Importance of understanding the organizational culture


In the past 50 years, organizational culture (or the understanding of it) has become extremely important to many businesses. Many have used it to increase the efficiency of their operation, train leaders, or change the direction of their organization.

Organizational culture is culture in general on a smaller scale, usually referring to a business, group, association, or organization. It is the basic values and beliefs of the people in the group. It also extends to the behavior and the symbols of the organization.

The basic values may be conscious or unconscious and may or may not be obvious to newcomers to the organization. These values could be such things as loyalty to the company, or self promotion. They could be strict conformance to rules and regulations or an encouragement of innovation.

It is necessary to understand the culture of a unit if you wish to change the direction of the company or organization. For example, a strong culture in the group is not always a good thing. It can discourage interaction between people and encourage strict adherence to the rules, loosing sight of the main purpose of the organization.

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An organizational culture can be weak or strong. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

A strong organizational culture could be one were the majority of the the participants hold the same basic beliefs and values as applies to the organization. The people in this group may follow the perceived rules and ethical procedures that are basic to the organization, even if those values are not publicly stated by the organization.

This can be extremely valuable for building a team where all the participants have the same goals. Working together to improve efficiency or, possibly, communication with management could be some of the goals.

This could also be detrimental to the company if the rules and regulations become more important to the participants than the actual goals of the company. New people joining the company are consciously of unconsciously indoctrinated into the existing culture, making innovation hard to come by.

A weak organizational culture could be one that is loosely knit. It may encourage individual thought and contributions and in a company that needs to grow through innovation, it could be a valuable asset.

If the participants in this group, at least have the same goal (e.g. to help the company grow) then this can make for a vibrant, forward thinking work force that assists management in forming plans for the future.

If the people in this group are too individual, it can lead to conflict between the participants or the participants and management. In this scenario the culture of the individual participant has taken over and only their way is the correct way, so there is not any meaningful communication between the participants and the company cannot grow, even though it has plenty of innovation.

A happy medium seems to be necessary to maintain a viable, progressive company. One that has some structured organizational culture, as in the strong culture, with enough lea way and encouragement for the individual thinker/innovator to thrive.

Whether it is a charitable organization, a company or a club there are always subdivisions. For example, a charitable organization may have administrators, office workers, fund raisers, field workers and etc. Each of these divisions will have a separate subculture even though they all participate in the organizational culture and purpose of the charitable organization.

The fund raisers, for example, may meet together on their own to plan strategies or share successes with each other. The field workers may meet together or with others to report on how the distributed charitable funds are being used.

Each of these groups share a commonality that is individual to that group even though they also share the organizational culture of the whole. Each of these groups can have more or less structure. They may have leaders or act as a cooperative. Some may be innovative and some may adhere strictly to the perceived values and rules of the parent organization.

Some groups may have a similar enough culture within to allow for social interaction outside the workplace

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To change an organizational culture, one must first understand the culture he is trying to change. This is not just the outward trappings like awards, offices, dress codes or titles. It is not even the stated goals and procedures of the organization. It is the deep down, unspoken, possibly unconscious, unobservable rules and ethics that govern the behaviour of the participants.

Not understanding this level of the culture is what usually leads most new leaders to fail, when they come in with sweeping changes.

If the organization is large enough to have several department or divisions, then it is extremely important to understand the difference in organizational culture from one division to the other and how those differences play out when they interact with each other.

An older, well established company with a strong cultural organization can be very set in it's ways and it's members may be highly resistant to change.

When it is decided that an organization culture change is necessary so that the organization can pursue a different direction, or to increase efficiency or encourage innovation, it is imperative that a clear vision of the change be formulated.

Clear guidelines should be communicated to the participants along with explanations of the reasons for the change.

All members of the management team should be involved in the formulation of the new ideas and be in total agreement that this is the way the organization can meet it's new goals.

The first participants to implement the changes should be management, displaying the new values and behaviours with a very positive attitude that indicates to others that they think this is a very good idea.

It is important to understand that changing the culture of an organization is a long term goal and will not happen quickly. Resistance to change is almost human nature and people must understand how these changes will benefit them and/or the company

Once the new plan is adopted, implementation can begin slowly by making changes that are very visible, but not at all threatening to the status quo.

Work spaces can be altered to better enable the participants to perform their functions in line with the new ideas.

New awards can be introduced to reward compliance with the new direction of the organization and new penalties for those who do not comply.

The leader who is trying to implement the changes should create an atmosphere that conveys his willingness to listen to new ideas from the participants that are aimed at helping the new ideas succeed.

If the leader is trying to foster a more open innovative atmosphere, consultation with participants regarding things like work space can foster a feeling of inclusion in the goals of the organization.

The most important role model will be the leader who is trying to instigate the changes. If he/she appears capable and ethical and maintains the the behaviour and goals he, himself has set out, it will send a strong message to the participants.

If leaders of the separate groups or divisions within the organization can be encouraged to adopt the same behaviour and vision, it will be an enormous assist to the implementation of the new course. These people already understand the subculture of their department and know what has to change to encourage their people to pursue the same goal.

The Coaching GameHYPERLINK "" can be used for activities and tasks such as: • Team development • Leadership development • Feedback processes • Recruiting and interviewing • Defining a vision and goals • Sales training • Brainstorming • Staff meetings

If the leader or other management person is charismatic and an able speaker, they could be the coach for the other members of the organization. If this is not possible, then a motivational speaker could be hired. Many of these speakers are able to motivate others to a high degree. They can also be hired for one session or for many sessions

 It is important that the whole strategy for the changes be conveyed and the process by which it will be achieved. What is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour and values and the results of either of these attitudes must also be stated.

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After the change process has been initiated and some time has passed, it will become obvious that there are those who, for what ever reason, cannot or will not change to the new set of behaviours and values. It could be that they are long term employees who 'have always done things that way' and can see no reason to change.

 Some of this can be overcome when hiring new employees. They will come to you with their own values and ethics, but they are not indoctrinated into the old culture of your organization. New employees come with the expectation of adopting the ways of their new employer. This can be an excellent way of gradually overloading the work force in favour of the new path the organization is following.

Extreme caution should be observed when trying to change the work force, if the new employees are seen to be pushing out those that do not adhere to the plan. There are legal and ethical questions to be resolved here before any extreme action is taken.

This all seems very cut and dried, however it would be rare to find any organization that has only the few cultural differences listed here.

There could be cultural differences that are so great between departments that it impairs their interaction. There could be ethnic or religious groups within departments that have cultural differences from the other members of the same department.

If the company or organization has been dysfunctional for some time there could be a culture of mistrust for management, which would then make implementing new ideas and ideals almost impossible until a culture of trust is established.

As you can see, an undertaking like this is not a small commitment. It is even possible that the subcultures are the creator of the organizational culture. Some of these subcultures may be so subtle as to be invisible to the leader trying to bring about change. It is possible to simply demand that the rules be followed but then, if you are striving for new thinking and innovation, the rigid format may quickly stifle that.

As we mentioned before, division leaders would have a better understanding of these subcultures than upper management and therefore, should be included as much as possible in the formation of the changes, so that they feel they were partly responsible for the new direction.

This web site is intended as an overview of Organizational Culture and some of the intricacies involved. It is not a guide to show you how to do it, but to encourage you to investigate further into the topics presented here.

As you can see, a deep understanding of the culture you may be trying to change, is a must. Any attempt to proceed without all the facts is an exercise in futility.

Examining the success or failure of well known companies who have attempted to make such a change would be a good start. Some example of these would be Chrysler, Southwest Airlines, General Motors (Delorean), and General Electric.

There is also a vast amount of information on Organizational Culture on the Internet. Some of it is informative and some is extremely hard to read and understand. However, you need to allow time to browse this literature to arm yourself with all the information relevant to your situation.