The culture is a complex subject which has been approached by various researchers from different angles. The culture in separate organizations is not different from the culture of the society as a whole. This paper aims to explore aspects of the organizational culture and describe the complexity of the issue.
Definition of Culture
According to E.B. Tylor, the culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Tylor, 1871). In a general sense, culture includes everything that defines the person as a member of society. In the case of a certain organization, it means the values and behaviors that “contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization” (The Business Dictionary, 2015). Any culture is divided into three layers. The first layer consists of the artifacts of the culture. Artifacts are any physical products of the culture: specific rituals and traditions, manners of address, emotional displays, language, and art. Such things are easily perceivable by an outsider and define the culture in the eyes of those who do not belong to it. It may seem that organizational cultures are incapable of producing artifacts, but that is wrong.
Any community has its own traditions and peculiarities, stories and in-jokes. All of those are in fact artifacts. The deeper layer is constituted by the beliefs and values of the society. These are not immediately evident to an observer, but someone working with the organization will inevitably encounter this layer. It informs the important decisions inside the society, rules out preferable approaches to solving problems and conflicts. This layer is formed within the organization itself and changes as new leaders try new approaches and tactics. The third and the most solidified layer of culture is that of basic assumptions. When a certain approach is successful numerous times, the members of society start to see it as the only one possible. This layer of culture is almost impossible to change since it exists in the mind of every member of the organization. When a new member joins they absorb those assumptions, and it is enough for him to see them work a few times to become fully indoctrinated (Schein, 2010). In the case of organizational culture, all three layers exist among a very limited group of people unified by a certain founder or a number of founders.
Organizational Culture Formation
Since every group begins with a leader or leaders, the culture of the group is also defined by its leadership. When a leader takes a specific approach, and that approach works, that mode of operation starts to assert itself as a basic assumption (Schein, 1983). For example, if the leader believes that he is the only one qualified to make any decisions about the workflow and strategy, his employees will quickly stop making suggestions. That behavior will remain even as the workers change since the previous generation would educate the newcomers. Such deep-rooted ideas are basic assumptions. They are the basis of the culture of any organization. After the basic layer has started to form, the outlying layers quickly grow around it. If the leader gives a start to the corporate culture, the workers develop it and flesh it out. The assumptions quickly give birth to the values and beliefs which are based on those assumptions.
In the example above, managers and workers having no say in the company’s future would either leave or develop trust in the leadership of the founder. After that point, even if the original leader leaves, the employees would be very dependent on the new one since their company values discourage independence. The artifacts would sprout as the culture matures. In our example, the artifacts might be a set of rules for talking with the leader which would denote that the worker does not question his opinions. Thus, the culture is as much created as it creates itself. It is a product of a process called by some researchers “sense-making” (Silvester, Anderson, & Patterson, 1999). Every person in the company has some small input which forms the multi-layered cultural structure of the organization. At its core, any culture is not easy to change. But there are ways to modify it, introduce new values, and even alter the assumptions given enough time.
Changing Organizational Cultures
The biggest problem when it comes to changing the organizational culture is the basic assumptions. They are extremely hard to modify since they are at the heart of the company, it was built around them and has attracted people who agree with them. However, it is important to understand that basic assumptions are just effective solutions found some time in the past. Thus, the only way to modify them is to offer new successful approaches. The process should start from the layer of the company values. If the new values are introduced and strengthened, they have the potential to replace old basic assumptions and change the culture at its core. That process is slow and can result in a reduced efficiency at the time of change.
The managers must pay attention to training, recruiting, reward systems, and logistics (Schneider, Gunnarson, & Niles-Jolly, 1994). All of these systems within company help affect the values in one way or another. Hiring people who share the new view of the organizational beliefs will obviously help spread them. Educating people on the new ways of the company is important to start a slow process of adaptation for the veterans. Rewarding the adherence to the new values helps the process go smoother and ensuring everything necessary for the implementation of the new course is in place is an absolute necessity. With all of that in mind, a leader can slowly change the corporate culture by planting new assumptions into the minds of his workers.
Socialization and Adaptation to Cultures
Socialization is the process by which a new employee adapts to the workflow and culture of the organization. As a result, the new worker should fully integrate and become efficient in the new environment. Grazulis divides the process of socialization into three interconnected stages. The first one is the anticipatory socialization. This is the preliminary step during which the employer and the employee assess each other and formulate their expectations. It is crucial to the success of the further stages. Second is the encounter which is the preliminary preparation for the new employee. It consists of the preparatory meetings and courses which serve to lessen the impact of the first days at work. The third part of the process is the most lengthy.
It consists of the integration and change. During this stage, the worker absorbs the corporate culture and adapts to it (Grazulis, 2011). Cultural integration usually goes from the outer layers towards the inner ones. First, the newcomer learns the traditions and rituals of the culture without really understanding them. After that, he starts to figure out the values and basic assumptions by intuitively analyzing the contents of the cultural artifacts existing within the organization. The process can be complicated by the cultural background of the employee. Harvard Business Review gives a brilliant example where more that 50% of the new workers fail to integrate into Morning Star self-management framework due to their existing concepts of organizational culture (Hamel, 2011).
Strong and Weak Cultures
The organizational cultures are traditionally divided into weak and strong ones. A weak culture is weakly defined. The three layers of it are not coherent or fully formulated. Such culture fails to effectively direct the employees’ efforts and promote the values and goals of the organization. A strong one, on the other hand, has well developed cultural layers and promotes the cooperation based on the certain missions (Robbins & Judge, 2011). Unsurprisingly, companies favor strong cultures since they allow for a more coherent community. Building such a culture is a serious challenge for the leaders. It requires more work and dedication as well as a well-defined set of values.
Organizational culture is an important part of an effective company. It helps the leaders coordinate the work of the employees and promote cooperation. Building a strong culture is a complicated task and changing it in the future is even more grueling. The management should study this subject and understand the concepts connected to it in order to fully utilize the potential of their company.
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Schneider, B., Gunnarson, S. K., & Niles-Jolly, K. (1994). Creating the Culture and Climate of Success. Organizational Dynamics, 23(1), 17-29.
Silvester, J., Anderson, N., & Patterson, F. (1999). Organizational culture change: An inter-group attributional analysis. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 72(1), 1-23.
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Tylor, E.B. (1871). Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom. New York, NY: Gordon Press.