People Development

What is organisational culture?

The role of Culture when implementing Improvement Initiatives

To better understand organisational culture, there are essentially three issues to consider:

  1. What is organisational culture?
  2. Culture’s role in organisations.
  3. Types of organisational cultures.

In this 3-part blog we’ll be discussing each of the above-mentioned issues respectively.

So what is organisational culture?

Organisational culture is something that is unique to each organisation, with its different personalities of people and the organisations in which they work. However, when one considers that entire organisations are often so consistently different from one another, it is clear that there is more involved than simply personalities of employees. In many organisations employees are constantly changing; old ones are frequently leaving and new ones join. Despite these shifts, the organisations themselves change slowly, if at all. It is often the new employees that change rather than the organisation itself. In a sense, organisations have a stable existence of their own, apart from the unique combination of people of which they are made up of, at any given time.

We ask ourselves – where does this stability come from?

The answer to this involves the impact of organisational culture. This culture is a cognitive framework consisting of attitudes, values, behavioural norms as well as expectations shared by organisation members. Once these beliefs are established, expectancies and values tend to be relatively stable. At the root of any organisation’s culture is a set of core characteristics that are collectively valued by members of an organisation. Recent research by Chatman and Jehn has shown that seven elements of organisational culture may be used to describe organisations. These elements are as follows:

  1. Innovation – the extent to which people are expected to be creative and generate new ideas.
  2. Stability – valuing a stable, predictable, rule-orientated environment.
  3. Orientation towards people – being fair, supportive and showing respect for individual’s rights.
  4. Results-orientated – the strength of its concern for achieving desired results.
  5. Easygoingness – the extent to which the work atmosphere is relaxed and laid back.
  6. Attention to detail – concern for being analytical and precise.
  7. Collaborative orientation – emphasis on working in teams as opposed to individually.

These different core values will be reflected in the cultures of different organisations. Chatman and Jehn compared 15 companies in four different industries with respect to the seven aspects of culture.  Their results suggest that there were similarities between the cultures of companies within the same industries. Researchers also found connections between cultures and various industry characteristics. In general, company cultures were in keeping with the kind of work they did.

These results suggest that organisational culture is not only a key factor in distinguishing between individual companies, but between entire industries.

Keep an eye out for our next blog about Culture’s role in organisations.

Author: Huibie Jones: MD at ODI

To read more about ODI’s Focused Improvement Projects, click here.