Levels of Organizational Culture - Organisational Behaviour

Organizational culture exists on different levels, which differ in terms of visibility and resistance to change.

The least visible or deepest level is that of basic shared assumptions, which represent beliefs about the organization needs to be run.

The next level of culture is that of cultural values, which represent collective beliefs, assumptions and feelings about what things are good, normal, rational, valuable and so on. These values tend to persist over time even when organizational membership changes. The next level is that of shared behaviors, including norms, which are more visible and somewhat easier to change than values. The most superficial level of organizational culture consists of symbols. Cultural Symbols are words (jargon or slang), gestures and pictures or other physical objects that carry a particular meaning with the culture.

Developing Organizational Culture

An organizational culture forms in response to two major challenges that confront every organization:

  1. External adaptation and survival – It has to do with how the organization will find a niche in and cope with its constantly changing external environment. It involves addressing the following issues:
    • Mission and Strategy: Identifying the primary purpose of the organization; selecting strategies to pursue this mission.
    • Goals: Setting specific targets to achieve.
    • Means: Determining how to pursue goals, including selecting an organizational structure and reward systems.
    • Measurement: Establishing criteria to determine how well individuals and teams are accomplishing their goals.
  2. Internal integration – It has to do with the establishment and maintenance of effective working relationships among the members of the organization. Internal integration involves addressing the following issues:
    • Language and concepts: Identifying methods of communication and developing a shared meaning for important concepts.
    • Group and Team boundaries: Establishing criteria for membership in groups and teams.
    • Power and Status: Determining rules for acquiring, maintaining and losing power and status.
    • Rewards and punishments: Developing systems for encouraging desirable behaviors and discouraging undesirable ones.

An organizational culture emerges when members share knowledge and assumptions as they discover or develop ways of coping with issues of external adaptation and internal integration.

The national culture, customs and societal norms of the country also shape the culture of the organizations operating in it.

According to David Drennan, the twelve key casual factors, which shape a company’s culture, are:

  1. Influence of a dominant leader
  2. Company history and tradition
  3. Technology, products and services
  4. The industry and its competition
  5. Customers
  6. Company expectation
  7. Information and control systems
  8. Legislation and company environment
  9. Procedures and policies
  10. Reward systems and measurements
  11. Organization and resources
  12. Goals, values and beliefs

Maintaining Organizational Culture

The ways in which an organization functions and is managed may have both intended and unintended consequences for maintaining and changing organizational culture.

Methods of maintaining organizational culture

  • What managers and teams pay attention to– One of the most powerful methods of maintaining organizational culture involves processes and behaviors that managers, individual employees and teams pay attention to; that is the events that get noticed and commented on. The ways of dealing with these events send strong messages to the employees on expected behaviors and important approaches.

  • Reactions to incidents and crises– When an organization faces crises, the handling of those crises by managers and employees reveals a great deal about its culture. The manner in which the crises are dealt with can either reinforce the existing culture or bring out new values and norms that change the culture in some way.

  • Role Modeling, Teaching and Coaching – Aspects of organizational culture are communicated to employees by the way managers fulfill their roles. In addition, managers and teams may specifically incorporate important cultural messages into training programs and day-to-day coaching on the job.

  • Allocation of Rewards and Status– Employees also learn about the organizational culture through its reward systems. What is rewarded and what is punished convey to employees the priorities and values of both individual managers and the organization.

  • Recruitment, Selection, Promotion and Removal– One of the fundamental ways in which the organization maintains its culture is through Recruitment. In addition, the criteria used to determine who is assigned to specific jobs or positions, who gets raises and promotions and why, who is removed from the organization by firing or early retirement and so on, reinforce and demonstrate aspects of organizational culture.

  • Rites, Ceremonies and Stories – Rites and ceremonies are planned activities or rituals that have important cultural meaning. Many of the underlying beliefs and values of an organization’s culture are expressed as stories that become a part of its folklore. These stories transmit the existing culture from old to new employees and emphasize important aspects of that culture.

Changing Organizational Culture

The same basic methods used to maintain an organization’s culture can be used to modify it. Changing organizational culture is difficult primarily because assessing accurately the existing culture is itself a tough proposition. Most large complex organizations actually have more than one culture. GE for example, has distinctly different cultures in different parts of its multi divisional, world wide operations. These multiple cultures are called subcultures.Every organization will have at least three cultures – an operating culture(line employees), an engineering culture(technical and professional people), and an executive culture(top management) stemming from the very different views and perceptions held by these groups of people.

Successfully changing organizational culture requires:

Understanding the old culture first because a new culture can’t be developed unless managers and employees understand where they are starting.

  • Set realistic goals that impact the bottom line.
  • Providing support for employees and teams who have ideas for a better culture and are willing to act on those ideas.
  • Finding the most effective sub culture in the organization and using it as an example from which employees can learn.
  • Make changes from the top down, so that a consistent message is delivered from all management team members.
  • Include employees in the process – “People support what they help create”.
  • Remove all trappings that remind employees of the old culture.
  • Not attacking culture head on but finding ways to help employees and teams do their job more effectively.
  • Treating the vision of a new culture as a guiding principle for change, not as a miracle cure.
  • Recognize that significant changes take time and
  • Living the new culture because actions speak louder than words.

Resistance to Cultural Change = Magnitude of change X Strength of the prevailing culture.

Therefore, cultural change involves tremendous amount of efforts and time and also need skillful people to manage this change successfully.

Indeed, any comprehensive change program in an organization, in some sense, is an attempt to change the organizational culture.

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