People Development

The different types, formation & maintenance of organisational culture

This is the last of a 3-part series about organisational culture when implementing improvement initiatives.

In the two previous blogs I explained that:

  • Organisational culture is not only a key factor in distinguishing between individual companies, but between entire industries.
  • Organisational culture is an important force influencing organisational behavior.

Today, let’s look at

  • The different types of organisational culture and
  • The formation and maintenance of organisational culture.

Types of Organisational Culture

Each organisation has only a single, uniform culture, one set of shared values, beliefs and expectations – this is rarely the case. Organisations, particularly larger ones, typically have several cultures operating within them.

In general people tend to have more attitudes and values in common with others in their own fields or work units than they do with those in others fields or parts of the organisation. These various groups may be said to have different subcultures, cultures existing within certain parts of the organisation rather than entirely through them.

The Formation and Maintenance of Organisational Culture

Two more important issues to consider about culture are 1) How was it initially created? 2) What keeps it going?

1. How was it initially created?

Why do many individuals within an organisation share basic attitudes, values and expectations? Three main factors contribute to this state of affairs:

  • Company Founders. Organisational culture may be traced to the founders of the company. These individuals often possess dynamic personalities, strong values and clear visions of how their organisation should operate. Since they are on the scene first and play a key role in hiring staff, their attitudes and values are readily transmitted to new employees. The result of this is that their views become the accepted ones in the company and persist long after the founder is no longer on the scene.
  • Organisational Experience. Organisational culture often develops out of an organisation’s experience with the external environment. Every organisation must find a niche for itself in its industry and in the marketplace. As it struggles to do so in early days, it may find that some values and practices work better than others.
  • Internal Interaction. Organisational culture also develops out of contact between groups of individuals within the organisation. To a large extent culture involves shared interpretations of events and actions on the part of organisation members. In short, organisational culture reflects the fact that people assign similar meaning to various events and actions.

2. What keeps it going?

How do employees come to learn about the organisation’s culture? There are several key mechanisms involved, most importantly: symbols, stories, jargon, ceremonies and statements of principles.

  • Symbols. Organisations often rely on symbols or material objects that bring meaning beyond their inherent content. An example of this can be impressive buildings to convey strength and significance. Other companies rely on slogans. Symbols are an important vehicle for communicating culture.
  • Stories. “In the old days we used to…”. Organisations also transmit information about culture by virtue of stories that are told in them, both formally and informally. Stories illustrate key aspects of an organisation’s culture and telling them can effectively introduce or reaffirm those values to employees. Some of the most effective stories involve recounting critical incidents and important events in shaping the companie’s history.
  • Jargon. The special language that defines a culture. Even without telling stories the everyday language used in companies helps sustain culture. Over time, as organisations or departments within them, develop a unique language to describe their work, their terms, although strange to newcomers, serve as a common factor that brings together individuals belonging to a corporate culture or subculture.
  • Ceremonies. Special events that commemorate corporate values. Organisations also do a great deal to sustain their cultures by conducting various types of ceremonies. Ceremonies may be seen as celebrations of an organisation’s basic values and assumptions. These ceremonies convey meaning to people inside and outside of the organisation.
  • Statement of principles. Defining culture in writing. A fifth way in which culture is transmitted is via direct statements of principle. Some organisations have explicitly written their principles for all to see. This loud and clear enunciation of a company’s code of conduct allows employees to determine whether or not they fit the particular culture.

From all the above it is clear that organisational culture plays an important role in the functioning of the organisation. Organisational culture exerts many effects on individuals and organisational processes, some dramatic and others more subtle. Culture generates strong pressures on people to go along and to think and act in ways consistent to the existing culture. It is this strong element of culture that can assist in making the implementation of the 20 Keys successful in companies. By introducing it in a subtle way, rather strengthening the culture of the company instead of rocking it, success would be achieved sooner rather than later.

Author: Huibie Jones – MD at ODIHuibie Jones: MD at ODI

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