Explaining the increase in examining Organizational Culture

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The past decades have witnessed an increase in write up about organizational culture and so many authors attribute this to the upshot of "in search of excellence" by (Peters and Waterman Jr 1982. Diverse views have been put forward by various authors on organizational culture but this paper seeks to analyze the view that culture is something an organization "is" rather than "has" and therefore, can only be influenced rather than changed. Just as culture in society is the beliefs, a way of life, art and customs that are shared and accepted by particular people so also organizations like individuals' have culture embedded in them. It is noteworthy for this juncture to define the key terminologies that would be used throughout this write up. With regards to influence for the course of this paper, influence is the power to affect the way someone or something develops, behaves, or thinks without using direct force or orders. Change, on the other hand, would be referred to as the transformation of the individuals' perception, a paradigm shift and a total move from what the individual in question is accustomed to, to a new paradigm or culture. Influence is the power to affect the way someone or something develops, behaves, or thinks without using direct force or orders.

Just as culture in society are the beliefs, way of life, art and customs that are shared and accepted by particular people so also organisations have culture imbedded in them.

For an organisational culture to form, a fairly stable collection of people need to have shared a significant history, involving problems which allowed a social learning process to take place (Buchanan and Huczynski 2010).

Scholars have written various definitions of organisational culture such as by Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) which states that "Organisational culture is the shared values, beliefs and norms which influence the way employees think, feel and act towards others inside and outside the organisation".

Wagner and Hollenbeck (2010) define organisational culture as "an informal, shared way of perceiving life and membership in the organisation that binds members together and influences what they think about themselves and their work".

Edgar schien's (2004) model of culture suggests three levels

1st level- Artefacts -refers to the visible things that an organisation produces. It includes physical objects, technological output, written and spoken language and the behavioral patterns of the group.

2nd level- Organisational values- values which have worked in solving new tasks become beliefs which guide employees on how work should be done, how to deal with situations and generally guide their behaviour at work.

3rd level- Basic Assumptions - invisible, preconscious, taken-for-granted understanding held by individuals within an organisation concerning human behaviour , the nature of reality and its relationship to its environment.

Having defined organizational culture it is needful to identify characteristics of organizational culture in an attempt to determine if culture is what organization is or what it has. There is no generally acceptable definition of what characteristics of organization culture but the following are classified as key features of organizational culture.

Culture is learnt. The culture of an organisation is influenced by the internal and external environment which is common to its employees who gain beliefs, attitudes and values

Culture is both an input and an output i.e. the product of an action (output) and a conditioning element of future action (input). Strategies, procedures and behaviour adopted by management create a culture for other members of an organisation and this management can also be affected by the same culture if part of it for some time.

Culture is Partly Unconscious. In the sense that employees may unconsciously process information that influences the way they think. Also the conscious characteristics that underline behaviour may repeatedly lead to success to the extent that they become taken for granted. Individuals sometimes have unconscious problem solving processes and this unconsciousness can influence behaviour.

Culture is historically based. Organisational culture is developed by the assumptions, strategies and structure implemented by the founders of the organisation. Decisions made by the future generations of the company are influenced by the existing culture.

Culture is commonly held rather than shared. Individuals who are part of a culture even without discussing and reaching an agreement on behaviour and response to certain situations, tend to show the same characteristics even across different geographical locations.

Culture is heterogeneous. Cultures in organisations usually have sub-cultures which are formed based on different job functions, department and level. There are common characteristics common to all the individuals but other characteristics exist within these sub-cultures. These sub-cultures can be good in creating a sense of belonging to a certain group of individual but can also be detrimental to the organisation if they are not in line with its objectives. A change from management to adjust these sub-cultures cannot be imposed but must consider the characteristics of the members of the sub-cultures (Williams, Dobson and Walters 1993).

Various works have attempted to explain the types of culture that exist in an organisation but this paper will place emphasis on Harrison work further developed by Handy (1993). Based on their findings, four main types of organisational culture exist; Power culture, Role culture, Task culture, and Person culture.

Power culture hinges on a central power source with lines of influence from the central figure extending throughout the organisation. This could easily be found in small enterprises and places emphasis on compassion, reliance and personal communication to be very effective. The key individual exercises control by places crucial people in strategic positions this is easily achieved because they are few rules and minimal bureaucracy (Mattacks 2009). Due to the political nature of this environment, decisions are taken through the balance of influence.

Role culture is in most if not all cases, pigeonholed as a bureaucracy and strives on logic and shrewdness. Handy likens this to a Temple because he argues it rest on the foundation of strong organisational pillars. This attributes a lot power and functions to specialist for instance; purchasing, finance and production as the work and procedures in this environment is governed by established procedures. As job description is more important than the individual and position power is the main source of power.

Task culture is job-oriented and project-oriented, and Handy likens this to a net with some strands been stronger than others and a great deal of the strength and inferences at the crannies (Mattacks 2009). This is evident in the matrix organisations and it seeks to annex the right people and resources, and exploits the unifying power of the group. Influence in this regard is highly spread and as a result of technical know-how or expert power rather than on position or personal power.

The last type of culture Handy put forward is the person culture and in this case, the individual is the central focus and the structures that exist serve the individuals within it. A good instance is when a group of people decide it is in their best interest to share office space , equipment , or clerical assistance, the organisation can be said to have a person culture. This is found mostly in professional groups or specialist like; barristers, nurses, accountants … and so on. It is noteworthy to mention that member's give their mutual consent and maintain complete autonomy and influence over their activities could be attributed to personal power.

Having identified and explain the characteristics and types of organisational culture it is necessary to review various perspectives on what culture is. The view that culture is something an organisation is rather than has and therefore can only be influenced rather than changed has two debatable issues which will be examined individually. The first argument to be put forward is:

Culture is something an organisation has and can be changed.

Views on organisational culture have been streamlined into two schools of thought (Smircich 1983 as cited in sage journal). First by managerial writers and consultants, this is referred to as the functionalist perspective. They are of the view that organisations have a culture just like they have a structure, strategy, technology and employees. It sees Organisational culture as measurable through its constituents as outlined in Edgar Schien's model which are artefacts, values and assumptions (Buchanan and Huczynski 2010). Leaders/ managements impose their values and assumptions on the organisation; depending on the outcome of these, a culture is formed and is introduced to new employees of the organisation who were not involved in the initial formation of the organisation. This gives the management an opportunity to change the culture of an organisation when they deem fit as they are the culture carriers. One of the key functions of leaders in management is the creation, the management and if need be the destruction of culture (Schien 1992).

A look at this school of thought would suggest a bureaucratic organisational structure in which rules, regulations and standards are written down and used to govern employees' behaviour. Also decisions concerning the organisation are made by one person or a group of people in management positions (Wagner and Hollenbeck 2010:249).

Example of organisation that has a culture and that culture has been changed, summarizing the event of the change.

Culture is something an organisation is and can be influenced.

The second school of thought is by Academic-Social scientist who have made their findings and conclusions based on anthropology; which is the scientific study of people, society and cultures (Longman dictionary 2005). This is referred to as the symbolic, social constructionist or shared cognitions perspective. It sees culture as something that an organisation is and this culture is not imposed on employees by management but rather a subjective reality of symbols and meanings. It is produced and reproduced by continuous interaction between the employees of an organisation and it cannot be easily quantified or measured. Therefore there is no change of culture by management rather culture is influenced by the people who make up the organisation (Buchanan and Huczynski 2010).

This school of thought suggests a more liaise a faire approach.

In criticism of this school of thought, there should be the consideration to possible disagreement of employees on symbols and meanings. This disagreement would result in constant influence and weakening of the culture; and there is a strong relationship between organisational culture and organisational performance.

Organisational culture is a collective perspective held by group member, but one cannot ignore the fact that an organisation comprises of diverse individuals with different backgrounds. The individual's level at the organisation also determines their perception of the culture. The role culture plays in an organisation is multifaceted but it is a clear representation of the "core values" shared by majority of the organisation.

Johnson and Scholes culture web can be used to further buttress the argument that culture is what an organization has and can thus be influenced. This is diagrammatically represented in figure 1.

Figure : the culture web Johnson et al 2008

The web put forward by Johnson and Scholes is ideal because it gives an attempt to understand the rather complex nature of organizational culture. The prevailing paradigm of an organization is best explained by evaluating and discerning the way the organization actually behaves, proposing hints about the taken-for-granted norms (Mattacks 2009). To use an analogy it is a times likened to an attempt to describe an iceberg by observing the parts of the iceberg that are visible and from these signs assuming what the submerged part of the iceberg must look like (Mattacks 2009). Elements of the culture web are thus vital in understanding organisational culture.


In conclusion based on findings, I would infer that organisations both is and has a culture and it can be influence and change. As outlined in the characteristics of culture by William, Dobson and Walters (1993) the change process is an encompassing one which is continuous throughout the life span of an organisation. Depending of the period of the change, factors affecting and the people concerned, organisational culture undergoes both influence and change.