Organizational culture defines the shared beliefs, norms, and values of an organization that influence how employees feel, think, and behave toward others inside and outside of the organization. This can be necessary for an organization to maintain a common understanding regarding what is acceptable and expected behavior when one is representing the organization. I have worked at PFSweb for over nine years and have observed the culture of the organization change over time, while certain aspects have remained. Four factors can interact together to form and later change an organizational culture. (George and Jones)
The first of these factors involves the personal and professional characteristics of the individuals within the organization (George and Jones). At PFSweb, these characteristics widely include a strong work ethic coupled with adaptability and a fun-loving attitude based on the idea that we will celebrate when the job is done. Likewise, organizational ethics, the second factor, include adaptability and an "always on" attitude, which encourages employees to be responsive to company needs even if it requires the employee to step outside of his job description or typical business hours. The nature of the employment relationship between a company and its employees is the third factor that shapes organizational culture. Within the PFSweb organization, the attitude of flexibility and adaptability carries over to the workers. When challenges and problems occur, the workers have the proper attitude to problem solve and think creatively. The design of PFSweb's organizational structure is very open and linear. Although managers definitely set boundaries and define tasks, they are open to ideas and suggestions on ways to improve productivity making this fourth factor a very important one for the culture of the company. Based on the interaction of these four factors, PFSweb has a strong organizational culture that is based on creative problem solving that enables employees to respond quickly and effectively to any problem that might arise. (George and Jones)
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This culture is also transmitted to new employees through socialization and observation. Socialization occurs in many different ways including lunches, company gatherings, and charity initiatives supported by the organization. When new employees accompany existing employees to lunch there is often discussion regarding current or past clients and projects. Listening to these conversations can help a new employee understand how they should behave if a similar situation arises in which they are involved. Fun company gatherings are sometimes used to reward hard work and initiative to those who conform to the ethics and culture that PFSweb portrays. Additionally, new employees are often paired up with existing employees to observe how day-to-day functions are carried out as well as expectations of appropriate behavior when interacting with clients. Quarterly meetings are also a useful way to communicate organizational expectations, values and culture. Awards are given for exhibiting strong work ethics, tenure, and adaptability to certain situations. This shows new employees that they can be acknowledged by the company and given special awards by conforming to the ethics and culture of the organization.
Organizational values are also important. Values, or standards that people use to determine the types of outcomes and behaviors that are favorable, can be divided into two types: terminal and instrumental. Terminal values represent "a desired end state or outcome that people seek to achieve" (George and Jones). At PFSweb, terminal values include the desire to provide a high quality product and service to our clients and their customers while being efficient and therefore profitable. Instrumental values are "desired types of behavior that people seek to follow" (George and Jones) and include adaptability and professionalism within the PFSweb organization. A relaxed and fun atmosphere is an additional instrumental value, as long as the work is completed. Norms are also shared expectations of behavior. The main beliefs and norms of organizational members include working hard and responding quickly and effectively to issues or problems. In terms of individual attitudes and behaviors, the employees who stay with the company exhibit a very high work ethic and often times can be found working at odd hours of the day. They respond often and quickly when needed and never object to working outside of typical business hours. As new employees join the organization, those who do not exhibit the same level of commitment and dedication to the company generally do not last as long in the organization. In some cases, management might decide to dismiss the individual because of an expectation that the employee will not adopt a similar attitude. In other cases, the employee observes this attitude and behavior, knows that he will not be a good fit, and chooses to leave. This behavior clearly seems to be influenced by PFSweb's organizational values. By having a company that consists of employees with these norms and values, PFSweb is able to move forward with the organization that the leaders desire and can be sure that each individual will demonstrate the organizational values, norms, and beliefs at all times.
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2. Reflection on Organizational Behavior
Organizational behavior is defined as the study of the various factors that have an impact on how groups and people feel, think, act, and respond to organizations and work, and how organizations respond to their environments (George and Jones). Most individuals are shaped by negative and positive experiences gained from working in an organization at some point in their lives. These experiences can change how a person interacts with other individuals and organizations in the future and therefore it is important to understand how to minimize the negative effects while maximizing the positive (George and Jones). A basic understanding of organizational behavior can assist in doing just that. Once a person has a grasp on how others respond and act within an organization, he too can understand how best to respond and control his behavior and actions. Organizational behavior "replaces intuition and gut feeling with a well- researched body of theories and systematic guidelines for managing behavior in organizations. The study of OB provides a set of tools, concepts and theories, that helps people to understand, analyze, and describe what goes on in organizations and why" (George and Jones).
It is also important for an organization to understand the external environment around it, not just the behaviors within. In order for an organization to prosper over time, there has to be a continual adaptability and understanding of the external factors from which it draws resources. An open system view can help illustrate how the environmental factors can affect an organization's success and viability over time. This view has three different stages that cover gathering inputs, conversion of the inputs, and outputs. "In an open system, an organization takes in resources from its external environment and converts or transforms them into goods and services that are sent back to that environment, where they are bought by customers" (George and Jones). The input stage therefore begins this cycle when the organization looks to the exterior environment for inputs such as capital, raw materials, and employees. Acquiring inputs is often a challenge for an organization in terms of effectively finding high quality resources for advantageous prices. To ensure that employees are utilizing the best methods to meet this challenge, organizational procedures, or rules employees can follow to perform some task in the most effective way, should be established and enforced (George and Jones). The second stage in the open system cycle is the conversion stage, during which the inputs from the first stage are transformed with value-adding characteristics such as turning raw materials and capital into computers and machines that will produce goods. The output stage represents the third stage where the organization makes the outputs available to its environment. By selling these outputs, the organization makes profits, which allow it to acquire new inputs that will be used to produce new outputs. This high level of interactivity between the organization and the external environment show that in order to be successful, the organization must continue to monitor and understand how the environment changes and then adapt to those changes by altering its organizational behaviors and procedures. "Organizations that fail to recognize the many changing forces in the environment lose their ability to acquire resources, to sell their products, and so they often disintegrate and disappear over time" (George and Jones).
In addition to understanding organizational behavior, it is also important to understand oneself and the level of value maturity one possesses. "Value maturity is sometimes referred to as virtues that are believed to be internal but are not innate and have outward consequences (Denhardt, Denhardt and Aristigueta)". Kohlberg's model of moral development is a theory developed by Lawrence Kohlberg that says "moral reasoning is based on explicit rules and concepts, like conscious logical problem-solving; over the course of an individual's development, the rules and concepts that he or she uses to solve moral problems unfold in a well-defined, universal sequence of stages" (Saxe). This model consists of three stages: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. The pre-conventional level is the first level and centers on the personal needs and the related consequences as a focus for moral reasoning. An example of this would be cheating on an exam because it does not harm the person whose paper was copied and it accomplishes the immediate personal need to pass the exam. The second stage is the conventional level and occurs when one begins to conform to society and allows others to influence his behavior in an attempt to gain their respect. Moral behavior begins to develop based on societal norms and it is learned that cheating on an exam is wrong. By cheating on an exam, professors and others lose respect for the cheater and will therefore not trust his future actions. The final stage is the post-conventional level where judgment of one's actions based on his internalized principles is deemed right or wrong. Here, cheating on the test is still considered wrong, not because of respect or societal norms, but because of a newly developed principled judgment. Most people stop at the second level and stay there, but few people do reach the third level. (Denhardt, Denhardt and Aristigueta)
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3. Conflict in a Small Midwestern City
As city manager, it has come to my attention that there are two groups requesting funds from our current one million dollar budget surplus, each with valid requests. Crime control and economic development are of vital interest to our community, and as such, the funding requests lie in these areas. The police department wants to begin a unit to pursue "career criminals" which, statistically speaking, commit a higher number of crimes than non-repeat offenders do. Alternatively, downtown business is requesting funds to beautify the area in an effort to attract customers since the area has not been doing as well as predicted. One million dollars will not fully fund both requests and therefore some perceived conflict has arisen since each group understands that their goals are being hindered by the other's request.
As discussions continue, I anticipate an escalation to felt conflict, which results in the groups developing negative feelings towards each other and cooperation will be more difficult to achieve (George and Jones). If a fair decision cannot be reached during this stage, the potential for the progression to manifest conflict will arise. In this stage of conflict, "one party decides how to react to or deal with the party that it sees as the source of the conflict, and both parties try to hurt each other and thwart each other's goals" (George and Jones). This can result in violence or open aggression between the two groups and should be avoided. In an effort to do so, a meeting should be held to discuss the underlying goals and interests of each request so that everyone fully understands the needs that the funding would address.
In an effort to keep the conflict between these two groups at a low stage, I plan to employ group-level conflict management strategies in an attempt to arrive at the best possible decision while maintaining fairness and control. Group-level conflict management involves a focus on changing the attitudes and behaviors of the groups and departments in conflict (George and Jones). This is necessary for these two groups in order to maintain the vitality and performance of the city. The source of the conflict is scarcity of resources, but commonly, each group wants the resources to improve a vital area of the city. Before making any decisions, it is important to understand the interests and needs of each group. The police department wants to designate a separate unit to pursue career criminals, but this is a solution to a need. The true interest is to control crime in the city and since statistics show that repeat offenders are responsible for an overwhelming number of crimes, it does seem logical that stopping these particular criminals would reduce overall crime in the city dramatically. Additionally, there needs to be more research presented that includes crime rates and the number of known repeat offenders in the city. If a projected percentage decrease in crime was presented along with the request for funding it would help to air the viewpoint of the police department. Likewise, downtown business is requesting funding for their solution of adding brick sidewalks and planting areas. The interest of this group is to prevent small business from closing which would ensure the continual development of a vibrant downtown area, which is a current goal of the city. A successful city core is crucial to economic development and employment rates. In order to air the viewpoint of the downtown businesses, it would be beneficial to have more research on expected growth rates with the solution as well as expected rates of decline without the funding for the proposed solution. Since both requests are worthy of city funding, I would like to employ a collaborative conflict strategy with the intent and desire of finding a solution that will leave both groups better off and working together to make the city more safe and economically sound. (George and Jones) (Denhardt, Denhardt and Aristigueta)
Therefore, the challenge is to find a fair solution that promotes opportunities for joint gain and that focuses on common goals. It could be theorized that increasing the downtown business, business owners' profits would increase and therefore the amount of taxes they pay would increase. Since tax dollars help fund police department initiatives, the police would potentially enjoy more funding in the future to assist in the erection of a special unit for career criminals. Similarly, if the police department received the funding and built the special unit, a decrease in crime in the city would mean a safer downtown area and less risk of business owners and their customers being victims of crime. This could in turn increase business downtown without the beautification plan. Understanding that one group's interest potentially has a positive effect on the other group's interest, it is possible to come to a collaborative decision that includes modified versions of each request. This potential solution would involve splitting the funds between the two groups in a way that would be the most beneficial for both. For example, it would be ineffective to give a particular amount of money to a group that would not fulfill any part of the original solution. The groups should revise the originally proposed request to minimize the work, and therefore funding, necessary to accomplish a part of the goal. Perhaps the beautification plan can be revised to decrease the number of planted areas or the number of plants in each area. The police department would also be responsible for finding a minimal way of targeting repeat offenders such as starting with a smaller number of officers for the first year or limiting the enforcement area initially until more funding is available.
To reduce manifest conflict, we have to get the two groups to compromise or come to a collaborative decision. The desire here is to resolve the conflict in this way before it progresses to the manifest stage, so that the conflict aftermath will promote good future working relationships. Because every type of conflict leaves behind an aftermath, which can affect the way the parties react in the future, the goal is to ensure that the aftermath of this conflict is positive so these two groups will be able to work together productively in the future (George and Jones). To achieve this objective, city council meetings to discuss these requests need to be thorough and each group needs to be heard and understood completely (Denhardt, Denhardt and Aristigueta). Once each group is able to understand the needs of the other group and the possibility of collaborating on a group decision, the conflict will be easier to resolve in a timely fashion.