mistrust amongst the passenger. This may assume significant proportion considering the diverse cultures that the passengers of the airlines come from.
British Airline was once an ill reputed airline, and then British air put the staff through a two day training program to transform the culture of the organization. All the 40,000 front ending staff was put through the training and the results were incredible.
Case of South West Airlines
Southwest Airlines (SWA) is famous for establishing and achieving records of performance in the airline industry. Hey have been recognized b Fortune Magazine as the best company to work for. That’s not enough he company has a record of posting profits for every quarter for 34 years The Company’s income for the year 2006 was $499 million this was achieved with 96.4 million consumers and around 32,000 workforce. Southwest airline is the only airline that was won Triple Crown (#1 for most on-time flights, lowest number of lost baggage, and fewest complaints from the Customer) for 5 successive years. THE CEO of Southwest credits his employees for these figures, they in turn praise her for this performance and for setting an organizational culture that has helped them achieve this performance. Some key highlights of the culture of people at SWA are:
Qualities of SWA Culture
• Leading with the servant’s heart:
• Customer comes second and employees come first: The belief at South West airline is, a satisfied employee will serve the customer better. Every effort is made to keep the employees happy. The result of this is that they have the best customer service in the world, a reflection that they have the most satisfied employees. This internal marketing has led many a service companies even outside the airline industry to look at employees before seeing the customers.
• LUV and FUN: LUV at South West airline means to respect everyone’s individuality and to “not do something to others that you don’t want to be done to you”. One such example of the implementation of this culture is a: When the other airlines see the staff as Flight attendants, Pilots and Crew schedulers as different group of people, SWA sees all these as the member of the family and takes there inputs from all these to take care of the their problems across the departmental divisions.
The interpretation of this word is the same as the literal meaning of this word. South West has a “Whistle while you work” culture, implying that the employees should have fun while they are working.
The leader of this culture is the former CEO of South West Airlines, Herb Kelleher, who believed that the growth company can achieve is only to the extent that it can hire and train staff to follow the South West culture. He told the staff at South West that instead of focusing on the numbers they would keep their focus on the quality of service, and the number would follow. To Herb, culture meant taking good care of his staff as they are the members who form the company’s image as they take care of the company’s business every day, they are the people who represent the company n front of the customer. This perhaps is one of the best examples of the role of a leader in setting up the organization culture.
Though there may be some differences in the opinion of the people that the airline industry does not need the organizational culture on account of impact the market scenarios today and due to the fact that it is one of the most susceptible industry to the market downturns. Since September 11 the security concerns have added to the pressures to the airlines but as displayed by SWA a strong culture not only boosts the performance of an airline but help it to treat all passenger in a manner that they would appreciate. More importantly the feeling of discrimination will be non-existence and this leads to satisfied and loyal customers and increased revenues in the long run