What is Organizational Culture?

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”
- Edgar Schein, from “Organizational Culture & Leadership”

business culture

However one defines it, culture shapes an organization, its employees and impacts anyone who comes into contact with them. Culture is the result of a very complex group learning process and it refers to those elements of a group or organization that are the most stable and least changeable.


Aspects of Organizational Culture

If a company's employees are to accomplish tasks that allow it to adapt to its external environment, the company must be able to support and maintain relationships among its members. The major variables of organizational culture that leaders must understand include:

  1. The way the group thinks and speaks about things
  2. The definitions of group boundaries and criteria for inclusion and exclusion
  3. The distribution of power and status
  4. Norms relating to relationships
  5. Definitions and allocations of rewards and punishments
  6. Explanations of what has happened and is happening i.e. the stories

Why is organizational culture important to business leaders?

If a company's survival is threatened because elements of its organizational culture don't support change, it is ultimately the function of leadership to recognize this and to do something about the situation. It is in this sense that leadership and culture are intertwined.

Organizational cultures are created in part by leaders, and one of the most critical functions of leadership is the creation, the management and sometimes even the destruction of culture.

How To Change Organizational Culture

Typically there a 4 broad areas or variables that CEOs, Presidents and business owners can directly address. They include:

  • Recognition Systems – how employees are recognized for their contributions on an ongoing basis
  • Communication – the systems and stories that exist to ensure ongoing alignment regarding vision, values and goals;
  • Empowerment Processes – the latitude regarding decision making by employees; and,
  • Personal & Professional Development – the opportunities that exist for employee growth.

Cultural Audit

An organization's culture will either support or inhibit change efforts. A cultural audit or survey is a technique for understanding how to address important organizational issues. As a trained anthropologist, I am an expert in auditing, understanding and explaining organizational culture to business leaders. More importantly, I provide actionable advice to business leaders on changing organizational cultures.

Contact me to discuss how focusing on culture can help you build your organization.