Organizations differ in a number of ways with respect to the nature of their cultures. Besides culture, distinctions arise on the basis of the level to which their organizational cultures impact on individuals in these organizations (Alvesson 2013). In some organizations with a strong culture there is widespread agreement with respect to the core values or elements of a culture. An example of an organization with a strong organizational culture is Walt Disney which was founded in 1923 (Web-Books 2013). A weak organizational culture is characterized by limited agreement with reference to the core elements of its structure. In defining the concept of organizational culture, culture elements are considered with respect to people with a common background that have allowed a culture to form. Some of the cultural elements include attitudes, values, behavioral norms, and expectations shared by the members of an organization (Parker 2000). Core cultural elements are the dominant or primary values that are widely accepted throughout an organization.
A common stable history is vital in determining the strength of an organizational culture. Strength and content of a culture have to be empirically determined. Phegan (2000) defines culture as what a set of people learns over a period of time as they address problems in both internal and external environment. The learning process comprises of cognitive, behavioral and emotional processes. Culture determines attitudes, overt behavior, feelings and espoused values (Web-Books 2013). Elements of culture are less open to the discussion subject due to the fact that lessons learnt are based on an organization’s historical experiences. This argument points out why it is very difficult to alter organizational culture. Organizational culture covers all areas of an organization. This includes internal and external tasks that members of an organization must learn and cope with. This paper defines organizational culture and identifies its common characteristics. In addition, the paper critically evaluates the functional and dysfunctional effects of organizational culture.
Definition of Organizational Culture and Related Terminologies
Henry Mintzberg, a celebrated academic and author on management and business, defined organizational culture as “the soul of the organization, the beliefs and values, and how they are manifested. In this regard, the organizational structure is considered as the skeleton, the flesh and blood whereas culture is the soul that holds the thing together and gives it life force” (Black 2003) In this definition, the concept of organizational culture is concerned with expectancies, beliefs, values, norms, symbols and artifacts that are shared within specific organization. Organizational culture can also be vividly defined as the collection of policies, values, attitudes norms and beliefs that portrays what people do in an organization. It is reinforced by expected patterns of behavior, patterns of communication, rituals and rites. It is also defined as common perception shred by the members of an organization (Eric & Yvonne 2011). This perception is what distinguishes one organization from other organizations. Each organization has a set of characteristics that brings out its uniqueness in operations and product delivery. Organizational cultures are affected by their founders. Culture is an archive of information from an organization’s history. This information has been archived through the recollections of experiences and their shared understanding by key individuals in the organization. Cultures can either be healthy or toxic (Web-Books 2013). A healthy organizational culture is one which values are centered on treating people well. On the other hand, toxic organizational cultures are those in which people feel that they are not valued. Survey indicates that organizations with healthy organizational cultures tend to inspire employees and have low levels of turnover.
Most organizations do not have a uniform organizational culture. This is a subject to the fact that organization can have many departments or branches which have different cultures. Dominant cultures are those that express the core elements that are widely shared by the members of an organization. Geographical separation and department designations may be characterized by mini-cultures within particular organizations (Web-Books 2013). These mini-cultures are referred to as subcultures. Mini-cultures may also take the form of counter-cultures. Counter-cultures are characterized by shared values and beliefs that are parallel to the core elements of the broader organizational culture. An organization’s culture is largely a result of what was done before and the degree of success it had with those activities. The critical source of any organization’s culture is its founders (Eric & Yvonne 2011). For instance, Apple’s culture is largely a reflection of co-founder and CEO, Steven Jobs. Steven Jobs himself was competitive, innovative, aggressive and highly disciplined. These adjectives are used to describe Apple Inc. Other examples include Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, Bill Gates at Microsoft, Fred Smith at Federal Express, Ingvar Kamrad at IKEA Richard Branson at the Virgin Group and Mary Kay at Mary Kay Cosmetics (Web-Books 2013).
Characteristics of Organizational Culture
According to Teuke (2007), organizational culture can be tiered into three levels depending on their visibility and on how closely they are observed in the firm. Teuke (2007) shows that the first level of organizational culture is behavior and artifacts, which are the most visible elements of organizational culture and comprise of the noticeable employees’ behavior and the physical arrangement of the workplace environment. Values are considered the second level and are less visible when compared to artifacts and behavior. Teuke (2007) asserts that values have a significant influence on the observable behavior of the members of the organization. The third level comprises of assumptions and beliefs, which are invisible but are entrenched to the employees in a manner that they come out naturally; this is because it determines the thinking of the organization. Teuke (2007) asserts that these three tiers are the strongest held elements of organizational culture because of the fact that they are not influenced; rather, they are evolved and determine the values and behavior of the employees in a firm. Therefore, these three components are integral in determining an organization’s personality. In this regard, the culture of an organization is perceived to be a consequence of the initial beliefs held by the management and the employees’ embracement of these beliefs (Teuke 2007). Research work on organizational culture has highlighted several characteristics of organizational culture. These traits are collectively valued by the members of an organization. Organizations are normally distinguished by basic values discussed below.
The first characteristic is innovation and risk taking. It refers to the extent to which the members of an organization are encouraged to be innovative and take risks. Innovationrefers to the implementation of creative ideas within organizations. For instance, Oracle encourages its employees to be innovative and this has been seen to be profitable in design of new software with respect to data management (Teuke 2007). People at Apple were encouraged to be unique and to come up with new technological ideas to their work. In fact, one of the company’s founders Steve Jobs was so adamant about this that he spent some of his time sensitizing his workers on an attitude of innovations for better products. The case is the same at Google Inc., where innovation is a key element of its organizational culture and has been instrumental in the firm’s success. Risk-taking and innovation lead to effective services, products, technologies and processes in any industry. Apple Inc. has been so effective at designing new products owing to the company’s commitment to innovation.
The second characteristic is scrupulosity. Theorists and researchers define this as the level to which the members of an organization are required to demonstrate analysis, accuracy, and attention to particular items (Alvesson 2013). At Apple, precision and accountability is strictly enforced. This is reinforced by the fact that communication is articulated clearly from the management team.
The third characteristic of organizational culture is outcome orientation. This trait directly points to goals or the products expected by the management. Outcome orientation is the level to which management centers on the results or products instead of the processes or techniques employed to achieve those outcomes (Teuke 2007). Research and academic work point out the importance of employing people whose values align with those of an organization. This ensures that an organization’s long-term objectives are easily met.
The fourth characteristic of organizational culture is people orientation, which is a trait that defines the degree to which an organization’s management team decisions focus and take into consideration the results on people in the organization. Organizations with people-oriented cultures value supportiveness fairness and respecting individual rights (Web-Books 2013). Some organizations consider their employees as valuable only if they contribute to production. In toxic organizational cultures, people do not feel valued. This is opposite to healthy organizational culture in which members of that particular organization feel that they are valued. Organizations with healthy organizational cultures tend to thrive with a very low turnover as compared to those that have toxic organizational cultures (Teuke 2007).
Organizational culture is also characterized by team orientation. Team orientation is the extent to which working activity is organized around the teams or groups. The other trait punted out in the study of organizational culture is aggressiveness. This points out to the degree of how competitive employees are within an organization (Web-Books 2013). Organizations that embrace aggressiveness internally or externally value competitiveness and outperforming of competitors. For example, Oracle is well-known as a company with an aggressive culture with reference to its share in database, business intelligence, data warehousing and cloud computing solutions. The organizational culture of Apple Inc. is based on the idea that self-motivated workers do not need to be supervised all the time for them to deliver. Aggressiveness translates to high and quality production. Employees also tend to be fast in making key decisions whether internally or externally (Papa 2008). By emphasizing culture aggressiveness, organizations often fall short in corporate social responsibility. Competitors such as Samsung, HTC and Apple have found themselves in lawsuits and disputes over the years with respect to their phone designs.
Lastly, organizational culture is characterized by stability. All organizations create a set of activities or measures that emphasize on keeping the status quo contrary to the growth. Stability in an organizational culture can be explained as resistance to culture shift or loss (Parker 2000). Human resources department emphasizes on maintaining values and beliefs of the organization with the aim of maintaining its face value and place in the market.
Steve Jobs maintained Apple’s organizational culture and this aspect kept Apple Inc. among the best technology companies in the world. Unlike other technological companies, Steve Jobs maintained its research and development budgets, which led to design and manufacturing of elegant and easy-to-use computers. Organizations with stable cultures are known to be rule-oriented, predictable and bureaucratic.
Functional Effects of Organizational Culture
In the process of discussing the characteristics of an organizational culture, it is quite evident that culture is an intangible force. Organizational culture plays a number of important roles in organizations. Organizational culture provides a sense of identity. In organizations where shared values and perceptions are clearly defined, most of its people tend to be strongly associated with the company’s goals and mission as they feel a vital part of it. For instance, employees at Southwest Airlines feel special as a result of their company’s emphasis working hard and having fun, an ideal initiated by the founder Herb Kelleher (Southwest-Airlines 2013). This practice makes employees feel strongly associated with the airline that they are a part of it. Consequently, there are infrequent resignations in the airline.
Organizational culture has a boundary-defining role. Culture creates distinctions between organizations and others, especially in the same industry. Symbols, values and beliefs outline uniqueness in organizations. Culture also eliminates ambiguity at workplace (Teuke 2007).
Organizational culture is also known to generate commitment to the organization’s mission. Strong or overarching culture makes people feel that they are parts of that large, well-defined whole, and that they are involved in the entire organization’s work. Organizational culture reminds people of what their organization is all about and that its mission is bigger than any one individual’s interests (Alvesson 2013).
It also clarifies and reinforces standards of behavior. Culture guides peoples’ words and deeds, by setting standards of what they should do or say in a given scenario. In this perspective, organizational culture provides stability to behavior, especially in orientation of newcomers. For example, in the airline industry where customers’ satisfaction is paramount, employees adhere to predefined guidance as to how they are expected to behave. This entails doing whatever it takes to ensure that the customer is satisfied. Customer care representatives undergo lengthy orientation or training programs to ensure that they are well versed in communication with customers (Southwest-Airlines 2013).
Dysfunctional Effects of Organizational Culture
Organizational culture may be dysfunctional in some cases. Organizational culture may be a barrier for a change. In case organization is experiencing change, the culture can delay the desired change. Organizational culture may also hinder companies from progress in the future. When an organization is undergoing a rapid change, its entrenched culture may no longer be appropriate (Jex 2008). Organizational culture can also be a liability in an environment where shared customs, values and traditions do not agree with those that are derived to further organization’s efficiency.
Organizational culture can also be a barrier for the diversity. A strong culture is characterized by widespread agreement with respect to the core elements of culture, making it possible for these factors to exert major influences on the way people behave (Web-Books 2013). Research has shown that organizations with strong culture put pressure on their employees in order to conform to predefined norms. Strong cultures also outline the choices and actions of people in organizations. In scenarios where a strong outcome-oriented culture is kinked to unethical behaviors and a fascination with quantitative performance measures may be disadvantageous to an organization’s effectiveness (Phegan 2000). An example of this dysfunctional type of strong culture is Enron Corporation.Enron was an American energy and services company that got involved in one of the biggest accounting scandals in history (Web-Books 2013).
One drawback of a strong organizational culture is the difficulty of changing it (Web-Books 2013). In an organization where core cultural elements are widely accepted and shared, in the event that the same organization decides to implement a different set of values, adopting the new norms and values will be challenging. This is subject to the fact that people will have to learn and implement new ways, for example, behaving, thinking and responding to clients.
Alvesson (2013) points out that organizational culture may also be a liability to acquisitions and mergers. Acquisitions and mergers are events under which an organization buys or absorbs another one. Culturaldifferences may lead to major and minor misunderstandings as organizations come into contact with one another. Merging the cultures of two organizations that are incompatible can be difficult, if not impossible. This problem is also called culture clash. It is more problematic if both parties have strong and unique cultures. Strong cultures are key barriers to effective integration. According to the article on Media Guardian, one of the reasons behind the failure of the merger between AOL and Time Warner to form AOL Time Warner (Gibson 2003) was culture clash. The different organization cultures in these two companies introduced a number of unanticipated problems after the integration which led to failure of the merger.
To fully understand the concept of organizational culture, we are forced to have to comprehend its basic nature. In respect to this, fundamental aspects of culture such as its characteristics, strength and its role in organizational operations have to be understood. The role of an organizational culture can be related to the roots of a tree. Like tree roots, organizational culture provides life and a healthy platform for performance of an organization. It also provides stability and nourishment for organizations. Various cultures may coexist in a single organization in the form of countercultures and sub-cultures. Large organizations characteristically have sub-cultures operating within them. Culture can also be understood in dimensions such as weak or strong and toxic or healthily in nature. It is worth noting that a strong culture may be either an asset or a liability for an organization subject to the types of collective values shared. By analyzing the key roles of organizational culture, it is evident that culture is an important force influencing behavior in organizations. The strength of an organization’s culture ultimately shapes and determines its performance and survival in any environment. With respect to this observation, the significance of organizational culture cannot be emphasized too strongly.