Definition of Culture
Culture is the blueprint of beliefs, behaviors, and identitieswhich shape the
perceptions of a person or a group of persons. It is an inheritance of ideas, practices, and attitudes which are conveyed and reinforced from generation to generation through institutions of society, like family, church, and community. Culture defines right and wrong, delineates assumptions and expectations, and ultimately describes our dreams and the meaning of life.
Chris Sandoval, Director
Multicultural AIDS Resource Center of California
Definition of Organisational Culture
The collections of traditions, values, beliefs, and attitudes that constitute a pervasive context for everything we do and think in an organisation.
Every organisation have their own special culture, but they are usually similar if the are in the same business. For the average person – “culture” may mean that they perceive the organisation they are involved with to be
- pushy, harsh and authoritarian
- very political with traps and pitfalls for people to fall into if they are not nimble and able to wheeler-deal and hold their own in a brawl
- rule and ritual bound
- cold and separated
- brisk, dynamic, opportunistic
- exploitative, all take and no give
- caring and genuinely interested in people as people
People classify what they see as the characteristics of organisations. We construe and
organisational culture. It is socially defined and experienced. The experience of the things we feel are displayed by the “culture and its practices” affect how we behave and respond to the organisations we work in.
Culture Control and Engineering
Managers seek to “change” the culture of the organisation. What they therefore try to do is shape the way people behave, feel, contribute, interact, perform as employees of the organisation. This is usually called leadership! They initiate the debates, set the imperatives and priorities. If the managers want to pursue quality improvement then meetings will be held, training will be done, banners will be waved – new imperatives are brought in to business to be integrated by way of activities, expectations, values and sanctions into the culture of the business. This business – the business must succeed in co-ordinated, highly charged ways.
New policies, methods and roles are introduced to shape behaviours, encourage, promote and require – to push certain expectations of performance in the business and thus to control.
Spoken of in other ways, culture in organisational terms is broadly the social/behavioural manifestation and experiencing of a whole range of issues such as:
- the way work is organised and experienced
- how authority exercised and distributed
- how people are and feel rewarded, organised and controlled
- the values and work orientation of staff
- the degree of formalisation, standardisation and control through systems there is/should be
- the value placed on planning, analysis, logic, fairness etc
- how much initiative, risk-taking, scope for individuality and expression is given
- rules and expectations about such things as informality in interpersonal relations, dress, personal eccentricity etc
- differential status
- emphasis given to rules, procedures, specifications of performance and results, team or individual working
Organisational Culture and Working Life
We are born into a culture, we take up employment in a culture. We might therefore argue that the culture of an organisation affects the type of people employed, their career aspirations, their educational backgrounds, their status in society. The culture of the organisation may embrace them. It may reject them.
Organisational culture may be visible
An organisation’s culture may be imperceptible, taken for granted, assumed,
a status quo that we live and participate in but do not question. Elements of the culture may be questioned where individual or group expectations do not correspond to the behaviours associated with the prevailing values of those who uphold “the culture”.
An organisation may display elements of several “cultures” which may contradict each other, which may compete. We can even consider the characteristics of an
anti-organisational or countervailing culture.
Types of organisational culture
Every organisation has their own unique culture and most large businesses are likely to be something of a mix of cultures with examples for each of the four types in varying areas of the organisation.
Organisational culture change
Organisation are increasingly aware that culture has powerful impact on every aspect of their operations and decision-making processes. Real improvement requires more than simply changing systems and procedures. It requires changing the way people think and behave throughout the entire organisation.
It is possible to change the way people think about their work and how this translates into behaviour in the organisation.
But for change to be introduced successfully, the organisation needs to ensure that people are concentrating their efforts in the right areas. Many assessment tools such as climate surveys primarily focus on the observable outcomes or end results of organisational functioning. But the fact is that effective change cannot take place until the underlying causes are addressed.
By focusing on the causes, the organisation takes a revealing look at what behaviours are being rewarded, how motivated and satisfied the employees are, and how effectively they perform. In discovering the reasons why the people behave the way they do, the organisation can then look at the factors that may need to be changed. What behaviours need to be encouraged and how do the organisation develop these within the organisation?
This enables the organisation to not only establish the most effective ways to deal with present issues, but also plan strategies to prevent these recurring and anticipate those which may happen in the future.
Influences on the development of culture
The culture and structure of an organisation develop over time and in response to a complex set of factors. It is possible, however, to identify a number of key influences that are likely to play an important role in the development of any corporate culture. These include: history; primary function and technology; goals and objectives; size; location; management and staffing; and the environment.
Managers who wants to change the culture of an organisation must not only have insight into the dynamics of culture but the motivation and skill to intervene in one’s own cultural process. To change any elements of the culture, leaders must be willing to unfreeze their own organisation. The leader must find a way to say to his own organisation that things are not all right and, if necessary, must enlist the aid of outsiders in getting this message across. It also requires the creation of psychological safety, which means that the leader must have emotional strength to absorb much of the anxiety that change can brings with it, and he must have the ability to remain supportive to the organisation through the transition phase even if workers become angry and obstructive.
So, is it possible for a manager to change the culture?
I think it depends on a few factors, such as size, history, workers and managers.
If the manager has bad contact with his workers they won’t listen to new changes.
It will take a real good manager to change organisational culture, there is nothing worse in a hard-workers life than unwanted changes in his traditional work.
Lee R. & Lawrence P. (1985) Organizational Behaviour: Politics at Work, Hutchinson and Co. Ltd., London
Mintzberg H. (1983) Power in and around organizations, Pentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs
Mullins L. J. (1999) Management and Organisational Behaviour, Pitman Publishing, London
Schein E. H. (1985) Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass, San Franscisco
Can managers deliberately try to change organisational culture in order to improve the effectiveness of an organisation or is culture something which only evolves slowly and cannot be manipulated?