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What is organizational culture all about? How did the concept arise?
The idea on culture in organizations is a concept drawn from anthropology (Meek, 1988). Culture is viewed “asa system of shared symbols and meanings” (Rossi and O’Higgins, 1980 cited in Lee an Yu, 2004 p. 340). Culture in organizations can simply be referred to as an organization’s way of life or way of doing things. Organizational culture has been defined differently by several writers. However, most of the definitions in use lay emphases on key elements such as, norms, traditions, values, beliefs and assumptions. Organizational culture can be defined as “the collection of relatively uniform and enduring values, beliefs, customs, traditions and practices that are shared by an organization’s members, learned by new recruits and transmitted from one generation of employees to the next” (Huczynski and Buchanan 2007, p.623). There is little doubt that organizational culture is a broad topic which no essay can discuss in entirety, however this essay will discuss the two approaches to the study of organizational culture and aim to critically evaluate the ways in which managers attempt to control organizational culture, drawing examples from the Hewlett Packard video watched in class and previous experience of visiting Tesco stores.
History forms part of an organization’s culture and it can be transmitted consciously and unconsciously over time from managers to employees. For example, it can be transmitted in the form of stories and myths (Meek 1998, Kaye 2007, Taylor S., Fisher D. et al).
(Dandridge, T., Mitroff I. et al) suggest that “stories, myths and symbolism, aid understanding of the deep culture and structure of an organization”. These stories and myths in an organization might be about the start up of the organization or on the remarkable successes of its founders. For example, in the Hewlett Packard video, it indicated that the HP history formed part of the HP way as a vast number of the employees were aware of the fact that the “founders (Bill and Dave) started the company in a garage, in 1939. They developed the oscillator, used by Disney in the movie Fantasia. The bell ringing tradition was introduced by Bill and Dave’s wives as a signal for their husbands to observe lunch or coffee times” (The gilded cage: video watched 23 November, 2009).
According to (Schein 1985 cited in Huczynski and Buchanan 2007, p.624 – 630) culture is considered to exist in three levels. Level one is regarded as ‘surface manifestations’. At this stage, the culture of an organization is easily seen by outsiders in its symbols, language or architecture. In the Hewlett Packard case, the open plan office adopted, manifests, the relaxed environment the employees work in, and it also suggests the ease of access, between managers and employees. Tesco is very customer-centric and this is displayed by each employee’s approach to customers which, conveys a message regarding Tesco’s organizational culture of putting smiles on the faces of the shopping public, hence, creating a pleasant shopping experience for them. The second level of culture is ‘values’. This has its firm foundation on morals, awareness and religious or societal precepts and is usually displayed on websites of organizations. The last level of culture is ‘basic assumptions’. These are assumptions preconceived by an individual of an organization such as how it operates and functions in its environment.
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Several writers hold different views on organizational culture. The three perspective framework developed by (Martin, 1992), integration, differentiation and fragmentation perspectives provide understanding on organizational culture. The Integration or unitary perspective regards organizations as clear, consistent and unified, believing that these integrating features may result in improved organizational effectiveness. The differentiation perspective views organizations as consisting of subcultures with diverse interests and different objectives while the fragmentation or conflict perspective, sees organizations as being in a constant state of flux. The integration or managerial perspective appears to suggest that there is a relationship between strong culture and improved performance. (Scholz, 1987 cited in Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007, p.623) argues that culture generates competitive advantage. However, sustainable competitive advantage, “must be rare, adaptable and non-imitable” this determines the strong cultural traits the organization possesses (Barney, 1986 cited in Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007, p.641).
Is organizational culture controllable? According to (Meek, 1998 p.455) previous studies suggest that culture belongs to management, hence, it is “available for management to manipulate”. The functionalist perspective holds that culture can be controlled, as it is regarded as something that the organization has and gives to new recruits and they do not take part in the formation, hence, it can be used as a control device by management (Smircich, 1983). However, the social constructionist perspective, rejects the notion, that culture may be controlled as it holds that culture exists through the continuous interaction between the organization’s members. (Ackroyd and Cowley 1990, Harris and (Ogbonna 1999, Ogbonna 1993, Willmott 1993 cited in Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007).
There exist three forms of corporate control, bureaucratic, humanistic and culture control. “More than other forms of control, however, culture control elicits sentiment and emotion, and contains possibilities to ensnare workers in a hegemonic system” (Ray, 1986, p287).
(Deal and Kennedy, 1982 cited in Ray, 1986 p.289) echoes that “it is the explicit challenge to management to make… people . . . have a strongly ingrained sense of the company’s values”
Thus, aligning with the functionalist perspective which, supports that culture can be controlled, managers can thus, control culture, by ensuring that employees hold fast to the custom and practice of the organization. For example, in the HP video, meetings were held regularly to check the progress of team members and also to convey information to the employees as the need arises. Job security was tied to performance. Objectives setting was done “top-down, bottom-up” (objectives were set by management and accepted by each employee). The management by wondering around (MBWA) style was in force, as it enabled managers keep abreast with happenings in the company, and employees likewise had accessibility to managers to discuss issues.
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