ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE

  1. INTRODUCTION

The importance of organizations for man and society can hardly be over-estimated. From life to death one or other form of organization plays a role in the life of the individual and impact on societies, nations and communities, be it political, religious, cultural, educational, judicial, economic, industrial or sport organizations, etc. Organization is the vehicle through which groups; collectives and individuals work to achieve their goals, aims and objectives.

Being an age old phenomenon, almost universal in its appearance and application, there is little doubt that a well led, well organized, well managed, well planned, well resourced, well monitored organization can be a powerful tool to improve quality of life or product or process to achieve excellence, to benchmark, to excel, to develop, to grow, to optimize the condition of man or to produce and to profit. The opposite however is also true.

Loosely defined an organization is a collectivity where people work together to achieve fairly specific goals, objectives with a fairly formalized structure and processes often strongly influenced by environmental factors.

Organisational culture entails all that govern, guide and shape the organizations people-relationships.

  1. ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE

“Despite battling against a harsh economic climate, manufacturers in the UK are still notching up improvements in the performance of their business. But nobody is celebrating. In fact, managers in British Industry are living in constant fear of falling further behind their rivals. Confidence has been battered: few believe they are out in front. And evidence is emerging that managers are having to concentrate more and more on short-term financial targets – to the detriment of what they really believe is the long term interest of their companies.” (2000 Fowler)

These are among the findings of the 13th annual survey of industrial managers by consultants Bourton group “Its most striking finding is that people skills and company organization and culture have suddenly risen to the top of managers concerns.” (2000 Fowler)

“In particular, company culture – its structures and procedures, its communications, and the relationships between people within the organization – emerges as the single factor people now see as having the greatest potential both to effect improvements – or hold it back”. (2000 Fowler)

For the first time, since the survey began, not one of the companies – on their own assessment – rated themselves world class in competitive terms.

We believe that organisational culture could be one of the key ingredients in determining effectiveness and efficiency in understanding, benchmarking in becoming a world-class business and organization.

Given the importance of organisational culture it might be worth our while to consider the factors that have influenced its development. (1997 p281)

    1. The Factors that have influenced Organisational culture

      1. HISTORY AND OWNERSHIP

The one-person business, The Family business, the small-group entrepreneur will determine influence, power, style, due to its centralized ownership.

      1. SIZE

As the enterprise grows and expands, tight ownership and control may dwindle and others will start influencing style and culture.

      1. TECHNOLOGY

High cost, high-tech, high touch, fast changing technologies like in telecommunications might require a more flexible culture than those technologies that are expensive (machinery) where a more formal, well-structured culture will be required.

      1. LEADERSHIP AND MISSION

Individuals and their values will impact on the culture of the organization.

    1. The cultural web as instrument in analyzing the elements of the organization culture. (1997, 282 – 283)

FIGURE 1

  • STORIES: What people talk about, what matters, what is defined as success, failure.

  • ROUTINES: What is the normal way of doing things, procedures, practices.

  • RITUALS: What does the organization highlight? Long service, quality, performance, and innovation.

  • SYMBOLS: Symbols like office size, size, type of car.

  • CONTROL SYSTEM: Formal, informal, bureaucratic.

  • ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE: Who reports to whom on a formal basis and who have an informal relationship?

  • POWER STRUCTURES: Who makes the decisions, who influences the decisions. How. When.

    1. Analyzing Organisational Culture

Mosby argues that the workplace environment portraits much more of the organizations culture than what are generally believed. (Pub v/s top class restaurant). The cue in the abovementioned example is the decisive factor of environment.” The physical setting is a silent language that express the culture of the space, the behavioral norms and the framework for relating ……… the physical work environment impacts on the company, culture, how people behave and relate” (2001 Mosby p.1) The environment should not only be client-friendly, employee friendly but that its space must enhances and supports its intended message.

The workplace (environment) has evolved dramatically since the World Wars and so has work. Mosby asks the question why employers still come into the office when they can work virtually. The answer lies in the organisational culture. “They become to belong, to be part of a group, to exchange ideas and information – to connect in person. We are all communal beings; want to live and work in a community” (2001 Mosby p. 2). The workplace (space) and the work need to encourage building that community and therefore culture. The same principle applies to the company centre and can be extended even to CBD’s and Town centres.

But an important factor to recognize is that culture and this includes organisational culture, is not all that easy to define and even more difficult to change (2000 McLauglin p.1)

Another critical factor in organization culture is values. Holmes argues that “ …… values are the building blocks of corporate character, and corporate character is the foundation on which reputation is built. Simply put, reputation is driven by behavior. Behavior is driven by character; character is driven by values). (2001 Holmes p. 1)

In our argument thus far we have moved from the role of environment (workplace space) to values – quite a journey. This proves amongst others the varied nature of organisational culture, its complexity, the internal dynamics of culture and above all its importance. If an organization pledges commitment to quality but the product falls apart the moment it leaves the assembly line can the company survives? If the company preaches a client focus and a client friendly approach but do not provide any after sales service can it prosper? If the company is concerned about the well being of the employee but it is not reflected in the workplace environment, in values, in benefits, in communication policies, in staff development programmes, then possibly staff turnover, dissent, etc. is its future.

It is therefore imperative to manage the organisational culture. It is imperative for the leadership to foster and enhance the kind of organisational culture that will lead to excellence, to growth, to people and communal development, to capacity building, to internalizing positive values and a positive job orientation, etc.

What do we understand then when we use the concept organisational culture? Lynch explains “… it’s a set of beliefs, values and learned ways of managing – and this is reflected in its structures, system and approach to the development of corporate strategy. Its culture derives from its past, its present, its current people, technology and physical resources and from the aims, objectives and values of those who work in the organization “ (Lynch 278)

An important factor in analyzing organisational culture is to look for details. Details provide evidence of the organisational culture almost like a guide on a hunting trip, its to no avail only to know what a lion looks like, its imperative to know the footprint of the lion, to look for the broken twig, to look for evidence of the resting place, whether the lion is alone or with cubs in a pack. Analyze the details” Analysis is important because culture influences every aspect of the organization and has an impact on the performance of organizations”. (Brown in Lynch p. 298). In view of the above we would like to propose the following framework for analyzing organization culture.

2.3.1. The external environment

  • The political dimension.

  • The economic dimension

  • The social dimension

  • The religious dimension

  • The educational dimension

  • The international dimension

  • The reigning ideologies

  • The dominant life and world views in society

2.3.2. The internal environment

  • People (age, male/female, language and community, religious beliefs, race, composition)

  • Workplace and space

  • Labour policies

  • Technology

  • Resources and resource policies

  • And as mentioned earlier the history and ownership of the organization.

  • The values and beliefs, rituals etc. of the organization.

  • The management style

The perception of people of a product, a company and even a country’s industrial and technological competency, depends almost entirely on the leaders of industries, ability to direct restructure and mould the kind of organisational culture that will promote excellence, benchmarking, capacity building, quality, development, etc., etc. Ad hoc interventions in capacity building and process evaluation, productivity assessments, company audits, data cleansing, staff development, etc., etc. Without a thorough analysis and assessment of the organization culture can hardly ensure progress and a sustainable programme for success, simply because organization culture provides the building blocks if not the cornerstone on which excellence, quality, progress, etc. is built. If quality and progress does not become an internalized value in the hearts and minds of the entire workforce, then all the abovementioned interventions and facilitations might be in vain.

This brings us to the basic cultural style of the organization. (The following summary is based entirely on Lynch pp. 282 and further.)

2.3.3 The power culture

“The organization revolves around and is dominated by an individual or a small group” (Lynch 282). Discussions and often most of the initiatives refer back to the centre, which in turn dominates work styles, beliefs, and even practices in the organization. A problem with this kind of organization is that it becomes increasingly difficult for the centre to keep control and manage the organization as it grows and expands. Even if subgroups of managers develop their plans and initiatives it reflects the preferences of the top or centre.

2.3.4 The role culture

“This organization relies on committees, structures, logic and analysis” (Lynch 283). In this context a small group of managers/leaders will make the final decision but they will rely on procedures, systems and well-defined roles of communication.

The management of change is often a problem in this kind of organization especially in an unstable environment the managers often do not see the changes coming or do not know how to manage it.

2.3.5 The Task culture

“The organization is geared to tackle identified projects or tasks. Work is undertaken in teams that are flexible and tackle identified issues”. (Lynch 283).

In this organization power rests with the team and experts are utilized to facilitate group decisions.

A problem with this kind of culture is that it is less capable of large-scale work and control relies largely on the efficiency of the team and top management is obliged to allow the group day-to-day autonomy.

2.3.6 The personal culture

“The individual works and exists purely for her or himself. The organization is tolerated as the way to structure and order the environment to certain useful purposes, but the prime area of interest is the individual (Lynch 283). An obvious problem with this kind of culture is that each individual feels little loyalty to the organization and is therefore difficult to manage.

Lynch applies three criteria related to cooperative strategy to analyze the strategic implications of the four cultures. The three criteria is:

  • Fit with prescription or emergent strategic routes

  • Delivery of competitive advantage

  • Ability to cope with strategic change

He comes up with the following conclusion on the four types of culture.

CONCLUSIONS ON THE FOUR TYPES OF CULTURE

FIGURE 2

Prescriptive or emergent strategy

Delivery of competitive advantage

Ability to cope with strategic change

Power culture

Prescriptive

Enhanced but individuals may miss competitive moves

Depends on individual or group at centre

Role culture

Prescriptive

Solid, slow and substantive

Slow, will resist change

Task culture

Emergent

Good where flexibility is important

Accepted and welcomed

Personal culture

Possible emergent

Depends on individual

Depends on individual

He does add three important qualifications however:

  • Organizations change over time (Movement from one culture to another possible).

  • Several types of culture usually exist in the same organization.

  • Different cultures may predominate pending on the centralization in the company. (Lynch 284)

(Test for strategic fit with the current strategy)

In conclusion from the above it is clear that there are not only different cultures but they impact differently on the organization. Kreitner and Kinicki p.537 identified four functions of organisational culture – There might well be more – but it is noteworthy what those functions are:

  1. Gives members an organisational identity, in other words, attracts develop and keep talented people. Serve as a magnet. A feeling of belonging exists among employers.

  1. Facilitates collective commitment. People own the company, are prepared to give of themselves. Salaries are high, dividends are high productivity is high.

  1. Promote social system stability, strict standards – tight controls more than just discipline – a mystique. Low turnover. Passionate commitment to work hard – strong identification with the company.

  1. Shapes behavior by helping members to make sense of their surroundings. (Organisational culture – social glue).

Obviously there are many more functions of organisational culture. Fact is organization culture needs to be reckoned with by management, must be managed, must be aligned with the goals and strategy of the leader, directed to constructive and effective organisational functioning. Messmer for example states in this regard “In addition to traditional financial compensation there’s something else employees are looking for in their jobs – an element that could well turn out to be the most pivotal of all. A company’s corporate culture, especially the way it treats, values and trusts, its employees, is typically the deciding factor in whether a worker stays or moves on. In fact, Fortune 1000 executives in a survey commissioned by Robert Half International Inc. (RHI) placed a positive work environment at the top of their list of considerations for keeping employees happy” (Messmer 2001, p.1) Obviously from our discussion it is clear that the positive work environment referred to here is but the tip of the iceberg, the reality of organization culture is much more complex, dynamic and consequential.

Against the background of this brief sketch of organization culture we now move to a discussion of organisational change.