People experience the influence of the cultural environment in which they live. Taking for example a person who grew in a middle-class family, such person acquires their values, belief, and behavioral models. The same can be applied to members of an organization. The people working in IBM, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, or any other company with an old-established and developed culture, will acquire values, beliefs, and behavior models, which are characteristic for this specific organization. In that regard, if the society possesses a social culture, the place where people work possesses organizational culture. In addition to the norms accepted in a society, each group of people including organizations, produce their cultural models, which are named as business, or organizational culture. The organizational culture does not exist by itself. It is always included in the cultural context of a given geographical region and society as a whole, and experience the influence of national culture. In turn, the organizational or corporate culture influences the formation of the culture of divisions, as well as workgroups and management personnel.
The organization is a complex organism, a basis of the potential of which is its culture, which can stand for the way relations are built between the employees of the organization, the firm beliefs, and principles they share, what is considered acceptable, and what is not, and many other aspects related to values and norms. All of the aforementioned not only distinguishes one organization from another but also essentially predetermines the success of the organization’s functioning and survival in the long-term prospect. In that sense, the bearers of the culture in the organization are the people. However, in organizations with a settled culture, the culture is somewhat separated from the people and becomes an organizational attribute, and one of its components, having an active influence on the organization’s employees and modifying their behavior according to those norms and values which form the cultural basis. As the organizational culture plays a very important role in the organization’s life, it should be a subject of steadfast attention from its management. Management not only corresponds to organizational culture and strongly depends on it but also can influence the formation and the development of organizational culture. For this purpose, managers should be able to analyze organizational culture and influence its formation and change in a desirable direction.
An important aspect of organizational culture is communication. In that regard, the culture of an organization can be seen to influence the communication process within the organization. The present paper analyzes organizational culture providing a literature review of the relation between culture and communication, attempting to explain the nature of the influence of the culture on the communication.
In modern literature, there are sufficiently many definitions of the concept of organizational culture. Like many other concepts of organizational and managerial disciplines, the concept of organizational culture has no single and unique interpretation and definition. Additionally, the term culture itself might be difficult to define as it may cover various aspects and becomes vague in that sense, or too narrow omitting important factors from the definition.
Generally, various definitions share a common reference to “cognitive, symbolic, and system-maintaining elements of culture”(Mohan, p. 12). Expanding the symbolic elements, Frost et al.’ (1985) definition of organizational culture states that organizational culture is “symbolism…, rituals, myths, stories, and legends…the interpretation of events, ideas, and experiences that are influenced and shaped by groups within which they live”(Alvesson, p.3).
In that regard, the main purpose of communication, in the context of organizational culture, is being the medium through which the established values and norms of the organization are transmitted; “[t]he collectively accepted meanings composing an organization’s culture are transmitted through the process of communication and emerge as a rule-governed behavior.”(Mohan, p. 16).
Communication can be integrated within the broad concept of organizational culture, in a way that elements of cultures are layered along a continuum comprised of material artifacts and patterns of behavior, where “symbols, language, rituals, and mechanisms of decision-making, coordination, and communication are part of these two primary layers” (Henri).
Additionally, an organizational climate, which encourages communication, can be seen as related to the performance in the US (Deshpande and Farley). The climate in that regard can be defined as “an enduring quality of the internal environment of the firm which influences behavior”(Deshpande and Farley), and in that regard, it might resemble organizational culture, except for the decision making process.
There are many attempts to characterize the structure of organizational culture, where among the most successful the proposition of Harris and Moran (2007) examines organizational culture based on ten characteristics. It should be noted that communication can be seen among these characteristics, where they are represented as follows:
- The comprehension of oneself and own place in the organization, where separate cultures appreciate concealment of the internal moods of the workers, while others encourage their external demonstration; in one case the independence and creativity are shown through cooperation, and in other through individualism.
- Communication system and dialogue language – the usage of oral, written, nonverbal communications and communications openness differ from group to group, and from organization to organization. Informal and formal communication can be perceived differently based on characteristics such as the industry, geographical location, and the level of centralization and formalization of the business.
- Appearance – the culture of the organization can be managed through such aspects as specific dress codes, uniforms, etc.
- Eating habits and tradition in a specific area – that include such aspects as catering services of employees, the availability or absence of special places for eating at the enterprise, people bring meals or visit cafeteria inside or out of the organization, periodicity, and duration of lunch breaks, whether workers of different levels eat together or separately, etc.
- Time comprehension, and the relation to its usage, i.e. the level of accuracy, the relativity of the concept of time for employees, maintaining the schedule, and its encouragement.
- Mutual relations between employees, i.e. division based on age, gender, status, authority and power, experience and knowledge, and accordingly the resulted degree of formalization, received support and the methods for conflict resolution.
- Values and norms -a set of assumptions and expectations concerning a certain type of behavior. What people appreciate as a set of reference points in the organizational life, e.g. position, title or the work itself work, etc. Accordingly, the way these values remain is also important.
- Beliefs and norms – this factor might be related to how the people’s beliefs and their moral foundation’s influence “attitudes toward life (Moran, Harris and Moran, p. 9).
- The development of the employees and their learning – workers rely on intelligence or force; procedures of informing workers; a recognition or refusal of the primacy of logic in reasoning and actions; abstraction and conceptualizations in thinking or learning; approaches to an explanation of the reasons.
- Labor ethics and motivation -the relation and responsibility in work, the quality of work, the habits at work, assessment and rewards; individual or teamwork and advancement of career.
Regarding the types of communications influential on the organization, in general, and organizational culture in particular, informal communication networks are outlined in that matter. It is acknowledged that this type of communication is capable of revising or distorting the intent of official messages, and thus should not be ignored (Connolly). As informal communication can be paralleled with positive interpersonal relations, the latter can be influential on the productivity of the organization as a whole. In general, it is stated that “Informal communication networks, intentional or not, are influencers and influenced by individual members, fraternal associations, ethnic, race, religious, gender and sexual orientation,… [where] these diverse groups function within or attempt to influence law enforcement organizations.”(Connolly).
Additionally, communication can be employed through the decision-making process as well as managing the negotiation process within the organization. It is stated that the power of culture can be reflected through the ability to share the assumptions and reinforce them, specifically when communicating with superior managers, and in that regard, this cultural power in the organization can be through communication mechanisms that keep each one “congruent with his or her culture” (Schein). In that regard, the responsibility of the manager can be seen not only through enforcement of specific communication mechanisms, but also through avoiding “forms of communication that are likely to fail and lead to frustration, opposition, and/or cynicism”(Alvesson).
The influence of culture on communications might occur in two directions. The first is in the lack of necessity of communication in issues and problems, on which there are divided assumptions. In this case, certain actions are just being followed without the need to address such issues through the communication systems, formal or informal. The second direction can be seen through that, divided assumptions provide orientation and assist in the interpretation of received messages. Thus, if in the company the worker is not considered as merely a tool or an asset, then the news about forthcoming automation of the production will not surprise him/her.
The culture’s content also might be influenced by the communications’ content. In one organization the openness of communications is valued, while in others it might be exactly the opposite. The employees feel engaged in the company’s internal processes when they identify themselves with the latter and experience a certain emotional connection with it. A strong culture makes the identification and feelings of the individual similarly strong about the organization. Additionally, workers might activate their actions in the aspiration to help the organization.
The perception of employees of the organizations real or what they see in the organization is caused appreciably by what their colleagues, who share the same experience, speak about what they see. The culture influences this process, providing members of the organization with a general interpretation of their experience. In that regard, in organizations, where the timely service of the consumer is highly appreciated, the perception of a lack of resources for work will not be interpreted as a necessity of a change of the developed inclination to the client. Otherwise, the client can seriously suffer in such a case.
Assessing the mutual influence of communication and organizational culture can be implied the significance of both concepts in the success of an organization. Communication can be seen as an important element connecting the various elements of organizational structures. It is through the interaction and the informational exchange the shared perceptions and values can be formed in the organization.
Communications are integrated into diffident aspects within the organization, related to its culture. That includes the culture of interpersonal relations between employees, methods of management, communicative competence of managers, and formal interaction including forms of behavior with the top executives. In answering the question of what unite aspects seemingly so far from each other, such as business documents, offices, uniforms, and norms of behavior, the answer might the fact the all of the aforementioned can be considered as elements of organizational culture. Being a material incarnation of the company’s mission, organizational culture regulated all forms of communications within the company, as well as the communication directed outside of the company. Additionally, it can be said that the assessment of the level of the company’s organizational culture can be observed through the nature of the communications within the company.
- Alvesson, Mats. Understanding Organizational Culture. London; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE, 2002.
- Connolly, Charlie. “Organizational Culture: Is It a Plus or Minus in Your Organization?”. 2008. National Executive Institute Associates.
- Deshpande, Rohit, and John U. Farley. “Organizational Culture, Market Orientation, Innovativeness, and Firm Performance: An International Research Odyssey.” International Journal of Research in Marketing 21.1 (2004): 3-22.
- Henri, Jean-Francois. “Organizational Culture and Performance Measurement Systems.” Accounting, Organizations and Society 31.1 (2006): 77-103.
- Mohan, Mary Leslie. Organizational Communication and Cultural Vision : Approaches for Analysis. Suny Series, Human Communication Processes. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.
- Moran, Robert T., Philip R. Harris, and Sarah V. Moran. Managing Cultural Differences : Global Leadership Strategies for the 21st Century. Managing Cultural Differences Series. 7th ed. Amsterdam ; Boston: Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007.
- Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. The Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.