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Organizational Culture Does Matter Published: Sunday, December 5, 2004 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Although closely related to the idea of control through commitment and socialization, the topic of organizational culture is somewhat distinct. Commitment is one important mechanism through which strong cultures may be built, but the concept of culture incorporates more than simply commitment. Culture can be defined as a learned body of tradition that governs what one needs to know, think and feel in order to meet the standards of membership… When applied to organizational settings, culture is generally viewed as shared rules governing cognitive and affective aspects of membership in an organization, and the means whereby they are shaped and expressed. Of particular concern is the shared meanings assumptions, norms and values that govern work-related behavior; the symbolic, textural, and narrative structures in which they are encoded; and the strategic and structural causes and consequences of cultural forms and their relationship to various measures of organizational effectiveness (quality, service, flexibility, cost and fastness).

In order for people to function within any given setting, they must have a continuing sense of what that reality is all about in order to be acted upon. Culture is the system of such publicly and collectively accepted meanings operating for a given group at a given time. This system of terms, forms categories, and images interprets a people`s own situation to themselves… The offsprings of the concept of culture…are symbol, language, ideology, belief, ritual, and myth.

Culture is conceptually not totally distinguishable from the construct of organizational climate and can be defined and measured at different levels of analysis, including the group, the entire organization, or even the industry. Some define culture as what an organization is while still others argue that it is what an organization has (Schein, 1985). One can also define culture as a system of shared values (that define what is important) and norms that define appropriate attitudes and behaviors for organizational members (how to feel and behave). Defined in this way, one can ask, empirically, to what extent there is agreement about values (consistency) and to what extent violations of organizational norms and rules are sanctioned severely (the intensity with which values and beliefs about appropriate behavior are held). This definition is, therefore, quite amenable to empirical and quantitative measurement.

One approach to operationalize culture is the Organizational Culture Profile (O`Reilly, Chatman, and Caldwell, 1991), which employs a Q-sort profile comparison process that asks respondents to put fifty-four value statements into a set of nine categories from "most characteristic of my firm`s culture" to "most uncharacteristics of my firm`s culture". With an average of thirty-five respondents from fifteen firms in various service industries, the authors observed a high degree of consensus within firms, although the extent of consensus varied, as might be expected as some firms had stronger cultures than others. In several studies using the OCP, a consistent set of seven factors emerged:

  • Innovation
  • Stability
  • Orientation toward people
  • Orientation toward outcomes or results
  • Semphasis on being easygoin
  • Gattention to detailCollaborative or team orientation. It was demonstrated that even within the service sector, individual firms had unique cultures. They also found that "industry differences explain more variance than organization differences for six of the seven culture dimensions.

Since the mid-1980`s there have been more than one hundred scholarly and practitioner-oriented books on the subject of culture. Some of this activity has been stimulated by the predicament that strong cultures are positively related to economic performance, that creating and managing culture is possible, and that culture is an effective method used in world class companies. In order to enhance performance, culture needs to be matched with behavioral styles, strategy, structure, incentives and contain norms and values that help the organization adapt to a changing environment.

Ebers (1995) developed a typology of organizational cultures. Based on the existing literature on culture, he defines not only four ideal types (Legitimate, Efficient, Traditional and Utilitarian) but, more important, some critical dimensions along which conceptions of culture can be usefully described (Content, Basis of Validity, Focus, Basis of Individual Compliance, Coordination of Customer Actions, Work-Environment).

There are four mechanisms through which organizations attempt to manage culture. First, systems of participation in organizational decision making, a frequent feature of empowerment and high commitment work organizations, providing individuals with the opportunity of making real choices. Second, managers and leaders send signals about what is important and valued through devices such as what they spend time on, and what they asked questions about. Language, symbols and rituals are important in developing and maintaining a culture. Third, by sharing organizational information. When people first enter an organization, they are often uncertain about what to do and what the rules of the game are. If they are exposed to consistent social information in terms of norms, and expectations for behavior, they are likely to conform to those requirements. Finally, organizations shape behavior through reward systems.


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