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About culture.

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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

  • in the type of buildings, offices, shops of the organisation.

  • in the image projected in publicity and public relations in general. Think for example of the differences between a local authority, a computer manufacturer, and a merchant bank.


    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

  • Power culture – is found mainly in a smaller organisations where power and influence stem from a single central source, through which all decisions, communication and control are channelled. Because there is no rigid structure within the organisation, it is theoretically capable of adapting to change very, although its actual success in adapting is dependent on the abilities of the central power source.

  • Role culture – is characterised by a formal, functional organisation structure in which there is relatively little freedom and creativity in decision making. Such organisations are more likely to be production oriented and can have difficulty responding to new market opportunities.

  • Task culture – is concerned primarily with getting a given task done. Importance is therefore attached to those individuals who have the skill or knowledge to accomplish a particular task. Organisations with a task oriented culture are potentially very flexible, changing constantly as new tasks arise. Innovation and creativity are highly prized for their own sake.

  • Person culture –is characterised by organisations which are centred around serving the interests of individuals within them. It is relatively rare form of culture in any market-mediated environment, but can characterise campaigning pressure groups.


    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.

  • History. The philosophy and values of the owners and first senior managers will have a great influence on the development of culture. They have their own traditional way of doing it. A new generation change in the top management, may bring about a change in culture.

  • Primary function and technology. The nature of the organisation’s ‘business’ and its primary function have an important influence on its culture. This includes the range and quality of products and services provided, the importance of reputation and the type of customers.

  • Goals and objectives. The organisation must give attention to objectives in all key areas of its operations. The combination of objectives and resultant strategies will influence culture, and may itself be influenced by changes in culture.

  • Size. Usually larger organisations have more formalised structures and cultures. Increased size is likely to result in separate departments and possibly split-site operations. This may cause difficulties in communication.

  • Location. Geographical location and the physical characteristics can have a major influence in culture – for example, whether an organisation is located in a quiet rural location or a busy city centre. This can influence the types of customers and the staff employed.

  • Management and staffing. Top executives can have considerable influence on the nature of corporate culture. However, all members of staff help to shape the dominant culture of an organisation, irrespective of what senior management feel it should be.

  • The environment. In order to be effective, the organisation must be responsive to external environmental influences. For example, if the organisation operates within a dynamic environment it requires a structure and culture that are sensitive and readily adaptable to change.






    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?

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