What is Organizational Culture?

The term “organizational culture” refers to a system of shared meanings within an organization.

Just as tribal cultures have rules and taboos that dictate how members will act towards each other and outsiders, organizations have cultures that govern how members should behave. In every organization, there are systems or patterns of values, symbols, rituals, myths and practices that have evolved over time. These shared values determine what  employees see and how they respond to their world. When confronted with a problem, organizational culture shapes and even, restricts what employees can do by suggesting the correct way – “the way we do things around here”- to conceptualize, define, analyze and solve the problem.

Organizational  culture is a shared perception. Individuals perceive the culture of the organization based on what they hear, see or feel within the organization. And even though individuals may have different backgrounds or may work at different levels in the organization, they tend to describe an organization’s culture in similar terms. That is the shared aspect of culture. Second, organizational culture is a descriptive term…. it  describes rather than evaluates.

Research suggests that there are seven dimensions which, in total, capture the essence  of an organization’s culture:
  1. Innovation and Risk-taking. The degree to which employees are encouraged to be innovative and to take risks.
  2. Attention to Detail. The degree to which employees are expected to exhibit precision, analysis and attention to detail.
  3. Outcome Orientation. The degree to which managers focus on results or outcomes rather than on techniques and processes used to achieve these outcomes.
  4. People Orientation. The degree to which management decisions take into consideration the effect of decisions on people within the organization.
  5. Team Orientation. The degree to which work activities are organized around teams rather than individuals.
  6. Aggressiveness. The degree to which people are aggressive and competitive rather than easy-going and cooperative.
  7. Stability. The degree to which organizational activities emphasize maintaining the status quo in contrast to growth or change.

Cultural Strength

Not all cultures have an equal impact on employees. Strong cultures exist in organizations where key values are intensely held and widely shared. They tend to have a stronger influence on employees than do weak cultures.

Most organizations have moderate to strong cultures. There is usually high agreement on what’s important, what defines ‘good’ employee behaviour, what it takes to get ahead etc.  Not unexpectedly, employees in firms with strong cultures were more committed to their firms than were employees in firms with weaker cultures.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that strength of culture is more important than type of culture in determining high organizational performance. As a culture gets stronger, its impact on what managers do increases. It is worth noting that it is more difficult to change strong cultures than weak cultures.

The Personality Of An Organization

In many organizations, especially those with strong cultures, one cultural dimension often rises above the others and shapes the organization and the way the members of the organization do their work. As a result, an organization might perceived as having a strong risk-taking personality, a strong attention to detail personality, a strong outcome-orientation personality, etc.

How An Organization’s Culture Is Established

An organization’s current customs, traditions and general way of doing things are largely due to what it has done before and the degree of success it has had with  those endeavours. The original source of an organization’s culture usually reflects the vision, mission and values of the organization’s founder(s). Because they have the original idea, they usually have unique ways of carrying it out. Typically, they’re not usually constrained by previous customs or approaches. Thus they establish the early culture by projecting an image  of what the organization should be. However, over time, many people will influence and shape an organization’s culture.

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