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Every company develops a culture whether it is organically derived or prescribed and can be strong or weak. Naturally, members of the organization then find the degree to which they relate to the goal or objective of the company and how it aligns with their own personal values (such as social responsibility). The ones who are most satisfied are the employees who actively seek out employment at the company or strongly value the culture. Historically, a strong culture would have been typed as senior management enforcing values such as performance and sales upon their employees. Those values could become the priority as opposed to the actual goal of the company such as emphasis on customer satisfaction. This occurs because these values are drilled into the employees almost more so than the goals of the company. This results in the employee becoming intertwined in a role conflict between the culture, their values and the overarching goals. In addition, an intransigent culture may be difficult for all members to adopt and support fundamentally and therefore decreases job satisfaction. This is why values should not be dictated but rather grown organically within the organization and some of todays most successful companies with strong cultures adhere to this process.
In today's world a strong culture should be defined as something different than its traditional orientation and be reflective of an open culture. Duffy and Wong (2003) define an open culture as one that enhances human growth and is preferred by most organizational members. Open cultures thus foster a sense of community, encourages communication and empowerment. These kinds of organizations obtain employee commitment because it allows for a unique interplay between all levels of individuals and overarching values rather than passed down through a hierarchical system. Individuals are better able to identify with values that encourage positive outcomes for the individual and the company rather than just the company itself. In addition to optimizing performance, further assets of strong culture include conflict resolution and strong coordination (Johns and Saks, 2011). This will only be magnified in open cultures because individuals are committed to these positive values.
Another important point to make is that not only should culture be strong and internalizes its values but these values should reflect or parallel the goals of the company. This point is important because if individuals value the culture heavily they may be forgoing meeting the actual goals of the company as it appears they are more invested in culture or the perception that they are. This leads to feelings on inclusions even though it is not genuine. In addition, when an organization is able to align its overall goals with culture it is more accommodating to change as a full blown overhaul will not need to be conducted. Rather internalizing adaptability as a value will allow for easy accommodation to changing demands in the global market. There are numerous issues with companies that are not able to differentiate between the two. Following is an example of a company that did not model its strong culture with its objectives.
Zynga is a popular provider of video games apps to social media outlets and mobile devices. Once one of the most coveted start-ups in the IT world now lies in chaos due a highly competitive culture that was not reflective of the overall objective of the company, staying innovative and exciting. It was reported that the corporate culture was highly to blame for its failure to maintain its presence in the market, as achieving numbers were heavily promoted within as opposed to innovation. Currently, Zynga has lost a number of key executives and is having one of its worst quarters in its history (Rusli, 2011). Zynga is a great example of how competing culture and goals while failing to adapt to the market led to the company slowly falling apart.
Companies that are able to align goals and culture ensure longevity and success. A growing body of research has demonstrated how organizations have gained strategic advantages through strong cultures, for example Southwest Airlines ability to outperform its competitors in its industry has been attributed to a strong culture focusing on keeping customers happy (Boisnier and Chatman, 2002). Moreover, WestJet Airlines modeled its culture after Southwest Airlines by fostering a family atmosphere and maximizing profits and has become one of the 10 most admired corporate cultures in Canada (John and Saks, 2011). Strong cultures can definitely prove to be an advantage because it motivates individuals to prioritize values that help them succeed, and this is even more so the case when those individuals highly associate with those values.
Relative to the discussion on the importance of internalizing a strong culture, community psychologists have been studying a phenomenon which pertains to an individual feeling that he or she is similar to others and to the overall community they belong to and its application in organizational culture. Corporations that allow for such an environment will find that their employees are more productive and satisfied with the work they are doing.
For example, Google is well known for its triple bottom line, they pride themselves in being highly environmentally conscious by building their facilities with recyclable goods and encouraging their employees to be environmentally responsible as well. This has fostered a very strong culture which has attracted likeminded individuals, who even though come from extremely different backgrounds align themselves with these values and work effectively with one another while creating stability (John and Saks, 2011). Kotter & Heskett, (1992), strengthen this argument by stating, "This stability generates cultural clarity and consistency among members, forces that, if the culture is strategically aligned, enhance organizational performance". If an individual prefers to drive a gas guzzling SUV and does not particularly care about the environment, they may not be the best fit to Google as they don't align themselves with that value. This results in the employee not being satisfied with their tasks and environments, therefore utilizing minimal effort to get the job done. This pattern results in the organization not performing optimally.
In contrast, a weak or non-existent organizational culture can develop harmful or fragmented subculture that reflects micro goals within departments or groups. This is because so called "counter cultures" can develop in which members disagree with the core values of the overarching culture (or disregard them completely) and uphold values that are in conflict with the core organizational values. This can threaten the strength of the overarching culture and result in discord between the employees of the organization (Boisnier and Chatman, 2002). Previous to the 2010 takeover of the CEO position by Altaf Stationwala, Mackenzie Health Hospital was in turmoil. The departments were isolated from one another, proving difficult to maximize the patients comfort while minimizing the time transitioning from one area to the next. This created negative subcultures within the departments between the nurses, image technicians and physicians. In order to remedy this situation, Altaf Stationwala introduced a dashboard system where all departments had real time access to all patients' information at all times and bi weekly meetings where everyone was encouraged to attend and participate. This allowed for coordination between employees and faster conflict resolution, which resulted in optimal performance for the hospital (Stationwala, 2012). This shift can be attributed to the introduction of a stronger culture, where individuals feel that are in a community, and can identify with the culture of patient satisfaction and quality of care. This cohesiveness makes achieving these goals much smoother and easier. Also, the culture is adaptable to adjust to the changing demands of the employees and outside health care terrain. This can be noted by acknowledging that improving engagement and culture internally is a recurrent goal for the next 5 years.
A noteworthy thought is that it can be argued that countercultures rarely develop in strong cultures. This is because the strong cultures usually attract individuals who align themselves with those values. However, if they do not, it would be difficult to form because the opposition would begin to strongly adhere and defend the larger overarching values. This can be seen in disruption of normal social patterns and inability to work towards a common objective. The purpose of forming this type of subculture would likely be forgone. Think of a sub culture forming at upscale fashion store Barney's New York that valued thrift fashion, it would unlikely get off the ground or face a lot of resistance as majority associate with its high end brand value. However, the development of all subcultures is not always detrimental.
Research conducted by Alicia Boisnier and Jennifer A. Chatman (2002), for the University of Berkley, California examined how the emergence of subcultures within a strong culture would allow for an agile organization to adapt to the changing environment. They argued that "minimally disruptive subcultures would create an outlet for employees to express conflict and dissent that presents itself in turbulent times" (Boisnier and Chatman, 2002). These subcultures can also present themselves as an opportunity to get creative and tackle projects from a slightly different mindset. However, it is very important that the subcultures values do not vary in large degree from the overall culture or are in direct conflict with the values as this is what leads to counter cultures as mentioned above. Again Google is a great example of allowing the emergence of a subculture because it allows its employees one day out of five to work together or separately on projects other than their jobs. This allowed for the creation of GMAIL and other innovations (John and Saks, 2011). This reflects the idea that effective organizations are one that develops a strong culture which transcends any goal of the subculture.
Conversely, a growing body of research has begun to argue that strong cultures are more libelous then beneficial. As Gary Johns and Alan Saks (2011), have cited in their textbook, strong cultures lend themselves to such issues as resistance to change, culture clash and pathology. An example that affords itself to this situation is that of Research in Motion (RIM). RIM was a leader in business smartphone technology, but let its leverage and competitive advantage slip as they failed to accept changes in the market, and readjust their overall values of security and business phone. Even though they tried to launch different product lines such as the playbook, it did not succeed in the market. They failed to adapt their values in turbulent times and were resistant to the change. Unfortunately this resistance made it quite difficult for new hires to mesh with RIM's corporate culture which led to little innovation or live saving change in strategy (Scallen, 2012). This example supports research that suggests organizations with strong cultures are capable of only limited change because members are resistant to changing these strong overarching values (Gagliardi, 1986). Unfortunately, as seen with RIM, even when the organization would benefit from these changes, these individuals (especially if in a position of seniority) would prevent such shifts from occurring and end up damaging the organization.
As further support, opponents of strong cultures also propose that these ideologies foster conformity and squash creativity (Boisnier and Chatman, 2002) as theorists believe that organizational culture is enforced and fosters group think as opposed to innovation. This can be counter-argued as there are several examples of organizations with strong cultures that encourage creativity. The most notorious example is of Apple. The Apple culture is built upon Steve Jobs emphasis on innovation and has transcended his departure. The beliefs and values for creativity became manifested in the structure and reflected in the practices. This resulted in the structure shaping individual creativity by communicating the organizations goals relevant to creativity (Tesluk et al, 1997). Apple has arguably one of the strongest corporate cultures yet has consistently been able to deliver excellent products because of how internalized the values are. Again, this strong culture has attracted many like minded developers and employees who strongly aligned themselves with this vision. This led to optimized performance on Apples behalf. In addition, the organization has been adaptable enough to accommodate the new CEO Tim Cooks vision. This is why an organizational culture must not only be strong and internalize values but be adaptive as well.
Tushman and Smith (2002), state that organizations can benefit from managing strong cultures while maintaining the adaptability necessary to survive the consequences of turbulent environments. To further illustrate, a major study of fortune 500 companies conducted by Crawford International and HR.com found that strong corporate culture in addition to flexibility of this culture have historically survived in the face of organizational change whereas those with non-adaptive cultures have suffered ("Study finds adaptive," 2006). Yellow Pages group is Canada's largest phone directory publisher and had to undergo a shift in its corporate culture in order to do achieve the level of success it has. This included, building a strong performance driven culture, emphasizing the importance of internal contributions and encouraging greater individual accountability (Johns and Saks, 2011). In order for a company's culture to be adaptive, the members who make up the organization must be adaptive as well, this occurs freely in an open culture and individuals are willing to be flexible to foster growth and innovation. Therefore, this is why it is important for there to be a strong fit between the company and the (potential) employee.
This paper has condensed a large body of research that explores the influence of organizational culture, whether good or bad. However, the majority of the evidence suggests that strong cultures in the non-traditional sense are not present in just large corporations, nor do they incite blind conformity. They do however present themselves in several successful companies such as Google, Apple, and Westjet Airlines. This is because the overall goals of the company are reflective of the culture which is grown organically in an open culture. This attracts individuals who affiliate with such values and therefore are satisfied and more productive, resulting in the optimal performance of the company as a whole. It is important to highlight that a strong culture on its own does not always necessitate success and therefore other variables need be present such as adaptability. In conclusion, these companies have not only demonstrated their values are in line with their employees but they are flexible and adaptable in order to thrive in a changing global market.