II. Organizational Culture

One of the primary environmental factors that affect a manager is the culture of the organization. The culture can either make the manager's job easier or harder. Cultures which support the goals a manager is trying to reach, (such as greater quality or more worker involvement), are enhancements to a manager's power. Cultures which do not support those goals act as constraints to a manager's power.

Managers must be aware of their organization's culture and attempt to either work within those constraints or act as a change agent in modifying the existing culture.

A. Culture Defined

An organizational culture is the sum of the unwritten rules and beliefs that are common to all the workers in an organization and which determine the actions, attitudes and emotions acceptable within the organization. The culture determines which values are important and which are not.

Research has determined that there are seven dimensions of organizational culture. Each of these dimensions is measured on a range from high to low; for example a ten-point scale can be used to indicate high to low. The compilation of these seven dimensions provides a picture of organizational culture.

    1. The seven dimensions are:

        a. Innovation and Risk-taking: should workers take risks to try something new?

        b. Attention to Detail: is "good enough" sufficient, or do workers try to create the best possible outcome/product?

        c. Outcome Orientation: does the manager focus on the "bottom line" or is the manager more concerned about how that bottom line was achieved?

        d. People Orientation: are the workers feelings and concerns used in the decision making process or not?

        e. Team Orientation: are the workers expected to act as teams or as fierce individuals?

        f. Aggressiveness: are the workers acting like sharks or dolphins?

        g. Stability: does the organization want to keep everything as it is, or is change and growth the order of the day?

If we compare two organizations on these scales, it becomes immediately apparent how culture could effect a manager's desire to implement change within an organization. Let's assume the manager desires to implement a TQM-style incentive with her organization.

The manager will have a much easier time making her changes in organization B than in A. Organization B's culture readily accepts innovation, focuses on the process of production, is concerned with people, details and teams, is non-aggressive and wants growth. This is a perfect environment for TQM. The workers would consider TQM a natural extension to what they are already doing.

Organization A however, is risk-averse, unconcerned with details, people or teams, focuses on the number of items produced, their workers are relatively aggressive toward each other and the firm values the status quo. A manager facing this culture will have to fight each step of the way to implement TQM. She will have to not only begin a whole new management philosophy, she is going to have to change every aspect of organization's culture. The organization will resist these changes aggressively. We will discuss difficulties in the change process in depth in other topics.

By being situationally aware, the manager in organization A may decide either to give up the idea of TQM, try to change the culture first and then implement TQM, or decide to leave the firm to find an organization more in tune with her personal beliefs.

B. Types of Organizational Cultures

Cultures may be either strong or weak. Strong cultures are more difficult to change and tend to have less employee turnover, a longer history, and be larger than those with a weak culture are.

Any of the seven dimensions mentioned above can form the primary basis of a corporate culture. For example, an organization can be driven by its desire to take risks, by a desire to grow, or to be the most aggressive. In any case, all seven dimensions will be present in the organization but one of them will predominate the culture.

C. Sources

How does an organization's culture form?

Initially, culture grows from the founders of the organization. Their beliefs and concerns are mirrored in their employees. Then, as the organization matures, the firm's successes and failures mold the culture.

Culture is shared among the current employees and passed on to new workers through a number of means. Stories are one of the most popular methods. By sharing what worked (or failed) in the past, and especially the results for the people involved in the situation, workers learn what is expected of them and what level of risk taking is allowed.

Rituals are another method of reinforcing which beliefs an organization holds dear. Whenever a firm uses a dramatic, public, repeated forum to reward or discipline a person, they are using ritual. One common form of ritual is the Annual Stockholder Meeting at which superior employees are publicly recognized.

Material symbols can also share a culture. In many sales organizations, top salespeople receive recognition in the form of "million dollar" clubs, complete with plaques and signet rings. These outward symbols inform the other employees that this person is the one to emulate if the employee wants to succeed.

Language is the final method of forming a culture. Creating a special language or terminology sets an organization apart from the rest of the world. Unique words can create an "exclusion zone." An employee either understands the language and is allowed into the zone or does not understand and remains an outsider. The importance of this aspect of culture is reflected in this course's emphasis on proper terminology to allow the student to be accepted in the management culture.

D. Influence on Managers

As described above, an understanding of the organizational culture can help a manager succeed. Often, by examining the culture, a manager can determine more accurately where problems might crop up in an organization.

This is a critical skill. A manager may desire to increase the quality of the product being produced. He may read everything available on how to increase production quality. He can order expensive studies on where improvements can be made and create wonderful plans and charts implementing these positive changes. And all of this can fail dismally if the organizational culture desires to maintain the status quo.

New managers often fail because they fail to determine the conditions they are operating under in an organization. Don't be one of those managers: listen, watch, and learn the organizational culture.


Copyright Information
Title: Organizational Culture (Lecture Notes)
Author: John Anderson  (Instructor)
University: National University
Course: MGT 409C- Principles of Management and Organization
Date: June 1, 2002 (Received)

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